by Melissa LaScaleia
Painting art on the nose of military planes, known as nose art, is a tradition that dates back to World War I in America.
The typical art during this time was mainly that of embellished squadron insignia and many don’t rank it among true nose art.
After the war, the military became more strict with regulations in an attempt to phase out the practice. With the dawning of the Second World War however, there was a resurgence, when the regulations were relaxed or deliberately ignored in favor of artistic expression. It was the period of history that saw the golden age of aircraft nose artistry.
Living in wartime, when every flight could be your last, nose art served as a powerful morale booster. It put a smile on the face of servicemen risking their lives for their country and encouraged them.
During such tense and uncertain times, many crew developed bonds with their planes, and the personalization via art served to strengthen that bond. Many grew to feel that the art was a good luck symbol. The nose art unified the crew, as it distinguished them from all of the others in their unit or base, and gave them something additional to rally behind and take pride in.
Artwork varied in preferences, but common themes often included that of pin-up girls, scenes of home, patriotic or good luck symbols, and animals real and imagined, like tigers, sharks, and dragons. Others included cartoon characters and fierce messages of enmity for the enemy.
Another common theme which bolstered morale and reaffirmed the mission of the U.S. position during the war, was depictions of the U.S. as warriors against evil.
Sometimes faces were drawn that took on a life of their own, and many had accompanying writing, like the name of a commander or the plane’s nickname.