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Airplane Nose Art

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A Brief History of Nose Art Painted on Military Planes

The inscription of art work on military planes dates to World War I, when paintings were usually extravagant company or unit insignia. However, regulations were put in place after the war to stymie the practice.

Military nose art from World War II on a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber
World War II military aircraft nose art on the B-17 Flying Fortress "Nemesis of Aeroembolism"

As the United States entered World War II, nose art regulations were relaxed, or in many cases totally ignored. WWII would become the golden age of aircraft artistry.

Artwork was typically painted on the nose of the plane, and the term "nose art" was coined.

The Purpose and Rationale Behind Nose Art

Nose art was a morale booster, and those in daily combat needed that boost. Facing the prospect of death on every flight, the crew deserved all of the encouragement, and smiles, available to them.

The art on the plane unified the crew, and identified it, and made it unique from all of the aircraft in their unit or on their base.

Also, there was widespread appeal in the practice since it was not officially approved, and it provided a playful outlet against "authority". Regulations against it were not regularly enforced.

Classic WWII military bomber nose art featuring a likeness of actress Jane Russell on the B-29 Superfortress "The Outlaw" S/N 42-65306 of the 28th Bomb Squadron, 19th Bomb Group
Classic WWII military bomber nose art featuring a likeness of actress Jane Russell on the B-29 Superfortress "The Outlaw" S/N 42-65306 of the 28th Bomb Squadron, 19th Bomb Group.

The Nose Art Artists

The work was done by both professional civilian artists and talented amateur artists serving in the war theaters in Europe and the Pacific. At the height of the war, nose art artists were in very high demand and were paid well for their services.

One of the most well known artists of the era is Don Allen, a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art graduate. As a U.S. Army Air Forces fighter crew chief, Don used military aircraft for his palette during the war. For $35, pilots commissioned Allen to paint designs on their airplanes.

Military Airplane Nose Art Subject Matter

Pin-ups represented a dominant theme on the noses of WWII bombers and fighters. Artists often mimicked Vargas-style "fantasy girl" pinup art on the military aircraft they painted. Aircraft names like Lady Eve, Forbidden Fruit, Heavenly Body, Our Gal Sa, Miss Behavin, Double Exposure and Picadilly Lilly were based on pinup girl art.

Pin-up style nose art on C-60 Lodestar "Classy Chassy"
Pin-up style nose art on C-60 Lodestar "Classy Chassy"
(staff photo)

But other subjects were also popular, such as cartoon characters, on aircraft such as Super Wabbit, Ruptured Duck, and Thumper.

Hometowns and states were also frequently used, on Miami Clipper, Memphis Belle, Carolina Moo, Arkansas Traveler and others. Names of wives of the crew, sweethearts, girlfriends, and mascots were frequent topics. Other bombers had nose art that was intimidating to enemies, on planes such as Surprise Attack and Axis Nightmare.

Nose art was found on many models of fighters, and bombers such as the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator. The B-29 Superfortress was a popular palette due to its large expanse of relatively open "painting space" on the nose of its massive fuselage.


Modern-day aircraft nose art on PV-2 Harpoon
Example of modern-day pin-up nose art, on the B-24 "Diamond Lil"

The Aircraft Nose Art Form Continues Today

Today the fascination with military aviation nose art continues, with a number of artists and studios creating reproductions or take-offs on some of the favorite classics of WWII.

The popularity of the art form has even led to creation of "nose art galleries" and "nose art studios" which specialize in the creation and sale of various type of art works.

Prints, posters, metal signs, decals, patches, bomber jackets and scale models are available from many sources.

In addition, artists continue to express the nose art tradition by paintings on the large fleet of restored WWII warbirds such as those maintained by the Commemorative Air Force (CAF).

Photos of Military Nose Art on World War II Aircraft

Modern-day aircraft pin-up style nose art on PV-2 Harpoon "Rose's Raiders"
Modern-day nose art on PV-2 Harpoon "Rose's Raiders"
(staff photo)

Hundreds of photos give a glimpse into airplane nose art history.

While we enjoy viewing the old photographs, we prefer to see the art work in person to get a better feel as to their size, placement, colors and textures.

We have visited a number of aviation galleries, museums, air parks, and air shows nationwide, and include below some highlights of the excellent aircraft nose art we've had the privilege to photograph.

These facilities feature excellent collections of restored aircraft and nose art.

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