I am wondering whether or not it is possible for an air plane to fly through a rainbow, and, if so, does anyone have any pictures or experiences of what you can see?

I've always been intrigued by this.


closed as off-topic by Simon, Federico, fooot, Him, mins Aug 28 '15 at 22:26

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about aviation, within the scope defined in the help center." – Simon, Federico, fooot, Him, mins
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    $\begingroup$ Why cant fly though rainbow? $\endgroup$ – Him Aug 28 '15 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ This question belongs on SE.Physics but the short answer is no. A rainbow does not exist. It's an illusion caused by refraction of light rays. The observer must always be between the light source and the rainbow. Imagine the conditions are right for the rainbow to exist for ever. You would also travel for ever trying to reach it. Incidentally, all rainbows are circular. It's just that most of the ones we see are interrupted by the ground. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow $\endgroup$ – Simon Aug 28 '15 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ Better posed on earthscience.se or physics.se , but ^^^ is the answer. $\endgroup$ – casey Aug 28 '15 at 20:31
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    $\begingroup$ @sweber Yes. I've seen one. The point about an observer is strictly incorrect since no 2 people can see the same rainbow. $\endgroup$ – Simon Aug 28 '15 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ Flying inside a rainbow is not recommended as it can destroy the aircraft external skin. $\endgroup$ – mins Aug 28 '15 at 22:13

A rainbow is created by refraction of sunlight so you have to be in the right position to see it. The effect is only created at some distance. A rainbow that you see from the ground may appear to be in a particular place in the sky. An airplane could fly through that space and it might appear to you that it is passing through it The occupants of the airplane, however, would not see a rainbow there.

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    $\begingroup$ The physics forum might yield a better answer since this is really a question about optics. Besides, I was working hard not to be funny and say they would crash into 'em. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Aug 28 '15 at 20:15

Running into a rainbow is hard, whether walking, driving, or flying. The reason is that rainbows are not objects - they are an optical illusion that only exists in the eye of the observer.

Trying walking toward a rainbow. You'll find it moves away, and eventually disappears. This is one reason why you'll hear people say there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to describe wishful thinking. You can never get to with end of the rainbow - the more you move, the more it moves.

Being an optical illusion, it has absolutely no impact on other physical objects. So if you are on the ground, you could observe an airplane flying through a rainbow that you see. The pilots on the flight would not see the same rainbow you see, and would not be able to tell that they are flying through the optical illusion you are experiencing. They would, however, encounter the water that is creating the illusion for you. Fortunately most planes have no problem flying through mist or rain, and thus there is no problem.

The reason you rarely see photos of planes flying through rainbows is that few pilots enjoy flying through the weather that creates these illusions, and try to avoid them by flying over or around the situation that would create a rainbow.

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    $\begingroup$ I once saw a rainbow that terminated over Centre 1, East Kilbride, famous in the UK as the headquarters of Inland Revenue. Yes, I did get quite a nice income tax rebate that year. $\endgroup$ – Brian Drummond Oct 17 '16 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ From the air, rainbows are circular! Not just merely the arch you see from the ground. We've seen some nice ones flying in a small plane at lower altitudes. $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Jun 28 '18 at 17:56

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