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-17 “Shoo Shoo Baby”:
AC-130A “Azrael ‘Angel of Death'”: