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The Fantastic World of Aircraft Nose Pin-Up Art

kawaiidaigakusei at 12:00AM, Sept. 22, 2014

It is difficult to imagine a greater canvas than the nose of an aircraft to display art. I love to visit aviation museums to look at each individual plane, but one part I always like to pay special attention to is the art displayed near the front of the plane. I always wondered why certain types of insignia were used. Some displayed names that were usually feminine, some had cartoons, and others just had a smiling pin-up model. Were the pin-ups based on a celebrity? A girl-next-door back at home? A dream girl? Or was it just used as a symbol of Lady Luck, just like a modern version of Nike, the winged goddess of victory. It turns out that the pin-up served as all of the above.

Nose art was used as a visual call sign to signal which plane crews made it back to the base. It also gave the plane its own personality. It served an important purpose in boosting the morale of the men in combat. When faced with the possibility of death on a day-to-day basis during any number of missions, the pin-up was somewhat of a welcome distraction to focus on and think about something else. Aircraft art was typically created by anonymous artists and regarded as graffiti since it was not regulated and several unapproved designs were allowed.

Today, aircraft pin-up art is not seen as often as during its Golden Age during World War II and the Korean War. Certain restrictions have been placed that prohibit the use of nose art on military planes, however, the tradition of aircraft art can be seen in the present day on the plane tails of commercial airliners.

Discussion Question:
If you were given the chance to decorate a blank aircraft nose with any work of art, what would you design?


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Do you have any original art to contribute to our stock image database, announcements, community projects, ideas, news, or milestones to report? Please leave general comments below or send a PQ to kawaiidaigakusei. Email me at kawaiidaigakusei(at)gmail(dot)com.



Abt_Nihil at 5:12PM, Sept. 26, 2014

Oz: I meant kawaii's :)

ozoneocean at 10:23PM, Sept. 23, 2014

You military types and your interminable initialisims :) There's a news story about British warplanes and how fairly recently they've had to get rid of their nose art. The thrust of the article is that they have to be "PC" in this more sensitive age (the paper is right wing), but I don't think it's as simplistic as that.

bravo1102 at 5:14PM, Sept. 23, 2014

Actually tanks aren't repainted before being sent CONUS. I worked in a depot and when we received a pile of vehicles from overseas all the markings were intact. We did the minimum painting we could get away with. Our brand new M1 tanks after three years had through heavy use had become totally stripped of their re-paint jobs and were back to their overseas schemes. And there were no resources to re-paint them. As for Aircraft carriers it is mostly confined to the CAG bird but unit liveries and now sortie markings make up for it. Bombers do still have nose-art. B-2's have even been seen with some nose art. I have over 35 years researching this stuff for model building and 10 years in uniform.

jamoecw at 11:26AM, Sept. 23, 2014

@bravo i'm in a boat squadron and the only unissued stuff drawn on the boats is some basic training visuals (crudely drawn circle with compass headings). we'd never get away with any sort of real art of the boats, of course the chief doesn't own the boats, but squadron (the CO). every time i have seen the planes on aircraft carriers they have been completely devoid of nose art, and i have never heard of modern planes getting any. was your tank art conus, or oconus? if oconus, do you know if it got striped and repainted conus? we had some art done in the barracks during A school and the XO didn't like it (the CO loved it, but that is another issue), so it was stripped and repainted hastily. the previous paint job was decorative, but the new stuff ended up being very bland (white walls).

bravo1102 at 5:53AM, Sept. 23, 2014

Google "Dragon and His tail" A B-24 with a huge dragon wrapped around the fuselage. On the nose he's holding a cartoon nude. More can be found in

bravo1102 at 5:43AM, Sept. 23, 2014

@jamoecw: those orders have existed for a long time but are more observed in the breach than the practice. Besides putting a cartoon character on the nose is fine but not Vargas. And of course we're all forgetting about tank art. Yes, tankers have been known to paint cartoons on their tanks. My tank was "Judy" but I had a cartoon of a Civil War General with "Pickett's revenge" underneath.

irrevenant at 11:43PM, Sept. 22, 2014

Someone really needs to post a picture of a plane with no nose art so people can submit their own pictures like Kawaiidaigakusei's. :)

entropy0013 at 11:22PM, Sept. 22, 2014

I did a mecha cockpit art piece with female Valkyrie holding a missile launcher with the tagline Valkyrie Volley for a Battle-Tech gamer.

jamoecw at 8:59PM, Sept. 22, 2014

as for the discussion question, the art is about the unit, so without the equipment and men i couldn't say (it is also above my pay grade). if would tend to exceptionally vulgar and inappropriate though if given the choice. sort of like saying how it is better to coat mud on gold than the other way around, as well as saying what is nastier than war?

jamoecw at 8:39PM, Sept. 22, 2014

@bravo - that is the tradition, however this is not really the case anymore. with budget cuts come the political effort to improve the image of the us armed forces. which results in political and bureaucratic pressure to make things look bland and PC. nose art is traditionally not this at all, and you'll notice that very few combat planes have nose art anymore.

Banes at 4:04PM, Sept. 22, 2014

Fascinating topic! I have a bikini shot of Bea Arthur on the front fender of my car. Rare!

ozoneocean at 11:02AM, Sept. 22, 2014

@Abt- who's fanart do you mean?

ozoneocean at 11:00AM, Sept. 22, 2014

...I think I mean references, hints, or implications rather than inferences.

ozoneocean at 10:59AM, Sept. 22, 2014

-One thing to note is that even though a lot of what we see of nose art is sexy in a glamorous way, that's probably because that art was considered "tasteful" enough to record. If you look more widely at the old nose art (as well as the new stuff), things can get a bit more X-rated: frequent nudity and strong sexual inferences.

Abt_Nihil at 10:05AM, Sept. 22, 2014

Probably your Bombshell fanart ;)

KimLuster at 8:24AM, Sept. 22, 2014

I love this type of 'classic' art as well. I really don't know what I'd put on it, other than I know it'd be female (All Ships and Planes are females!). I'd probably avoid being too obviously sexy. Rather, something that's tough/sexy (think Rosie the Riveter). Hmmmm.... I'm picturing stuff...!

bravo1102 at 4:59AM, Sept. 22, 2014

With all the after market decal companies and some model companies dedicated to doing special re-issues of kits with these colorful markings you can get lots of it in miniature. Revell-Germany does Tiger meet special reissues every year as well as the special markings for Luftwaffe squadron anniversaries. Colorful markings sell the kit. It should be noted that in the USAF and US Navy it is the ground crew chief who "owns" the aircraft and often he decides on the nose art and sources the guy to paint it. The pilot is just the user. Though ofttimes pilots will ask for specific markings on the plane like "Memphis Belle" referring to the pilot's wife and the long line of "Glamorous Glennis" aircraft flown by Chuck Yager from WWII to Vietnam.

bravo1102 at 4:51AM, Sept. 22, 2014

Being a plastic model builder of scale aircraft I've designed my own nose art a few times. There's a couple of manga artists who do manga/ anime characters inspired by classic aircraft and I've modified it, added a cool name and made it into a decal. Don't think noseart is gone. The first Gulf War had tons of it and the tradition continues on modern aircraft just in subdued colors. Remember also that most aircraft still wear all kinds of proud organizational insignia with squadron liveries that put many airliners to shame. Look at Commander Air Group planes on US Aircraft carriers. The CAG can go with full color art and some planes are a beautiful canvas. The JSADF did a whole series of aircraft with bright anime characters on them. The NATO Tiger Meet has planes every year with incredible "can you top this?" tiger themed markings. For squadron anniversaries some RAF aircraft had the full color profile of their WWII counterpart painted on the fuselage and wings.

ozoneocean at 4:11AM, Sept. 22, 2014

Also the tried and true shark mouth.

irrevenant at 2:45AM, Sept. 22, 2014

This is a really interesting topic. I personally would probably have a picture of someone clinging onto the nose of the aircraft for dear life. xD

ozoneocean at 2:11AM, Sept. 22, 2014

I'm sure I commented here... Hmmm. Ah well, I think I might have Julie Strain dressed in her Heavy Metal 2000 outfit maybe in a Maryrlin Monroe pose... or something she came up with for herself. :)

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