What is a condensation stripe?

In this article, I will answer this question: What is a condensation stripe? We will talk about where it comes from and why it appears after the aircraft.

The short answer for what a condensation stripe is and how it appears after the aircraft is:

This is precipitated water on dust.

The longer answer is much more complex:

The condensation stripe is actually an artificial cloud. During the flight, the burning fuel creates end products: nitrogen and carbon dioxide and dust. This is the core of the condensation stripe, the water in the atmosphere is precipitated by this powder. At the altitude where the plane is flying is pretty cold (-30°C – -70°C),  so the precipitated water will freeze immediately.

When and at what height does it appear?

There are many types of condensation stripes looking like clouds because truly these are clouds. Of course, it is up to several environmental factors. Is it scientifically predictable when and which type will appear on the sky? The answer is yes. In 1953 a scientist named H.Appleman created the Appleman-diagram. This diagram clearly shows when a condensate stripe will be formed.


The horizontal axis shows the average air temperature, vertically the pressure values in hPa (hectopascal) units. The HPA decreases as we go higher. On the diagram, you can see when contrails appear.

At lower temperatures, contrails appear more likely than on higher temperatures.

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