Saturday, January 12, 2008

Nose Art

I've started noticing a trend in many traditional rods and rat rods. Many have taken on features of wartime machinery. Flat olive paint, flat black exhaust that resemble machine guns, "kill" markings, etc. are just a few things I saw last summer at shows and in magazine articles. Another interesting phenomenon is the use of "nose art" on cars.

I can remember visiting the Dayton Air Force Museum as a child and finding nose art to be pretty cool. Many times the art depicting cartoonish animals, etc....but other times, nose art depicted pin-up girls in various states of dress. Today, I did a little Internet research concerning nose art. There are MANY photographs and articles. Thought I'd share some of the more interesting products of my search.

By: Carmen C. Anderson

Man has a long history of war. A tradition that is associated with this is the warrior's desire to decorate their instruments of war. These instruments could include the warrior himself or their weapons. History is filled with examples of this tradition: Egyptian chariots, Viking ships, Zulu warriors, Native American war paint and Samurai. This was done for a variety of reasons: protection from evil, personal identification, to receive supernatural powers from gods, etc.
During the Twentieth Century this tradition continued primarily by decorating the vehicles of war…the airplane. Nose Art is the genre of art used to decorate combat aircraft. Every since men used airplanes as an instrument of war, they have decorated them with this unique art form. The reasons for decorating the airplane with this form of art, during the Twentieth Century were also numerous and include: sexual deprivation, a battle cry, teasing the enemy, for good luck, etc. Nose art made the aircraft easier to identify other than just simply using the serial number. This provided the plane a personality; it became an entity. When you saw the Dragon Lady returning from a bombing run you could immediately surmise what crew had made it back.

Aircraft nose art did not begin as an American phenomena during World War II. The Italians and Germans are credited with initiating this tradition. The first recorded example appeared as early as 1913. It was a sea monster painted on the nose of an Italian flying boat.1 The Germans in the late World War I, also initiated the tradition by adding a painted mouth under the propeller spinner of the nose.2 Some prefer to describe this as the first nose art because it was applied to the front rather than the side of the airplane; hence the name "nose art."

Although, history shows this artwork spans World War I to Desert Storm, it's Golden Age is said to be World War II and Korea. During this time period Army Air Force officials tolerated the nose art in an effort to boost the morale of the crew. This lack of restraint combined with the stresses of war, and high probability of death resulted in an excess of nose art that has yet to be repeated. Nose art took on many forms such as: cartoon characters, graffiti, animals and of course the female pin-up.

The female pin-up occurred in various stages of dress (often undress). Lack of restraint helped foster the imagination of the artists and aircrew and the sexy pin-ups reflected this wild abandon. As a result, the Army Air Force unsuccessfully tried to restore a sense of decorum with, AAF Regulation 35-22 in August 1944.3 This regulation allowed nose art, but tried unsuccessfully, to institute a "sense of decency." Pin-up nose art, however, was the exception on the Navy and Marine aircraft because of the directives prohibiting nose art.

1 J.P Wood, Aircraft Nose Art, 80 Years of Aviation Artwork (New York: Crescent Books, 1992), p. 7.2 Wood, p. 8.3 Jeffrey L. Ethell and Clarence Simonsen, The History of Aircraft Nose Art, W.W.II to Today (Osceola: Motorbooks International, 1993), p. 25.