Reviving an Air Force Tradition

Nose Art Makes A Comeback

The nose of a U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II displays a painted set of eyes and teeth over the aircraft’s 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon during the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron’s deployment in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve at Graf Ignatievo, Bulgaria, March 18, 2016.  The painting dates back throughout aviation history, where some cultures believed the paint intimidated opponents or warded off evil spirits aimed at disrupting the flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

The nose of a U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II displays a painted set of eyes and teeth over the aircraft’s 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon during the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron’s deployment in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve at Graf Ignatievo, Bulgaria, March 18, 2016. The painting dates back throughout aviation history, where some cultures believed the paint intimidated opponents or warded off evil spirits aimed at disrupting the flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

First used during WWI on the noses and fuselages of fighters and bombers, “nose art” really took off with American aviators during World War II. Ranging from cartoon characters to racy pin-ups, personalizing aircraft became a way of identifying with the mission and maintaining esprit de corps. The practice all but died in the early 1970s when Air Force Chief of Staff John Ryan called for a moratorium on the practice.

Today, there are strict rules in place and all nose art suggestions have to be vetted through a rigorous approval process. A 2015 Air Force memorandum spells out the criteria for nose art, saying it must be “distinctive, symbolic, gender neutral, intended to enhance unit pride, designed in good taste,” as well as abiding by copyright and trademark laws.

A No 37 Squadron C-130J Hercules proudly displays its nose art during Exercise Red Flag 2015.

A No 37 Squadron C-130J Hercules proudly displays its nose art during Exercise Red Flag 2015.

And despite the strict rules, painted aircraft are appearing in all theaters of operation, flying combat missions against the Islamic State group, patrolling the skies near resurgent Russian forces, and keeping a close watch on North Korean activities. Nostalgia­ – rather than antagonism – appears to be the motivation for the resurgence.

Six F-15s from the 493rd Fighter Squadron at RAF Lakenheath in England fly with “kill marks” painted on them, simple stars marking the number of enemy takedowns during past conflicts, said Lt. Col. John Stratton, the squadron’s commander. Together, the jets have nine stars. Some of these aircraft were among the F-15s that deployed to Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base in November. Though the F-15s are over thirty years old, there are no F-22s or F-35s with a “kill mark.”

The “WuShock” is displayed on a KC-135R Stratotanker Jan. 12, 2015, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. The nose art was created to honor Wichita’s foremost educator, Wichita State University, for supporting Team McConnell through various education programs and community events.

The “WuShock” is displayed on a KC-135R Stratotanker Jan. 12, 2015, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. The nose art was created to honor Wichita’s foremost educator, Wichita State University, for supporting Team McConnell through various education programs and community events.

Senior Master Sgt. Chad Heithoff, with the 55th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, helped jump-start a nose art project in 2014 for the KC-135 tankers at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. Now he’s moved on to the RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. Known as “The Cobra Ball,” one of Offut’s RC-135s bears a serpent, tightly coiled around a black sphere. Heithoff recently returned from a deployment to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar and told Air Force Times, “I saw a lot of aircraft with nose art,” he said. “I think this is starting to spread.”

An aircraft dedication ceremony was held Jan. 29, 2016, at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho. During the ceremony both the “Pride of Eagle” and the “Pride of Kuna” were unveiled to civic leaders, civilians and military members. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua C. Allmaras/Released)

An aircraft dedication ceremony was held Jan. 29, 2016, at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho. During the ceremony both the “Pride of Eagle” and the “Pride of Kuna” were unveiled to civic leaders, civilians and military members. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua C. Allmaras/Released)

Mariah Harm, a Stapleton, Neb., native and senior at Stapleton High School, unveils her artwork on the nose of a KC-135R Stratotanker at the 155th Air Refueling Wing, Nebraska Air National Guard Base Aug. 8, in Lincoln, Neb.

Mariah Harm, a Stapleton, Neb., native and senior at Stapleton High School, unveils her artwork on the nose of a KC-135R Stratotanker at the 155th Air Refueling Wing, Nebraska Air National Guard Base Aug. 8, in Lincoln, Neb.

One of the many colorful designs on the KC-135R Stratotanker at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, Tennessee (photo by Master Sgt. Kendra Owenby, 134 ARW public Affairs/released)

One of the many colorful designs on the KC-135R Stratotanker at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, Tennessee (photo by Master Sgt. Kendra Owenby, 134 ARW public Affairs/released)

 

 

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