WWII Army Air Force Markings

Posted July 2010

All right, you're going to ask:  "What does this have to do with Fly Babies?"

This article stemmed from a discussion on the Fly Baby mailing list.  A comment was made about the historical accuracy of the "Junkers" cosmetic reworking by two British and one Texan Fly Baby owners.  I allowed that the paint schemes might not be strictly historically correct, but that bothered me less than the mistakes people made when they tried to put US WWII markings on their aircraft...including both ACTUAL wartime planes, as well as the Fly Babies so marked.  And the question then arose, "What mistakes do you mean?"  And this article resulted.

There is actually a stronger Fly Baby tie-in:  one of Pete Bowers first articles for the FLYER magazine in the '70s was about WWII markings for the US Army Air Force...and how warbirders were getting them wrong.  This article is strongly based on Pete's original article, with my own drawings added to illustrate the evolution of the insignia.  In any case, pre- and during WWII markings are pretty popular on Fly Babies.  If you decide to do it...here's how to do it right.

On 11/16/2010 8:10 AM, Ron Wanttaja wrote:

> The trouble is, *I'm* kinda of that bent.  I dislike it when people get
> stuff like this wrong.  There's a major aviation museum with a huge WWII
> section, and looking over it all is an improper US aircraft insignia.
> It bugs the hell out of me.

OK:  I got asked.

The big thing to remember is that the design wasn't just ginned up from scratch.  It *evolved*, and if you understand the evolution, you'll understand why it looks the way it does and why errors are so obvious.

About 40 years ago, Pete Bowers wrote an article for "Flyer" magazine, called "Insignia Proportions."  This is mostly cribbed from Pete's article, so I think we're on topic for the Fly Baby group. :-)

Let me get one other pet peeve out of the way immediately.  There was no "Army Air Corps" during WWII.  The US Army Air Corps had been renamed the Army Air Forces in mid 1941.

USAAF and US Navy aircraft entered the war with the classic white star in the blue disk with the red dot in the middle.  People often get the size of the red dot wrong... they paint the red dot so big it fills the area between the inside white points of the star.  The dot wasn't that big...in fact, if you connected the center points of the star (generating an inverted pentagram), the red dot would just touch the lines.  The outer points of the white star went right to the edge of the blue disk.

It's a cool insignia, and has graced dozens of Fly Babies.

However, it DOES have a disadvantage during wartime...when the enemy uses a red dot as their aircraft's national markings.  Pilots would dive on an unknown aircraft and fixate on the red dot, not noticing the surrounding white star and blue disk.

Accordingly, just a few months after the war started, the AAF and USN dropped the red dot.  The marking was the same...they just painted out the red.  (Page 3)  Note that RAF/RAAF airplanes operating in the Pacific did the same.  They replaced the inner red dot of the RAF insignia with a pale blue disk.

With the red dot gone, pilots started having trouble seeing ANY markings...with the Olive Drab (or Blue) paint on the top surfaces of the airplane, the white star just didn't stand out.

So they decided to add white "wings" to the star.  The wings were 1/2 of the Blue Disk's radius wide, and stuck out past the point of the star by a distance equal to the radius.

It looked a bit weird sticking out on either side, so they decided to add a red border around the entire insignia.  This border was equal to 1/8th of the radius wide, and was added BEYOND the existing blue circle.  Notice how the border turns when it hits the wings...the original radius of the inner blue disk is apparent at that point.

But the powers what be, in their infinite wisdom, decided to make this unifying border red.  And, of course, the same thing happened again...pilots got fixated on the red.

So just two months later, the order went out:  Paint the red border the same color as the blue disk.

The upshot is that the white star *no longer goes* to the edge of the blue disk.  That imaginary 1/8th radius border is still there.  This image shows the final result with a thin white line around the original disk.  Note how the only change is to the border color:

Here's the same image, with the faint border removed (the actual appearance of the markings):

Many US Navy airplanes were ALREADY painted insignia blue...and thus their national markings just consist of a white star with the white wings...cutoff as it the blue border was there.

A couple of years later, the Army Air Force became the US Air Force. Since we weren't at war with Japan anymore, they decided to put the red back in.  The red bar slightly thicker than the border, being 1/6th of the radius OF THE ORIGINAL DISK.

So:  With your newfound deep knowledge of WWII USAAF insignia, what's wrong with this picture?

That's the mural on the wall of the Eagle Hangar at the EAA Museum.  A great piece of art...marred by one lack of attention to one subtle detail.

Bet the next time you go to a Fly-In, you'll see at least one $1M restoration with the markings wrong....

Ron Wanttaja

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