What is the name of the trail (of after burn) left by a jet?

I know it's something nearly like "after burn", but I can't be sure as I've not used it for quite a long time!

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    What do you mean by "after burn"? As far as I know, only jets use afterburners, so what do you mean by "by a jet perhaps? Mar 16, 2014 at 15:31
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    @Jim, and not all jets at that, an addition to a limited set of jet engines where performance is more important than efficiency. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afterburner
    – Jodrell
    Mar 17, 2014 at 10:14
  • 1
    You should also look in aviation.stackexchange.com to see if it's been discussed there (and to ask if you are able to).
    – Phil Perry
    Mar 17, 2014 at 14:03

4 Answers 4


Contrails from a four-engine fixed wing aircraft

If you are referring to the cirrus-cloud-like vapor trails left by jets, the name for those is contrails (short for condensation trails), vapor trails, or even cirrus aviaticus.

Edited to add: Chemtrails is an 'allegation' more than a fact. I include it here because it is still unclear what OP wants a name for. Since he included after burn, I thought he might be referring to fuel residue. While I think contrails is what he's after, I also recognize that fuel does not burn with 100% efficiency, so there actually exist pollutants in (and around) contrails; I have no idea how quickly the pollutants diffuse out of the moisture-laden contrail. But I am no believer in chemtrails as the term is used by… other folks.

Also wingtip vortices are usually invisible; they may become visible under certain unusual conditions unlikely to be encountered from large aircraft, so it is unlikely OP is looking for that as an answer.

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    Careful with the word chemtrails. It's popular in certain... Less than fully rational circles. Mar 16, 2014 at 15:39
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    @LessPop_MoreFizz - agreed, but they are not simply condensed water vapor. There are some organic chemicals in them. But they don't cause snow to burn or other bats**t claims. Mar 16, 2014 at 15:41
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    Chemtrails today feed the crop circles of tomorrow. Mar 16, 2014 at 16:03
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    @EdwinAshworth - you mean, myself, without aircraft? None. With aircraft, a fair bit. Why? (I'm dense) Mar 16, 2014 at 16:11
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    They ought to get your opinion on the Malaysian jet mystery. Mar 16, 2014 at 23:21

If you are specifically referring to an afterburner (where fuel is injected directly into the jet exhaust to generate extra thrust) there is a characteristic pattern of flames fronts produced called shock diamonds ( or sometimes dancing diamonds )

enter image description here

  • Wow! +1 - is this done routinely in flight? It looks like something done in space travel. Mar 16, 2014 at 23:15
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    Not "routine", but it is done (mostly fighter jets needing a burst of acceleration) Mar 17, 2014 at 0:12
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    Not if they can help it - it's incredibly inefficient on fuel. But IIRC only Concorde could do Mach2 WITHOUT afterburner - all military jets need it for top speed. The SR71 needed it all the time, even for takeoff
    – mgb
    Mar 17, 2014 at 0:22
  • @Susan, jet engines work by heating air to increase pressure. This is why they have a limited speed and altitude. When there is not enough air, they don't work. For space you need something else, like a rocket.
    – Jodrell
    Mar 17, 2014 at 10:31
  • @Jodrell - actually they compress (pressurize) the air in the intake which heats it, then mix it with fuel and burn it, which also heats it.
    – Oldcat
    Mar 17, 2014 at 23:55

You might be referring to jet wash, which the heated air coming out of a jet engine when the jet accelerates on take off.

Here is a video (Temora sabre take off with jet wash, crazy) of that happening, taken by what appear to be group of British aviation enthusiasts. I mention this because you specifically tagged this for British English. (Starts at the 1:00 mark, if you want to jumpy right to it.

Here is another example, with the caption "Look at that jet wash" enter image description here

In Wikipedia, it defined as:

Wake turbulence, turbulence that forms behind an aircraft as it passes through the air

Jet wash is also a common term for a car wash, apparently using high pressure nozzles. So I thought this picture might be of interest:

enter image description here

I prefer to use a hand wash.

  • What is the source for that last picture? Mar 16, 2014 at 18:49
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    Here I hadn't looked at the page until now, and thought it might be photoshopped. But the guys on the British car show Top Gear are wild. This has to be real. (This came from google.co.uk searching for jet wash.) Mar 16, 2014 at 18:56
  • I don't believe that the heated air comes out of a jet engineer. Mar 16, 2014 at 19:53
  • Oops! Noted. My fingers don't always obey when I type. Mar 16, 2014 at 20:01
  • I think this answer confuses three separate concepts. Wake turbulence is composed not only of the direct thrust from the engines - the jet wash - but more significantly the wash from the wings. upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fe/… 3.bp.blogspot.com/_M9fxO-cJats/THPJPpYPmOI/AAAAAAAAAuc/… It's not usually thought of as a "trail". and is separate from the contrail, which is purely exhaust-caused. Its definitely hard to tell if the OP is asking about contrails, jet wash or wake turbulence. Mar 16, 2014 at 20:56

There are a number of things that this question may be referring to

1) Contrails, as described by @Susan

enter image description here

This is the closest thing to the description in the question: a trail containing "after burn" IE exhaust products

2) Jet Wash, as described by @Jim

enter image description here

This is not a trail, in the sense of something that lies around after the plan has passed. It doesn't actually extend very far back behind the aircraft

3) Wake Turbulence

enter image description here

(Note that this is not coming from the propellor, the vortex comes from the tip of the wing)

enter image description here

This is a trail, it does extend far behind the plane, and causes trouble for other aircraft behind it.


However, it is not comprised (primarily) of engine exhaust products (afterburn), and is not usually visible.

4) After-burn from an Afterburner, as described by @mgb

enter image description here

This is a special case of Jet Wash - it is jet wash from an Afterburner - a special engine feature.

I suspect that this is not actually what the OP is asking about - the sentence the OP used (and possibly not English as a first language?) appears to mean "exhaust" by the phrase "of afterburn".

  • So, you read the other answers ...
    – Jodrell
    Mar 17, 2014 at 10:20
  • Yes, I read the other answers, and found that there was some synthesis and extra information (about wake turbulence in particular) to be added, and made some connections between all of them and the original question. Mar 17, 2014 at 11:26
  • the trail is obviously generated by the exhaust. I hoped to be more specific so avoided the obvious to facilitate room for thought. English is the only language I know despite my native language being Tamil- the extraterrestrial language passed down to Earth through India 0.03 million years ago. surprisingly, evidence has also appeared on the "web" but through western scholars Mar 20, 2014 at 10:39

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