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Airline Nose Art

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Airline Nose Art

18.01.2017


I thought it interesting to start 2017 off with the art of flying, not the journey but the aircraft. Commonly known as ‘nose art’ it is the decorative painting or design on the fuselage of an aircraft, usually on the front fuselage.

While begun for practical reasons of identifying friendly units in war time, the practice evolved to express the individuality often constrained by the uniformity of the military, to evoke memories of home and peacetime life, and as a kind of psychological protection against the stresses of war and the probability of death. The appeal, in part, came from nose art not being officially approved, even when the regulations against it were not enforced.

Because of its individual and unofficial nature, it is considered folk art, inseparable from work as well as representative of a group. It can also be compared to sophisticated graffiti. In both cases, the artist is often anonymous, and the art itself is ephemeral.

Placing personalized decorations on fighting aircraft began with Italian and German pilots. The first recorded piece of nose art was a sea monster painted on an Italian flying boat in 1913. This was followed by the popular practice of painting a mouth beneath the propeller’s spinner, begun by German pilots in World War I. The cavallino rampante (prancing horse) of the Italian ace Francesco Baracca was another well-known image. Nose art of that era was often conceived and produced not by the pilots, but rather the aircraft ground crews.