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Nose Art

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"Thanks for painting me cross-eyed, you jackwagons..."
"One question answered," he called to the ground. "It's a warplane." No craft whose purpose was peaceful would have had those glaring eyes and that snarling, fang-filled mouth painted on its belly.

So you have your Cool Plane and your Cool Ship, but somehow, they're still not cool enough, truly not worthy of such a badass 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! The Plane Spotters love this kind of thing!

Typically, you will see five varieties of this:

  • 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.
  • The "Pin-Up Girl". Made famous in World War II, these designs often featured scantily-clad (or nude) 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"). Though common among American aircraft in WWII and Korea, it went out of style after that, due to certain individuals declaring it "obscene," "sexist," and "unprofessional" for young men to fly high-risk combat missions with such markings on their aircraft. RAF aviators maintained the practice through the 1991 Gulf War before the same forces caught up with them. The practice survives to this day however, thanks to British tycoon Richard Branson employing pin-up nose art styled around its use in World War II (dubbed 'The Flying Lady') on every plane in the fleet of his airline, Virgin Atlantic.
  • 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. It was most common for combat aircraft in WWI, when famous aces on both sides wanted everyone to know they were there. Manfred Von Richtofen's "Flying Circus" took this to extremes, with every plane wearing a distinctive garish paint job, with all-red airplanes being reserved for the personal use of the young Baron himself.
  • Patriotic slogans or pictures. This kind of nose art was especially popular in USSR (and is still in Russia), where pilots named their planes after their parents, siblings, fallen comrades or historical national heroes (Dimitri Donskoy, Aleksandr Nevsky, Aleksandr Suvorov etc). Some artforms could depict a Soviet eagle subduing a Fascist beast, or slogans like "Mstitel" (Avenger), "Na Zapad" (To West!), Za Rodiny ("For Fatherland") or "Smiert fashistam" (Death to Fascists). They were also popular in the USAAF and RAF. Can often be combined with Type-B.
  • Victory marks. A tally of how many kills/successful missions a pilot has accomplished. The more there are, the more badass the pilot/craft is. They can vary in form from simple tally marks to decals of the victims' roundels or flags.
  • Humorous cartoons. This type was especially popular in the USAAF and Finnish air forces, and would often depict a popular cartoon character, such as Donald Duck or Batman. This type of nose art is common even today. It usually depicts either the war itself or the enemy in ironic or satirical way, and is usually connected to the individual name of the plane. The extreme example of this was a B-24M Liberator 44-49853 It Ain't So Funny, whose entire nose was covered with cartoon characters.

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.note  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.

On the other hand, nose art can be an immense morale boost. The nose art personifies and antropomorphizes the aircraft, creating a bond between the inanimate airplane and its pilot (and ground crew). Even in air forces where strict discipline was stressed, some form of nose art was always tolerated.

Since Tropes Are Flexible, this applies to other vehicles or equipment as well, as long as it fits the spirit of the trope. Compare Itasha, which involves flashy (and nerdy) paintjobs applied to cars. If the ammunition has nose art on it, then it is a Marked Bullet.

Can overlap 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. Nose art may display the ship or plane's name.

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

Truth in Television.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: Many of Char Aznable's Ace Custom mobile suits featured his trademark red paintjob. Played Straight to the point of parody, where several mangas even featured "Char Aznable" custom RB-79 Ball designs, painted red with horns attached.
    • We actually get to see the classic shark face on a few Federation units. Mobile Suit Gundam MS IGLOO features a Ball with one and there's a popular artbook scan featuring a GM Custom from 0083 in a hangar getting one painted onto its helmet.
    • And then there's all of Norba Shino's Mobile Suits in Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, which is a combination of types A (shark grin emblem on the nose, or in this case the head area) and C (a flashy pink paintjob).
    • The original MSV series of model kits and accompanying story inserts gives us an example of the classic pin-up girl version, with the "Gouf Lady", an MS-07 with a topless woman on its shoulder wearing a Stripperific version of the Mobile Suit's own armor, serving as a precursor to the MS Girls artbooks by the guy who made Galaxy Fraulein Yuna.
  • Macross, as befitting a series featuring transforming fighter jets:
    • Super Dimension Fortress Macross (and Robotech) had the "Skull Squadron" inspired by VF-84 the "Jolly Rogers" colors here via the other wiki.
    • Macross Frontier has a healthy dose of all three, including the skull as a Shout-Out to the original Macross on Ozma's VF-25S (and his car). The König Monster has A-10 style Type A nose art originally, then later Type B pinups of the protagonist females of the series. Type C occurs in the Variable Fighter air show special with full body paint jobs again featuring the two female protagonists.
    • Besides the iconic Skull Squadron "Jolly Roger," a number of the non-transformable Destroids have Type B pinups mounted somewhere on their leg. One Tomahawk sports a bat-winged Vampirella in its left calf named "Vamp12", a Defender sports a topless angel on its left toe called "Angel Face", and a Spartan has on its knee a woman in a swimsuit riding on a falling bomb.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • The Discworld-set fic The Price of Flight concerns the Pegasus service, Ankh-Morpork's cadre of messengers, nominally part of the City Air Watch. Each Pegasus pilot is allowed to personalise her mount. Not with anything painted or tattooed onto the animal itself, as this would be cruel. The large flat-fronted forward panniers carried ahead of the saddle, however, can be personalised on their outer faces with artwork specific to the pilot, and all the pilots of the Pegasus Service elect to carry their own distinctions here, subject to Captain Olga Romanoff's approval.
  • Imperial Military Personnel Stories: The Relentless starts each episode with a Flyaway Shot from a close-up of a naked woman painted on the cockpit of an All Terrain Armored Transport loaded into the bay of the Relentless. In Chapter 3, a technician accidentally splashes an entire bucket of paint over the artwork when another AT-AT sideswipes his gantry while he's trying to touch it up.

    Film — Animated 
  • Tony Trihull, the Lemon battleship from Cars 2, has a shark face painted onto his hull.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Apocalypse Now, Colonel Kurtz delivers a scathing and spot-on assessment of the discontinuation of this practice.
    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!
    • In an earlier scene, Colonel Kilgore flies into battle in a Huey with "Death from Above" painted on its nose.
      • The Hueys of the 1st Air Cavalry have the units crossed saber insignia on their noses (which the real unit was known to do in real life, some even wore Stetsons like Kilgore.
  • Chain Lightning: In World War II, Matt flies a B-17 bomber that has been christened the "Naughty Nellie". There's a cheesecake photo of a woman in a swimsuit that Matt touches before boarding his plane.
  • The Lost Squadron: Gibby's WWI fighter plane has a skeleton wielding a scythe painted on both sides.
  • 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"). Given the limited number of flyable B-17s, most had different nose art on each side.
    • 1944 documentary The Memphis Belle, which made that particular plane famous and loosely inspired the 1990 film, shows that this is Truth in Television. There's actually a montage of all the nose art of the bombers in the squadron. One plane chose to avoid cheesecake and instead had a painting of a skunk squirting Hitler, with the caption "In Der Fuhrer's Face".
  • Wartime documentary Report from the Aleutians shows an American fighter plane with its entire nose painted to look like a tiger.
  • 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)
    • Several pilots in the movie also had small logos painted under the cockpits to tie in with their callsigns, and Pretty Boy had his yellow-nosed fighters.
  • 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)
    • The Luftwaffe's yellow-nosed BF 109s also appear in the film.
  • Serenity shows that the ship's name is painted in a stylized seal on the bow of the ship, in both English and Chinese.
    • The crew later invokes this trope by disguising their ship as a Reaver vessel, complete with lots of red paint and human corpses lashed to the hull.
  • 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 the original Silk Spectre (Sally Jupiter).
  • Aliens had the Colonial Marine's Dropship. On the nose was an eagle in combat boots and the phrase "We Endanger Species". The marines had slogans painted on their armor and weapons as well.
  • In Flyboys, the Lafayette Escadrille members each paint a personal symbol on the side of their biplanes. Blaine Rawlings uses the logo of his old ranch in Texas.
  • Avatar: Trudy has a blue and white cheatline painted on her Samson helo in the film's climax, matching the warpaint worn by her Na'vi allies.
    • In the sequel, a similar Samson used by the Na’vi insurgence is painted with similar markings, albeit more elaborate and covering more of the aircraft. It’s for the same reason.
  • Pacific Rim: All the Jaegers have kill markings and various other writing on them. Gipsy Danger sports a pinup on the right chest plate (by Word of God in emulation of World War II bombers).
  • Only Old Men Are Going to Battle: Capt. Titarenko is the leader of a Soviet fighter pilot squad that regularly goes into battle against the Luftwaffe. He is also a great music enthusiast and amateur musician who has organized the men of his squadron into a band. The nose of his fighter plane is decorated by a bar of sheet music.
  • The Eagle and the Hawk: It's a movie about a World War I fighter squadron. Jerry's plane has a painting of the Grim Reaper on the side. The art is thematically appropriate for an anti-war film in which Jerry slowly breaks down as the terror and death of aerial combat get to him.
  • Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. The gyrocopter used by the Gyro Captain has a naked woman painted on one of the tailfins.

  • Guard of Honor: Col. Ross sees an attack bomber with a nose art drawing of a skeleton dancing with a nude woman. The irony here is that Col. Ross is looking at a wreck, the bomber having crashed, killing both pilot and radio man.
  • L.A.C. Crews in Honor Harrington frequently adorn their ships with nose art in a direct reference to the nose art used on aircraft.
  • 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 most garish 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.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Normally averted in the X-Wing Series (the closest they come is kill markers), but when Rogue Squadron resigns for the duration of The Bacta War, they repaint their X-Wings with individualized paint jobs to further distance themselves from the New Republic military. The straightest example is Gavin Darklighter, who paints his up like a krayt dragon: tan with a reptile scale pattern, and a toothy mouth similar to the page picture. Ooryl's fighter looks rather plain unless you can see in the ultraviolet spectrum.
      • Corran Horn's X-Wing has always been painted hunter green with black and white trim, because he took it with him when he defected from the Corellian Security Force and never officially signed it over to the New Republic.
      • When Wraith Squadron goes undercover as Space Pirates in Iron Fist, they custom-paint their stolen TIE Interceptors.
      • In a minor example, the 181st Fighter Group, the Rogues' Imperial counterparts, have red stripes down the wings of their TIEs (and the sleeves of their flight suits), making them the only Imperial fighters which aren't all-over grey.
    • During the New Jedi Order series, Jaina Solo gives a similar order to her personal squadron under not-dissimilar circumstances (ironically, while serving under Wedge Antilles). She paints hers with images of voxyn war beasts, which killed her brother and which she personally helped make extinct.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 when he personally leads the fight against President Clark.
      Lt. Corwin: (about White Star 2's paint job) I mean... won't they know it's him?
      Ivanova: I believe that's the idea, Lieutenant.
  • Several ships and watercraft operated by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on the Animal Planet series Whale Wars feature this; their rigid inflatable boats and the Bob Barker sport shark mouths on the bow, while the Gojira had a picture of the titular monster before being rechristened the Brigitte Bardot,note  whereupon the nose art changed to that of a woman bearing a trident and the organization's flag.
  • In the TV series Riptide the boys use a custom painted helicopter called "Screaming Mimi."
  • Space: Above and Beyond
  • Type D is parodied in the Not the Nine O'Clock News song "I Like Trucking", with a trucker who keeps a tally of hedgehogs.
  • Blake's 7. In "Dawn of the Gods", a robotic slave catcher with teeth painted on the nose and glaring searchlight eyes is sent after our heroes. Some find it more terrifying than others.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): Several pilots from the Battlestar Pegasus have silhouettes of Cylon Raiders painted on their Vipers to indicate how many Raiders they've killed. The crew of the Galactica aren't impressed and Apollo rejects the suggestion they start doing the same thing.

  • In Ruiner Pinball, the top of the "Ruiner" table features two bomb-dropping pinup girls, "Drop Target" and "Da Bomb".

    Tabletop Games 
  • Tabletop wargames in general are very keen on this sort of decoration, both because it's true to life and because it allows players who are skilled at modeling and painting a chance to show off. More often than not, sourcebooks and materials on historical armies and campaigns will include a section on decorating troops and vehicles, sometimes to the level of accurate individual unit and company flashes.
  • BattleTech has Legacy Character "The Bounty Hunter." His Mech is painted a bright green with various currency symbols all over it.
    • Custom paint jobs are generally popular in some MechWarrior circles in the universe, such as among mercenaries and — of course — in the game arenas on Solaris VII. Larger forces tend more towards standardization, although unit-specific paint schemes (for parade purposes if nothing else) aren't uncommon.
    • The spinoff trading card game had an actual "Intimidating Paint Job" card that could be attached to a 'Mech to slightly reduce the attack values of (presumably duly shaken) opposing units.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Eldar Corsairs are fond of ostentatious color schemes, and the Void Dragon Phoenix, a special variant of the Phoenix ground-attack craft, is depicted with a full-body paintjob reminescent of a dragon's scaled hide. Their Craftworld cousins are also known to embellish their vehicles — a motif from Biel-Tan is a long coil of thorned vines, while the Wild Rider clans from Saim-Hann are even more individualized.
    • Imperial aircraft can actually buy a distinctive paintjob or decals as an upgrade that let one unit that sees the plane reroll one leadership test. Imperial tanks and other ground vehicles don't derive any particular special rules from the practice, but it's still mentioned from time to time in the fluff (such as the "Vixens", a tank unit from Death or Glory, whose vehicles feature a cartoon of a fox in a tanker's uniform). And of course Dreadnoughts, being Space Marines, tend to be brightly painted in their Chapter colors and heraldry.
    • Orks, being orks, commonly have garish personalized paint jobs; indeed, it's the idea of uniformity that's odd to them. Yes, the red ones go faster.
  • In GURPS Lensman, smaller spacecraft have "pin-up" noseart, often painted by Anson Maynard. According to the Pyramid article "The Brooklyn Bombshell", two of the examples in the book are modelled on Glamorous Wartime Singer Rachel Ginsberg.

  • Transformers:
    • The original TakaraTomy Masterpiece Starscream, Skywarp, and Thundercracker figures all came with a sheet of decals that included various Mythology Gag squadron insignia, including Starcream's coronation crown, Waspinator, an "Armada" insignia featuring silhouettes of Cyclonus and the Sweeps, and Kremzeek.
    • The Hasbro issue of Thundercracker in the MP-11 Starscream mold (which actually predates Takara's MP-11T release) features tail art of Thundercracker carrying Soundwave in his tape deck mode like a boombox, over the word "SONICBOOM". The backs of his shoulders (which end up on the sides of his jet mode, behind his air intakes) also have a depiction of Reflector in camera mode.
    • The Thrilling 30 version of Doubledealer was a redecorated version of Thrilling 30 Blitzwing that featured nose art of eyes and a toothy mouth as a homage to the original toy's alt mode of a giant birdlike creature with sharp teeth.
    • Lugnut has been known to sport shark teeth on his nose, both on his Reveal The Shield toy and the "Atomic Lugnut" redeco of his original Animated toy.

    Video Games 
  • A staple in the Ace Combat series, from about Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere 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: Fires of Liberation also introduced downloadable custom paint jobs.
  • Quite a few of the planes and helicopters available in Grand Theft Auto V & GTA Online feature detailed nose-art of various types that can be applied to the aircraft.
  • 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.
  • X2: The Threat allows you to import an image file from your computer that would be applied as nose art to all your ships and stations. It could be a pin-up, a coat of arms, whatever. (Game Spot's reviewer used a character from The Simpsons.) In X3: Reunion, Pirate ships have flame paint jobs on their nose, with graffiti scrawled over the rest of the ship.
  • The A-10 Warthog ground attack planes in Battlefield 2 have a warthog face on the nose of the aircraft.
    • The Vietnam version of the Project Reality mod features UH-1 Huey gunships with a massive shark mouth on the nose of the chopper.
  • Sabre Ace: Conflict Over Korea used the "shark mouth" on the F-51 Mustang.
  • Team Fortress 2 features a rather half-assed variant on the payload carts. It seems that the Heavy vandalizes them; they all have something he says scratched into the paintjob or spraypainted on them. For example, the one that's used most often says "CRY SOME MORE" on it. One of them also happens to be designed like a mechanical shark's head.
  • MechWarrior Living Legends's scout aircraft, the Sparrowhawk, has a shark mouth and triangular eyes painted onto each side of the catamaran-like fuselage. The rest of the craft is painted with red stripes. A secret camouflage for the Uziel battlemech gives it a bright red paintjob, with eyes and a mouth painted on its protruding cockpit.
  • The officially released MechWarrior 4 titles featured a fair amount of paint work, which only grew in number and complexity as time passed and Game Mods were introduced. It is probably no surprise that a large number of Atlas paintjobs emphasize that it has a Skull for a Head, usually in some manner of bone-white, gap-toothed grotesqueness. A number of 'Mechs with 'fuselage' bodies (that is, longer front to back than tall) have optional paint jobs featuring the iconic shark-mouth nose art.
  • The Red Baron games feature aces from both sides of the war who have their own custom paintjobs, including the Red Baron himself. You can get one, too, provided you do well enough in the campaign.
  • Certain planes in IL-2 Sturmovik can be customized with these. Most of the available nose arts are reminiscent of real WWII nose arts, but it's possible to mod in your own as we’ll see .
  • As prominently displayed in the closing movie, the Highwind of Final Fantasy VII has a Pin Up girl on the nose. Cid calls her "Lady Luck" and occasionally calls out to her to help him.
  • In Starcraft II, the Goliath has several variant skins, randomly applied when the unit is created, that have different body art, including flames, teeth, angel wings, and the Confederate flag.
    • The Marine unit has a large variety of helmet decorations, like wolf/tiger/panda faces or a Rage Helm. Some are available as in-game avatars.
    • Tychus Findlay has a pinup on one of his pauldrons in a retro style (she's the celebrity who goes in and out of rehab in the bottom text of the UNN broadcasts).
  • S.L.A.I.: Steel Lancer Arena International is positively drowning in nose art choices. There are hundreds of paint and image decorations available for purchase and use on any SV. Among them are a number of national flags, various cheeky comments, and the ever-popular shark smile.
  • Used on a couple of hacked Combine turrets in Half-Life 2: Episode 2. One features the famous shark-nose design, while the other has orange stripes and the resistance's (and the series') signature lambda logo.
  • Persona 5: One of the character's Guardian Entity, Captain Kidd, stands on top of a miniature pirate ship with a Slasher Smile shark grin painted on the bow.
  • In Fallout 4, finding the right issue of Hot Rodder magazine in the post-apocalyptic Commonwealth will allow you to give your suits of Powered Armor a shark mouth paintjob, which looks better on some models than others, but always grants a bonus to your Agility when worn. Alternate color schemes include black flames on a red background or white scallops on pink.


    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • Type D is spoofed in the Goofy cartoon "Motor Mania", with a driver who has the number of pedestrians he's hit stamped on the side of his car. A kid on a scooter is later seen doing the same thing.
  • Il était une fois... Space: Almost all Cassiopeian warships have a Shark nose-esque Type A.
  • Starship Troopers: Invasion: Aside from having their nicknames stenciled on their chestplates, several of the Troopers have custom artwork to help them stand out. Shock Jock has a white cross on his armor, while Trig has a crosshairs on her helmet.
  • Star Wars: Clone Wars: The ARC troopers paint a rancor on their ship.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars continues the tradition, with several clone trooper gunships sporting artwork ranging from pinups to animal mascots and beyond. A few even feature Jedi and Sith.
    • Becomes a joke in the unfinished version of the Bad Batch arc, when Anakin notices the ship used by the titular squad has a pinup of his wife on it. The finalized version removes the art.
  • Storm Hawks: Junko's missiles have these in the first episode, it's notable because he makes them fire when they jam by ''screaming at them'' and their faces actually change into a typical Oh, Crap! expression before firing.

    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.
      • Red was the unit colour of Manfred von Richthofen's old Uhlan cavalry regiment. His brother, Lothar, was a Hussar before joining the Luftwaffe, and he painted his plane yellow, the Hussar unit colour.
    • Allied aviators would paint tricolor roundels and tail flashes on their planes (after earlier experience taught that the Royal Flying Corps's Union Jack could be easily confused for the Germans' Iron Cross. The British, French, Russians, and Americans all used a red-white-blue pattern, with the Brits using red-white-blue (center outwards), the French using blue-white-red, and the Russians and Americans both used white-blue-red, the US Army Air Service not entering the war until the Imperial Russian Air Service had disbanded with the collapse of the Russian Empire.
    • The Americans officially restricted the use of unit insignia to adorn Army Air Service fighters until late in the war, due to concerns that they would tip off the Germans whenever the Americans were redeploying their forces (the arrival of the four squadrons of the First Pursuit Group, for example, often preceded major American offenses).
  • Personalized nose art for individual planes reached its height during WWII, being popular with all of the Western Allies' air forces (the US Navy had strict—and frequently broken—regulations against it, while the Soviets usually preferred patriotic slogans to images). Planes bore images of pinup girls in various states of undress, cartoon characters, patriotic images, insulting caricatures of Hitler and/or Tojo, jokes, and many other subjects. Names and images could be chosen by airmen or ground crews (usually by consensus of everyone assigned to the aircraft). Many American units singled out ground crewmen with artistic skills and assigned them to do nothing but paint and maintain the nose art of their planes.
    • A notable example is Staff Sergeant Sarkis E. Bartigian of the the 43rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), whose artwork on B-24 Liberators would cover much of the plane. His best-known work, 44-40973 The Dragon and His Tail, had the titular dragon running the entire length of the fuselage. Bartigian was also the artist of the above-mentioned It Ain't So Funny.
    • An American B-24 pilot in the 15th Air Force decided to paint a 10-foot diameter bullseye on the exterior of his plane's cockpit, centered on his own seat, with the challenge "Come and get me, you bastards!" prominently marked with it. Whether he had a death wish or was just that confident in the skill of his gunners is open for discussion.
  • 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 Allied squadron to do so, having drawn inspiration from photos of British planes in Africa. Shark-noses actually first appeared on German Bf-110s, which the British took initial inspiration from.
    • The nose of P-40 with its distinctive radiator housing just cried for a shark mouth. That scheme was popular everywhere amongst the P-40 units, including versions featuring tigers, skulls, and anything else with a mouth.
    • The Flying Tigers' winged tiger insignia was designed by Walt Disney Studios: At one point Disney had five artists assigned full time to the creation of insignia for any allied ship or unit that requested one. Ironically, they didn't do much nose art for individual airplanes. Not racy enough, apparently.
    • 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 (though disproved in 2007) to have never let a bomber under their protection be shot down by an enemy plane.
    • Likewise, a 9th AF P-47 unit, the 358th Fighter Group, became known as "The Orange Tails" for this reason.
    • Not to forget 8th Air Force 352nd Fighter Group, the "Blue-Nosed Birds of Bodney".
    • 15th Air Force 325th Fighter Group, the "Checkertail Clan", whose P-47 and P-51 aircraft entire empennage was painted with yellow and black checkerboard pattern.
    • The Germans were big fans of this too. Messerschmitt BF 109s typically featured yellow noses, the paint scheme originally being adopted to avoid being shot at by their own troops while attacking ground targets. Supposedly, the Germans lost more fighters to friendly fire from ground troops during the invasion of Poland than they did from the Polish military.
      • Erich Hartmann, history's highest-scoring fighter ace, had a stylized flower, a black tulip, on the nose of his Bf 109. Soviet pilots quickly learn to recognize the design. Hartmann would swap airplanes with his wingmen so that he could engage unsuspecting enemies in an unmarked aircraft while the wingman could safely gain experience in an airplane the enemy avoided. However, he eventually got rid of the tulip altogether because Soviet pilots refused to engage any aircraft in formation with the black tulip.
    • The shark mouth is the most frequent nose art variety to have survived the Moral Guardians into the present day and remains quite popular across dozens of air forces (and is quite common on boats and vehicles as well). The USAF's A-10 Thunderbolt, seen in the page image, is rarely seen without it, but unlike the A-10 pictured above, most of them feature a unique variant featuring especially prominent tusks—a reference to the A-10’s popular nickname, the Warthog.
  • 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.
    • Likewise the distinctive paint job of the FW-190Ds of Jagdverband 44, which were tasked with providing protection for Me-262 jet fighters during take-off and landing. As such they operated only in the close vicinity of their airfield and avoiding friendly fire from AA guns was more important than being difficult to see.
    • There's a whole history of military aircraft being painted with special markings to prevent confusion with the enemy. When it first entered service, the Hawker Typhoon sported "invasion stripes" on its underside (long before D-Day) to prevent it being mistaken for a German aircraft. In the PTO, Allied aircraft quickly lost any red in their national markings to prevent confusion with Japanese aeroplanes; the RAAF took this to an extreme as the years passed, first painting the leading edges of the wings of their aircraft white (also used by US P-47 Thunderbolts in Europe to distinguish them from Fw-190s) and then painting the entire tail white.
      • The Japanese painted the leading edges of the wings of their fighters yellow as a recognition aid.
  • In 1944, the U.S. Army Air Force began using old battle worn bombers as Assembly Ships, (Sometimes called "Judas Goats") to assist squadrons in assembling into formations for bombing missions over Germany. These were painted in bright garish colors, to make them easier to spot by the crews of the bomber groups. These elderly B 24s, and B 17s were only used to form up on, and did not continue to the targets. Some examples can be seen here and here.
  • During The Vietnam War, it wasn't unusual to see shark faces painted on Huey Cobra helicopter gunships.
  • Up till quite recently, most prototypes of new fighter aircraft were painted in bright colours not too dissimilar from those that might be found on the title mecha of a Humongous Mecha series. Example here. Of course, a prototype would have none of the practical concerns of a production aircraft destined for the battlefield, and indeed, being highly visible would be considered a plus given that the whole purpose of a prototype is to demonstrate whether or not it works.
  • The prototype YF-23 Black Widow had secret red markings painted on it made to look like the "hourglass" on a black widow spider. These were actually red markings painted on sharp edges on some of the aircrafts hatches, supposedly as a safety measure, but in reality a way to apply this trope even though they were supposedly forbidden from doing so by the Air Force.
  • Aircraft belonging to the United States Air National Guard typically feature a tail flash with their state's flag, and aircraft in active duty wings will often have color-coded tail flashes to distinguish jets from separate squadrons within the wing.
  • A US Navy tradition is for one or two aircraft per squadron to be brightly painted with the squadron's colors and emblazoned with its emblems, while the rest are the usual haze-gray low-visiblity paint scheme. These aircraft typically "belong" to the squadron's commanding officer or executive officer, who being more senior fly less often and are not as likely to see direct combat. This allows the squadron to show off its traditions and pride while remaining maximally combat effective. The planes are still fully functional and deadly, however.
  • It is fairly common for military aircraft to receive flashier paintjobs for airshows, in order to make them more entertaining for the crowds.
  • Milestone anniversaries are popular occasions to break out the paint for military aircraft. Squadrons from across the world will paint one (or all) of their aircraft to honor the anniversary of the founding of their nation, their branch of service, or even their specific unit. Anniversaries celebrating when certain aircraft were first introduced are also common, as are anniversaries of certain battles. Some examples:
    • During the United States' bicentennial, a number of squadrons celebrated with a custom paint scheme for one (or all) of their aircraft. The Florida Air National Guard's 159th Fighter Squadron used this paint scheme. Other aircraft were painted in schemes resembling those used by the Thunderbirds, such as this F-14 and this F-15.
    • In honor of the centennial of Naval Aviation, the United States Navy has adorned various jets with World War II-era paint jobs.
    • During the 50th anniversary of Operation Overlord (the invasion of Normandy, often referred to as D-Day, though that term actually applies to any military operation), a number of NATO squadrons painted invasion stripes on their aircraft. Here's an F-16 from Belgium, and a few U.S. Navy A-6 Intruders painted up.
  • NATO squadrons have an annual tradition known as the "Tiger Meet," which involves any squadrons that thematically involve tigers or other kinds of big cats (either in their name, or their unit patch/coat of arms). In addition to being a joint military exercise, Tiger Meets also involve a nose art painting contest, in which the squadrons compete to make the coolest tiger (or big-cat) themed paint job they can. These schemes run the gamut of types, from nose art or tail fin flashes to full-body paint jobs.
    • Since they are only Honorary Members of the NATO Tiger Association, American and Canadian tiger-themed squadrons have their own Tiger Meet of the Americas for the purpose of hosting the event on their side of the pond. Like with the European-based Tiger Meet, paint job competitions are a central event.
  • During the later part of World War II, most USAAF planes were never painted at all, except for their national insignia, unit markings (which became much more gaudy and colorful as a result) and tail number, and personalized nose art. The plane was sent out of the factory in bare aluminum alloy without paint (except for the national insignianote ). The reasons were that it was cheaper and quicker to skip the paint job; and the plane, being somewhat lighter without paint, was also slightly faster (and used slightly less fuel), and that by this point the Americans were putting so many planes into the air over Germany and Japan on a daily basis that camouflaging them was fairly pointlessnote . The USAF continued this practice with all of its aircraft until the early 1960s, when planes sent to Vietnam received the distinctive and iconic SEA (Southeast Asia) camouflage scheme, and still did it with stateside aircraft for a few more years after that.
  • Ancient Greek triemes painted eyes at the bow, near the ram.
  • Ancient Egyptian reed boats also frequently sported painted eyes at the bow, to symbolically watch the river for danger and keep the boat safe, and the tradition continues in many parts of the Nile Valley to this day.
  • The carved dragon figureheads on Viking longships probably qualify.
    • Likewise the figureheads on Age of Sail ships. For example, HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, , and Vasa.
    • This even extended into the Age of Steam and Steel. For example, USS Olympia shows the elaborate scrollwork common to the US Navy's first steel ships, and the Mikasa displays the chrysanthemum, emblem of the Emperor of Japan.
  • Sword hilts and sheaths were a favorite place to put decoration, not least because someone who could afford a sword could afford to make it look cool. Early Medieval swords often had the name of the owner or the name of the smith engraved in them.
  • In general this is a human practice from the dawn of time. Because, you know, humans need to celebrate their favorite sport.
  • Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA), a regional discount airline in the United States, decided to show its sense of humor by having a big smile painted on the nose of all of its planes, accompanied by the advertising slogan "Catch Our Smile." When PSA was bought out by US-Air, former PSA mechanics would paint smiles on the new US-Air planes as a joke.
  • Nose art backfired for a much-disliked pilot in the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm, who insisted his hangar crew rename his plane after his girlfriend. He was not nice about and it and did not ask - he orderednote . The irritated crew painted the name "Phyllis" on the nose of his plane as ordered. The pilot pronounced himself satisfied. After a discreet interval, the letters "SY-" were painted in front of the name. The pilot did not notice. Everyone else on the carrier did.
    • Fleet Air Arm nose art could be very witty, such as the two Firefly fighters, "Evelyn Tentions" and "Lucy Quipment". Evil Intentions and Loose Equipment)
  • German U-boats would have decal painted on their conning tower, which included playing cards, pitchforks, cartoon characters, and even the Olympic Rings for captains who became cadets in 1936 when Nazi Germany hosted the games. Among the most well-known was the "Laughing Sawfish" of U-96.
  • The Four Sisters of the Fourth Anti-Tank Helicopter Squad. A JSDF attack helicopter unit decorated their aircraft with colorful images of Moe female characters, and drew quite a bit of public attention over it, before being told by the Ministry of Defense to cut it out and remove the artwork.
  • There is a story (probably apocryphal, but you never know) of a group of American pilots in the Pacific theater of WWII, who one day decided that before going into combat they would all paint the propellers and noses of their planes bright yellow. Then the next time, before going into combat they painted their noses and propellers bright blue. Then the next time, they painted them bright red. And so on. Their thinking was that the Japanese would see the different colors and think it was a different squadron of fighters every time, giving the impression that the Americans had endless waves of fighters.
  • One popular form of nose art is to paint icons on the sides of the plane to indicate successes in combat. This could be roundels or flags representing enemy aircraft shot down, ships sunk, successful bombing raids performed, and more unusual things like pieces of heavy construction equipment. In the Pacific Theater of Operations, such equipment was incredibly valuable for building bases and repairing airfields, and more importantly, was hard for the Japanese troops to replace.
    • There is a story of one American Volunteer Group pilot who damaged so many fighters in rough landings and accidents, that his mechanics began to paint American flags on the side of his planes. He would eventually see considerable success later in the war as a bomber pilot.
      • This practice became common among the Western Allied air forces for pilots who tended to crash a lot.
    • USAAF crews flying vital supplies over the Himalayas to the Chinese Nationalists would paint a camel on their C-46 Commando transports for each round trip "over the hump." This was especially hazardous duty as they had to navigate between the mountainsnote , often in zero visibility while fighting unpredictable crosswinds and following poorly-drawn maps. The Himalayas are littered with still-unrecovered C-46 crash sites.
  • Chuck Yeager, the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound, had "Glamorous Glennis" (his nickname for his wife) painted on the nose of every plane he flew while in the military. Promotional photos of the Bell X-1 had the nose art airbrushed out by the US government.
  • Skydiving clubs tend to paint their jump aircraft on garish and striking schemes. Justified, since it is also a safety measure as it helps the plane to be seen from a distance.
  • Major Lauri Bremer of the Finnish Air Force painted a large Ace of Hearts on the rudder of his Fokker D.XXI. Not only it served as a recognition insignia (he was the squadron commander), but it was a subtle referral on his wife, Hertta Bremer.
  • During the early years of World War II, a civilian flying auxiliary was formed (initially from a collection of smaller auxiliaries) called the Civil Air Patrol, intended to help organize civil aviation to support the US war effort (this was inspired by similar efforts in pre-war Nazi Germany). Once the US entered the war, CAP pilots, typically in civilian private planes, flew assorted missions in support of the Army and Navy, to include target towing, light transport, wildfire patrols, border patrols, and most famously anti-sub patrols off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. These planes would become known for their distinctive red-or-yellow paintjobs featuring a white-and-blue roundel of a white triangle in a blue circle (the roundel was necessary to grant the crews wartime legal protections if they were captured by the Germans, who could otherwise theoretically accuse them of being unlawful combatants or spies).