Created By: AFP on August 29, 2011 Last Edited By: AFP on October 16, 2011
Troped

Nose Art

Custom paint jobs on vehicles to make them stand out more.

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Trope

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.

Examples

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

Film
  • 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.

Literature
  • 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.

Tabletop 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.
Community Feedback Replies: 52
  • August 29, 2011
    Merlo
    In Clone Wars the ARC troopers actually paint a shark face (or some sort of monster) on their ship.
  • August 29, 2011
    randomsurfer
  • August 29, 2011
    AFP
    Come to think of it, do we have a trope for pinup girls? Because quite a bit of the Nose Art for planes in WWII was in fact images of women in provocative poses painted on the planes. That practice went out of style as women serving in the military became more common though.
  • August 31, 2011
    ladyofprocrastination
    The live-action Transformers movies have this in spades. Bumblebee's racing stripes, Optimus's flames, Starscream's kick-aft Cybertronian tattoos...
  • August 31, 2011
    AFP
    Would those count as Nose Art or would they just be like tattoos for them?
  • September 1, 2011
    AFP
    So... is it Launchable?
  • September 1, 2011
    Xtifr
    Needs a better name (and five hats). The current name is non-indicative and potentially confusing. Wants more examples, though technically it may not need more. Launched at this stage, it would remain an unhealthy trope for who-knows how long. Leaving tropes in YKTTW for a while is good way to make sure it's a good trope at launch and doesn't immediately get sent to the Trope Repair Shop. There shouldn't be any real hurry.

    Maybe something like Painted Plane?
  • September 1, 2011
    AFP
    Well, any name other than Nose Art would be less indicative, since that's pretty much what it's called in real life (painting custom designs on the wings or tails to be distinctive is, I understand, less common than just painting artwork aroudn the nose of the plane). Painted Plane doesn't really get across the idea that this is an unusual or even unique paintjob.

    Like I said before, I originally thought Ace Custom covered this trope, but evidently that is for something entirely different (really, it doesn't seem to describe the trope it is used as an alt for: Super Prototype)
  • September 1, 2011
    AFP
    For more details about what I'm talking about, see this article on The Other Wiki.
  • September 1, 2011
    randomsurfer
  • September 6, 2011
    AFP
    Any advice on fleshing out the description a bit?
  • September 6, 2011
    kjnoren
    Literature:

    • 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."

  • September 6, 2011
    Xtifr
    Airplane Nose Art or Vehicle Nose Art would help make it clear that this doesn't involve clowns or face painting or nose flutes or human/animal noses in any way, which is what I Thought It Meant.

    Also: do figureheads on ships count? Seems like it's basically an older version of the same thing.
  • September 6, 2011
    somerandomdude
    It's called Nose Art in Real Life. As far as I'm aware, that supersedes everything (it's why we have tropes like Bavarian Fire Drill and Geas here).
  • September 6, 2011
    Koveras
    • 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.
  • September 6, 2011
    AFP
    Yeah, I'm in favor of Nose Art mainly because that's the Real Life term for it, though it might understandably be unfamiliar to folks who are not military aviation enthusiasts (the lion's share of Real Life examples are from the armed forces of the world). We could include something clarifying that it has nothing to do with clowns unless they're clown fighter pilots or something.

    I'm not sure if ships' figureheads would count, since those did not come about for the same reasons (in the case of the airplanes, they started painting designs on them to make them more readily recognizable in combat. The roundels seen on most military aircraft originated for similar reasons, with abrupt changes in designs typical for situations where nations with similar insignia fought against each other (hence why the Americans removed the solid red circle from their aircraft roundels early in World War II).
  • September 7, 2011
    DaibhidC
  • September 7, 2011
    AFP
  • September 7, 2011
    AFP
  • September 8, 2011
    AFP
    The main thing I'm concerned about is possible confusion between this trope and Ace Custom, a redirect for Super Prototype, given that many of the more famous examples of this trope are literally custom paintjobs for Ace Pilots, regardless of whether their plane itself is physically different from any other Red Shirt's plane.
  • September 12, 2011
    AFP
    So, there's no hats, though plenty of examples. What does this Trope need to be more Tropey?
  • September 13, 2011
    Arivne
    First hat added.
  • September 14, 2011
    TairaMai
    One reason nose art went out of style in Real Life because most leadership became sensitive to bad PR from having naked (or nearly naked) women painted on the taxpayer's aircraft. The other was that aircraft (in NATO) countries during the cold war, began to experiment with advanced cammo, Canadian aircraft had false canopies painted on the bottom of the nose. The bright colors in nose art threw off the subdued cammo.

    So aircraft moved the pictured to the wheel wells. The aircrew "owns" the aircraft anyway, they do all the maintenance and arming. For special occasions (air shows, special events) Nose art (censored for the Moral Guardians) andeven whole throwback paint schemes will be put on air craft. The US Navy put WWII era paint jobs on one example of each type they are flying. These aircraft fly around the country in a celebration of USN aviation, are 3D recruiting ads and are made of awesome.

    Reality is unrealistic in that midnight blue is the best night cammo and the F-117 was once painted in a nice pastel pastel paint scheme for day missions. While it was super-effective, its made tie-dyeish look the Air Force want to choose the now famous all black paint job.
  • September 14, 2011
    AFP
    Added a few paragraphs to the description based on Taira Mai's comment. Feedback appreciated.
  • September 25, 2011
    AFP
    YKTTW bump
  • September 25, 2011
    pinkdalek
    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.
  • September 25, 2011
    fulltimeD
    Nice YKTTW:

    Significant aversion in Apocalypse Now, since Kurtz actually brings this up: "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!"
  • September 25, 2011
    orimarc
    Ace Paintjob? Killer Paintjob?
  • September 26, 2011
    AFP
    Ace Paintjob maybe as a redirect, but Nose Art is what it's called in Real Life, and I understand that tends to trump other name suggestions.
  • September 30, 2011
    AFP
    Any other thoughts? Bueller?
  • October 1, 2011
    TairaMai
    Anime:
    • Robotech (and Macross) had the "Skull Squadron" inspired by VF-103 the "Jolly Rogers" image here via the other wiki.

    And I nominate that image for the article.
  • October 1, 2011
    TairaMai
    for those who want to see the the US Naval WII throwback schemes, they are Paint Project.pdf here (warning PDF file) and here (non-PDF)
  • October 3, 2011
    TairaMai
    Tabletop games:
    • Both BattleTech and Warhammer 40000 embrace this trope and make sweet, sweet love to it. One mercenary in the Battle Tech universe has a mech with dollar signs painted on it. One for every kill. 40K has nose art and other markings for each species. Remember, thin your paints!
  • October 3, 2011
    Deboss
    You might want to trim some of the description down. If you want to discuss the tropes implications, Analysis is wide open.
  • October 4, 2011
    AFP
    Reworked the description, less wall-of-text.
  • October 5, 2011
    TairaMai
    Real Life:
    • Dazzle camouflage, before radar, bizarre geometric shapes in bright colors were painted on ships to confuse gunners and submarines. As radar and sonar guided torpedos, guns and missiles, Boring Yet Practical all grey paint schemes became the norm.
  • October 7, 2011
    AFP
    Any other ideas? It seems to be about 80% launchable, judging by the hats.
  • October 7, 2011
    TairaMai
    Film:
  • October 7, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    Can we name this something else? Like Custom Paint Job or something? I Thought It Meant something to do with actual noses.
  • October 8, 2011
    AFP
    The name comes from a real-word term, though I suppose it technically only applies to Type A of the trope.
  • October 11, 2011
    AFP
    So, thoughts on names? I've heard Ace Paintjob, Custom Paintjob, and of course my own Nose Art as possible names.

    Really, I'd rather use Ace Custom, but that is a redirect to Super Prototype.
  • October 11, 2011
    AFP
    In fact, looking at the description for Super Prototype, it seems to have at some point at least been related to the trope I'm trying to work with (though now it's more for unique high-performance models of a particular design).
  • October 11, 2011
    TairaMai
    Yup. Now when a company (or nation) is shilling some fancy new Cool Plane yeah, they get garish paint jobs, dovetailing with this trope. Nose art is applied to line vehicles (vehicles already in service), by the crews that operate them. Not necessary the Ace either. Granted many aces had distinctive paint jobs, but so did many air crews.

    "Eve Of Destruction": a gun truck from Vietnam, restored as an example. Not aces, just named by the crew that used it.

  • October 11, 2011
    KZN02
    What about weapons?

    Team Fortress 2: the Backburner has a dragon-shaped nozzle with eyes drawn on it.
  • October 11, 2011
    randomsurfer
    ^^^^Nose Art should be the name, for reasons already mentioned.
  • October 11, 2011
    surgoshan
    Literature
    • In The Riftwar Cycle, on Kelewan, seaships have eyes painted forward on the hulls to scare away sea monsters that actually exist.
  • October 12, 2011
    AFP
    Right, my only concern was that it only accurately defines one type, but I guess we can do Custom Paintjob or something similar as an intuitive redirect.
  • October 13, 2011
    TairaMai
    Film
    • 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.
  • October 13, 2011
    TairaMai
    Compare Marked Bullet for when the rounds have Nose Art
  • October 13, 2011
    Nomic
    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).
  • October 15, 2011
    AgProv
    Real Life:- the Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy) pilot regarded as a bit of a prick by his fitters and riggers, who insisted that his girlfriend's name "PHYLLIS" be painted prominently on the nose of his aircraft. The ground crew followed this to the letter, helpfully adding the two extra letters "SY" to the beginning of the plane's new name....
  • October 15, 2011
    TairaMai

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=lpdfx4r9nv6opeyiy98bfjl2