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Military Nose Art: Never Allowed, Always Appreciated

B-17 "Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby" was named by her crew after a popular song by the Andrews Sisters during that time. At one point her name was changed to "Shoo Shoo Baby" after a change in the aircraft's commander. This aircraft was actually landed in Sweden on her 24th mission after three of the four engines failed. All her crew survived and was uninjured. It was given to Sweden by the US, then flown by two airlines and a private mapping firm before being abandoned in France in the 1960's. In 1968 France offered it back to the US, it was moved to Dover AFB in 1978 for restoration, and finally flown to the museum in Dayton in 1988 after the completion of her restoration.

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I think I could speak for most Avgeeks when I say that military nose art is one of the coolest things to see when you’re in the presence of an old warbird. Have you ever wondered how it all began?

Nose art began back in the early 1900’s during World War I. It made its first official mark with the Italians in 1913 when a sea monster was painted on the front of a flying boat. Shortly after, the Germans began painting mouths on the front of their aircraft beneath the props spinner as a way to build camaraderie and scare their enemies.

During the same time period, the Americans began painting not only extravagant murals on their aircraft, but some began painting their squadron insignias as well. Regulations were soon put in place to discourage the practice, but they were not strictly enforced.

Once the United States entered the fray in World War II, nose art started making appearances on everything from fighters to bombers. This would become the golden age of aircraft art. Even though the nose art regulations were still very much in place, they were completely ignored by the air crews.  Attacking the German and Japanese was the primary focus, not some silly regulations.

Nose art was a moral booster for the crews, a way to evoke memories of home, or a way to help release the stresses of war.  To a certain degree, some military officials unofficially encouraged it, as it was a way to keep the crews mind off of the constant thought of death. Most paintings were flashy, Vegas-style pin-up girls, with a catchy phrase. A good portion of these girls were a crew member’s wife, girlfriend, or just a fantasy girl. The air crews were proud of their birds, and you never found two of the same paintings. They were all unique in their own way.  They exemplified the pride of serving.  Seeing the nose art lifted the spirits and gave a visible reminder to aircrews that there were many things worth fighting for back home.

Today, nose art is still just as popular around the world but less common on US military aircraft.  You can find art on the noses of bombers, tails of fighters, and even now on some commercial airline aircraft. While much of the art has become more tame over the years, it is still a unique aspect of aviation that lives on today.  One thing is for sure, you’ll still never find two noses that look the same.

Check out some of my recent Nose Art Photography:

B-29 “Bockscar”:

The B-29 "Bockscar" was named after the aircraft commander, Captain Fredrick C. Bock. The plane was often referred to as "Bock's Car" by her crew.
The B-29 “Bockscar” was named after the aircraft commander, Captain Fredrick C. Bock. The plane was often referred to as “Bock’s Car” by her crew.

 

B-17 “Shoo Shoo Baby”:

B-17 "Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby" was named by her crew after a popular song by the Andrews Sisters during that time. At one point her name was changed to "Shoo Shoo Baby" after a change in the aircraft's commander. This aircraft was actually landed in Sweden on her 24th mission after three of the four engines failed. All her crew survived and was uninjured. It was given to Sweden by the US, then flown by two airlines and a private mapping firm before being abandoned in France in the 1960's. In 1968 France offered it back to the US, it was moved to Dover AFB in 1978 for restoration, and finally flown to the museum in Dayton in 1988 after the completion of her restoration.
B-17 “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby” was named by her crew after a popular song by the Andrews Sisters during that time. At one point her name was changed to “Shoo Shoo Baby” after a change in the aircraft’s commander. This aircraft was actually landed in Sweden on her 24th mission after three of the four engines failed. All her crew survived and was uninjured. It was given to Sweden by the US, then flown by two airlines and a private mapping firm before being abandoned in France in the 1960’s. In 1968 France offered it back to the US, it was moved to Dover AFB in 1978 for restoration, and finally flown to the museum in Dayton in 1988 after the completion of her restoration.

 

AC-130A “Azrael ‘Angel of Death'”:

AC-130A "Spectre" Gunship- "Azrael Angel of Death." I couldn't find exactly why she was named this, but I did find that this name comes from the Koran, and Azrael is the "angel of Death who severs the soul from the body." On a side note, this particular aircraft was involved in a pretty significant fire fight on February 26, 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. Coalition forces were in the process of running the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, and Azrael was sent to the Al Jahra highway to intercept their convoy. After taking AAA fire, and dodging numerous SAM strikes, they were able to attack the convoy, inflicting significant damage, leaving a majority of the convoy destroyed and unusable. The Iraq's called for a cease fire two days later. Awesome.
AC-130A “Spectre” Gunship- “Azrael Angel of Death.” I couldn’t find exactly why she was named this, but I did find that this name comes from the Koran, and Azrael is the “angel of Death who severs the soul from the body.” On a side note, this particular aircraft was involved in a pretty significant fire fight on February 26, 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. Coalition forces were in the process of running the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, and Azrael was sent to the Al Jahra highway to intercept their convoy. After taking AAA fire, and dodging numerous SAM strikes, they were able to attack the convoy, inflicting significant damage, leaving a majority of the convoy destroyed and unusable. The Iraq’s called for a cease fire two days later. Awesome.

 

B-25 “Pacific Prowler”:

Pacific Prowler is the restored name of a privately owned B-25. You can read more about it here: http://www.ecommerce-group.com/pacificprowler/History.html
Pacific Prowler is the restored name of a privately owned B-25. You can read more about it here: http://www.ecommerce-group.com/pacificprowler/History.html

B-25 “Yellow Rose

The Yellow Rose is named after the traditional Texas folk song about a man longing for a beautiful southern woman. You can read more about the actual aircraft here: http://www.cafcentex.com/aircraft/b25.php
The Yellow Rose is named after the traditional Texas folk song about a man longing for a beautiful southern woman. You can read more about the actual aircraft here: http://www.cafcentex.com/aircraft/b25.php

Written by Brad Hayes

A dedicated Avgeek and Ohio State fan. Aviation photographer who loves fueling jets, and enjoys an occasional ice cold beer.