Airplane Nose Art

A Brief History of Nose Art Painted on Military Planes

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"

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Read more about nose art on restored WWII warbirds

 

Photos of Military Nose Art on World War II Aircraft

We have a large collection of photographs which give a glimpse into airplane nose art history.

View WWII nose art photographs

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