Nose Art YKTTW Discussion

Nose Art
Custom paint jobs on vehicles to make them stand out more.
(permanent link) added: 2011-08-29 06:22:17 sponsor: AFP (last reply: 2011-10-16 07:21:00)

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Launching Soon (taking last minute suggestions for alternate names, but Nose Art looks to be it.)

I'm making this YKTTW because I just realized that Ace Custom doesn't actually seem to cover what I thought it covered (fighters, ships, cars, etc. with a distinctive custom paint job for a particular character).

So you have your Cool Plane and your Cool Ship, but somehow, they're still not cool enough, truly not worthy of such a Bad Ass Ace Pilot as yourself. You know what would help? Let's paint a freaking shark face on the nose. That will get the desired reaction from your enemies. Plus, it'll look great at airshows!

Typically, you will see three varieties of this:

Type A: Distinctive artwork on the nose or tail. If on the nose, expect something akin to the classic "Shark nose" made famous during World War II. If on the tail, expect distinctive (or even flashy) designs intended to easily identify the plane's unit.

Type B: The "Pinup Girl". Made famous in World War II, these designs often featured scantily clad women in suggestive poses. Many of these were very temporary in nature, and it was not at all rare for the pinup art to reflect the name of the aircraft (such as the famous "Memphis Belle"). This went out of style after the war, due in part to women being integrated into the armed forces.

Type C: Full-body flashy paintjobs: Often invoked when Rule of Cool is the primary motivator behind the paint scheme. This is common for demonstration aircraft used at air shows or VIP transports not intended to be used near the front lines. Sometimes, even camouflage can fit into this category, as some patterns designed to be very effective at a distance can look downright garish up close.

In Real Life, this trope has generally become much more subdued due to a combination of PR and practicality. Flashy artwork tended to clash with specially-designed camouflage patterns designed to help conceal the plane in combat, making such artwork Awesome, but Impractical. Even the traditionally applied roundel insignia, such as the RAF's bullseye had to be replaced with subdued monochrome variants. A typical workaround with those limitations is to put the artwork in a normally-concealed place, like the inside of the wheel wells, or to simply draw it in less contrasting colors.

This trope is for any kind of custom paint job, not just specifically for nose art. Other common examples include distinctive designs on the wings or tail of the aircraft (or even a custom paint job for the entire plane). Since Tropes Are Flexible, it applies to other vehicles or equipment as well, as long as it fits the spirit of the trope. If the ammunition has nose art on it, then it is a Marked Bullet.

Not to Be Confused with Ace Custom, which is when the vehicle's design, rather than it's decoration, is unique, often to give a particularly important hero (or villain) particular advantages.

This is not for examples of face painting, tattoos, or artwork inspired by the human nose.

Truth in Television, to varying extents.


Anime And Manga
  • Robotech (and Macross) had the "Skull Squadron" inspired by VF-103 the "Jolly Rogers" image here via the other wiki.

  • Discussed in Apocalypse Now,
    Kurtz: We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won't allow them to write 'fuck' on their airplanes because it's obscene!
  • Memphis Belle: The Belle and all the other bombers have nose art, with the bombers' callsigns being derived from the nose art (One of the other planes is called "C-Cup").
  • Red Tails, a 2012 film based on the exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen, takes its name from the highly recognizable paint job their planes featured. (See also The Tuskegee Airmen and the Real Life section below)
  • The Tuskegee Airmen, an HBO film from The '90s about the first black fighter pilots in the US military during World War II, featured the pilots painting the tails of their fighters bright red, to ensure that the white bomber crews would know who was protecting them. (See Real Life below)
  • Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo has the Ruptured Duck, the main character, Captain Ted W. Lawson's aircraft. Based on the real aircraft from the Doolittle raid.
  • In the Transformers Film Series, many of the paintjobs used by the Autobots in vehicle mode could arguably count, but the best example is Starscream's Cybertronian War Tattoos, a set of Cybertronian writing covering his entire body, starting immediately after the Decepticons drop the Masquerade in Revenge Of The Fallen.
  • Watchmen: In the Opening Montage we see a bomber with nose art of Sally Jupiter.

  • Used as camouflage in Path of the Fury by David Weber. The protagonist have a full-on military assault shuttle while posing as a free trader, which they can hardly justify given their cover. They give it the gariest paintjob imaginable.
    "Giolitti winced as he took in the garish crimson and black hull. Some unknown artist had painted staring white eyes on either side of the stiletto prow, jagged-toothed mouths gaped hungrily about the muzzles of energy and projectile cannons, and lovingly detailed streamers of lurid flame twined about the engine pods."
  • In The Riftwar Cycle, on Kelewan, seaships have eyes painted forward on the hulls to scare away sea monsters that actually exist.

Live-Action Television
  • Babylon 5: The Starfuries operated by the Earth Alliance feature a plethora of custom paint jobs on their upper wings, even on ships flown by Red Shirts and Mauve Shirts. Usually it will just be a distinctive pattern, but some of the fighters include custom artwork, occasionally taking up the entire top wing.
    • Two Starfury squadrons are depicted as having whole-body paint jobs: The escorts for Earth Force One, with a blue-and-white paint job inspired by the Real Life Air Force One, and the Black Omega Squadron.
    • In the fourth season of the show, Captain Sheridan has Babylon 5's emblem painted on the hull of his flagship.
  • In the TV series Riptide the boys use a custom painted helicoptor called "Screaming Mimi."
  • Space: Above and Beyond: Chiggy Von Richtofen's Super Prototype: A human skull painted on the nose with Abandon All Hope written on the side.

Table Top Games
  • * BattleTech has Legacy Character "The Bounty Hunter". His Mech is painted a bright green with various currency symbols all over it.
  • Void Dragon Phoenix, a special variation of the Phoenix ground-attack plane used by the Eldar Void Dragon corsaid band in Warhammer40000 is decipted with a full-body paintjob (that, unsuprisingly considering the corsaid band's name, looks like the scaly hide of a dragon) in it's official paintjob. Imperial aircraft can actully buy distinctive paintjob or decalls as an upgrade (it lets one unit that sees the plane reroll one leadership test).

Video Games
  • A staple in the Ace Combat series, from about Ace Combat 3 onwards. Shooting down certain enemy Ace Pilots allows you to slap their paint jobs onto your planes of the same model. Other special paint jobs were unlocked by completing certain plot missions. Ace Combat 6 also introduced downloadable custom paint jobs.
  • In Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, the titular mech is decorated with a butterfly insignia on its head. Naked Snake uses the word 'nose art' to describe it.

Western Animation

Real Life
  • The practice dates all the way back to the first major use of airplanes in battle: World War I. Pilots painted designs on their airplanes both to personalize them and to make them easier to identify on the battlefield (as much to avoid shooting friendly planes as to avoid being shot at by friendly ground forces.)
    • Probably the most famous example from that war, of course, would be Manfred von Richthofen, AKA The Red Baron, with his Fokker Triplane's red full-body paintjob.
  • During World War II, The American Volunteer Group, also known as The Flying Tigers, were famous for the shark-nose paint jobs on their Curtis P-40 Warhawks. Of course, while they are famous for using the shark-nose paint scheme, they were not the first squadron to do so, having drawn inspiration from photos of British planes in Africa.
    • Similarly, the 332d Fighter Group was famous in Europe for painting the tails of their planes red, earning them the nickname "Red Tailed Angels" by the Bomber pilots they escorted. Nowadays they are famous, of course, for being the first black fighter pilots in US military history, the Tuskegee Airmen, who are said to have never let a bomber under their protection be shot down by an enemy plane.
  • The distinctive Invasion Stripes insignia was painted on fighters, reconnaissance planes, transports, and twin-engined bombers belonging to the Allied nations during and after the Battle of Normandy, in order to prevent friendly-fire incidents amongst the thousands of aircraft operating over Western Europe. The practice ended a few months later because the paint jobs also made it much easier for German pilots to spot the planes on the ground.
  • Aircraft belonging to the United States Air National Guard typically feature a tail flash with their state's flag.
  • It is fairly common for military aircraft to receive flashier paintjobs for airshows, in order to make them more entertaining for the crowds.
    • In honor of the centenial of Naval Aviation, the United States Navy has adorned various jets with World War II-era paint jobs.
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