Military Aircraft Nose Art: An American Tradition
During World War II, and again in the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf Wars, colorful images appeared on the nose sections of American military aircraft. Loved and hated, photographed and censored, the paintings known as nose art have been a controversial tradition.
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Not to be confused with official markings or insignia, nose art personalizes a plane for its crew, because it is the crew members who name the plane and create the art, imbuing the plane with an identity of its own. Although some examples of nonregulation art can be found on the military aircraft of other English-speaking countries, the phenomenon is predominantly American, perhaps due to the streak of rebellious individualism attributed to American culture. Nose art is important as an historical and societal indicator over time, an example of folk art or popular expression, and a record of the past.
The images presented in this website are largely from 35mm slides taken by Dr. James S. Griffith, retired Coordinator of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona and currently Research Associate with the UA Southwest Center. Dr. Griffith photographed the nose art when he learned that aircraft recently flown into the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) at Tucson's Davis-Monthan Air Force Base were scheduled to be destroyed, in compliance with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The aircraft were cut into five pieces, but the panels of art are saved for future display. Most of the examples are of B-52 aircraft dating from the Gulf War period. Additionally, there are some examples of nose art from earlier eras which were taken by Dr. Griffith at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson. This exhibit presents a brief history of the tradition with images of aircraft from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Pima Air and Space Museum.
In addition to images of Dr. Griffith's slides, the website has grown thanks to donations made by Internet visitors interested in military aircraft nose art. In November 2007, for example, a collection of military aircraft nose art on Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) planes, New Guinea, 1942-1946, was created. In 2009 Bill Cline contributed photos and information that his father's collection.