Aircraft “Nose Art”

Peter Driben Pinup WWIIMost associate “nose art” with World War II airplanes and it would not have been uncommon to see a WWII pinup girl by Peter Driben on the side of a B-17. Did you know that decorating airplanes with artwork goes back earlier than WWII? Ever since men went to war they have felt the need to personalize their aircraft with unofficial and personal markings. The first recorded example of nose art is said to have been an Italian flying boat in 1913 (it had a sea monster painted on the nose). It is also interesting to note that Italian and German airmen were instrumental in the practice of nose art. (Although at first it was usually just squadron insignias.)

Ideas for nose art came from everywhere… girlfriends, wives, posters, calendars, comics, or historical events but they all had one thing in common and that was to inspire and to relieve the stress of war. The golden age of nose art is generally associated with World War II and the Korean war but there are examples from Vietnam, the Gulf War, and even the airplanes of today. I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of them….

World War I

Francessco Barracca

This is Italian Ace Francessco Barracca with his Spad XIII World War I fighter. He was part of the 91st Squadriglia. *Note the black horse artwork on the side of the airplane, it was later used by Enzo Ferrari as the company logo.

World War II

Woody WoodpeckerSecrut Weapin

Woody Woodpecker was created in 1940 by artist Ben Hardaway and Walter Lantz animation studio and was very popular during WWII. Here he is featured on a B-24 bomber known as “Secrut Weapin.”

World War II

B-24 Suprise AttackSuprise Attack

This is an Alberto Vargas pinup girl painted on the side of a B-24 bomber.

World War II

Brinkman LibraPhil Brinkman was another poular artist during WWII. Here is one of the Zodiac series that he did on the side of a B-24. There was a B-24 featuring each of the zodiac signs except Taurus.

World War II

Sentimental JourneyOf course many have seen the Actress Betty Grable on this B-17 of the Commerative Air Force. (She was a popular actress of the time.)

World War II

B-29 BockscarThis is the nose art featured on the B-29 that dropped the second atomic bomb “Fatman” over Nagasaki, Japan at the end of WWII. (It is now in the Wright Patterson Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.)

Vietnam to Present

F8 CrusaderSharks teeth are very popular and they were not only on P-40′s of WWII but you can see them on modern fighters such as this F8 Crusader.

Vietnam to Present

B52 Express Delivery

This is a B-52 bomber with nose art called “Express Delivery”.

Vietnam to Present


KC 135 tankers have nose art too!

Vietnam to Present

A-10 Shark mouth

The A-10 Thunderbolt “Warthog” on the left features a sharks mouth like the P-40 and F8 Crusader; it is the inspiration behind our A-10 Warthog “Bite ‘Em” design. Click here to see the “Bite ‘Em” design….
I hope you enjoyed the brief look at some of my favorite nose art pictures. it was fun writing the story. If you would like to see some more of designs click here to visit my online portfolios…

Here is a book that I have and it has great pictures of aircraft noseart! Vintage Aircraft Nose Art (Motorbooks Classic) Paperback – by Gary Valant

5 Responses to “Aircraft “Nose Art””

  1. rahul arora says:

    I have been a fan of art on the sides of planes for as long as i can remember. thank You for bringing them back to life! I am a student pilot at Chimes Aviation Academy ( and fly a Cessna 172. I wish they would let me paint the sides of my training aircraft too!

  2. Aerotoons 1 says:

    I’m glad you liked the article. I had an Ultralight that I built and painted small “nose art” on it. Perhaps I’ll include them at some time in this article.

  3. Thanks for the information!

  4. N. Hartman says:

    Would you happen to know if the pin-up on the top of your web page with a red headed girl sitting on top of a TNT bomb by Peter Driben is a copy writed item ? We are a group in DFW Texas and in the process of restoring a Douglas B-26B Invader which should be on the airshow tours next year. We were thinking of using this image as our nose art. The
    T N T title would fit in really well seeing our aircraft is a Night Intruder model. The TNT would stand for ” To – Nite’s – Target ” TNT.

    Thank you

  5. Aerotoons 1 says:

    Hi, I’m not sure, I did a copyright search and this pin-up is not registered.