So you have your Cool Plane and your Cool Ship, but somehow, they're still not cool enough, truly not worthy of such a Badass Ace Pilot as yourself. You know what would help? Let's paint a freaking shark face on the nose. That will get the desired reaction from your enemies. Plus, it'll look great at airshows!
Typically, you will see three varieties of this:
Type A: Distinctive artwork on the nose or tail. If on the nose, expect something akin to the classic "Shark nose" made famous during World War II. If on the tail, expect distinctive (or even flashy) designs intended to easily identify the plane's unit.
Type B: The "Pin Up Girl". Made famous in World War II, these designs often featured scantily clad women in suggestive poses. Many of these were very temporary in nature, and it was not at all rare for the pinup art to reflect the name of the aircraft (such as the famous "Memphis Belle"). This went out of style after the war, due to a variety of reasons.
Type C: Full-body flashy paintjobs: Often invoked when Rule of Cool is the primary motivator behind the paint scheme. This is common for demonstration aircraft used at air shows or VIP transports not intended to be used near the front lines. Sometimes, even camouflage can fit into this category, as some patterns designed to be very effective at a distance can look downright garish up close.
In Real Life, this trope has generally become much more subdued due to a combination of PR and practicality. Flashy artwork tended to clash with specially-designed camouflage patterns designed to help conceal the plane in combat, making such artwork Awesome but Impractical. Even the traditionally applied roundel insignia, such as the RAF's bullseye had to be replaced with subdued monochrome variants. A typical workaround with those limitations is to put the artwork in a normally-concealed place, like the inside of the wheel wells, or to simply draw it in less contrasting colors.
Can overlap with Ace Custom, which is when the vehicle's design, rather than it's decoration, is unique, often to give a particularly important hero (or villain) particular advantages. Nose art may display the ship or plane's name.
- Mobile Suit Gundam: Many of Char Aznable's Ace Custom mobile suits featured his trademark red paintjob. Played Straight to the point of parody, where several mangas even featured "Char Aznable" custom RB-79 Ball designs, painted red with horns attached.
- Macross (and Robotech) had the "Skull Squadron" inspired by VF-103 the "Jolly Rogers" image here via the other wiki.
- Macross Frontier has a healthy dose of all three, including the skull as a Shout-Out to the original Macross on Ozma's VF-25S (and his car). The König Monster has A-10 style Type A nose art originally, then later Type B pinups of the protagonist females of the series. Type C occurs in the Variable Fighter air show special with full body paint jobs again featuring the two female protagonists.
- Discussed in Apocalypse Now,
Kurtz: We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won't allow them to write 'fuck' on their airplanes because it's obscene!
- In an earlier scene, Colonel Kilgore flies into battle in a Huey with 'Death from Above' painted on its nose.
- Memphis Belle: The Belle and all the other bombers have nose art, with the bombers' callsigns being derived from the nose art (One of the other planes is called "C-Cup").
- Red Tails, a 2012 film based on the exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen, takes its name from the highly recognizable paint job their planes featured. (See also The Tuskegee Airmen and the Real Life section below)
- The Luftwaffe's yellow-nosed Me-109s also appear in the film.
- Serenity shows that the ship's name is painted in a stylized seal on the bow of the ship, in both English and Chinese.
- The crew later invokes this trope by disguising their ship as a Reaver vessel, complete with lots of red paint and human corpses lashed to the hull.
- The Tuskegee Airmen, an HBO film from The Nineties about the first black fighter pilots in the US military during World War II, featured the pilots painting the tails of their fighters bright red, to ensure that the white bomber crews would know who was protecting them. (See Real Life below)
- Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo has the Ruptured Duck, the main character, Captain Ted W. Lawson's aircraft. Based on the real aircraft from the Doolittle raid.
- In the Transformers Film Series, many of the paintjobs used by the Autobots in vehicle mode could arguably count, but the best example is Starscream's Cybertronian War Tattoos, a set of Cybertronian writing covering his entire body, starting immediately after the Decepticons drop the Masquerade in Revenge Of The Fallen.
- Watchmen: In the Opening Montage we see a bomber with nose art of Sally Jupiter.
- Aliens had the Colonial Marine's Dropship. On the nose was an eagle in combat boots and the phrase "We Endanger Species". The marines had a slogans painted on their armor as well.
- In Flyboys, the Lafayette Escadrille members each paint a personal symbol on the side of their biplanes. Blaine Rawlings uses the logo of his old ranch in Texas.
- Avatar: Trudy has a blue and white cheatline painted on her Samson helo in the film's climax, matching the warpaint worn by her Na'vi allies.
- Used as camouflage in Path of the Fury by David Weber. The protagonist have a full-on military assault shuttle while posing as a free trader, which they can hardly justify given their cover. They give it the gariest paintjob imaginable.
"Giolitti winced as he took in the garish crimson and black hull. Some unknown artist had painted staring white eyes on either side of the stiletto prow, jagged-toothed mouths gaped hungrily about the muzzles of energy and projectile cannons, and lovingly detailed streamers of lurid flame twined about the engine pods."
- L.A.C. Crews in Honor Harrington frequently adorn their ships with nose art in a direct reference to the nose art used on aircraft.
- In The Riftwar Cycle, on Kelewan, seaships have eyes painted forward on the hulls to scare away sea monsters that actually exist.
- Normally averted in the X Wing Series (the closest they come is kill markers), but when Rogue Squadron resigns for the duration of The Bacta War, they repaint their X-Wings with individual custom paint jobs to help ensure that nobody thinks they represent the New Republic anymore. The straightest example is Gavin Darklighter, who paints his up like a krayt dragon: tan with a reptile scale pattern, and a toothy mouth similar to the page picture.
- Corran Horn's X-Wing has always been painted hunter green with black and white trim, because he took it with him when he defected from the Corellian Security Force and never officially signed it over to the New Republic.
- When Wraith Squadron goes undercover as Space Pirates in Iron Fist, they custom-paint their stolen TIE Interceptors.
- Babylon 5: The Starfuries operated by the Earth Alliance feature a plethora of custom paint jobs on their upper wings, even on ships flown by Red Shirts and Mauve Shirts. Usually it will just be a distinctive pattern, but some of the fighters include custom artwork, occasionally taking up the entire top wing.
- Two Starfury squadrons are depicted as having whole-body paint jobs: The escorts for Earth Force One, with a blue-and-white paint job inspired by the Real Life Air Force One, and the Black Omega Squadron.
- In the fourth season of the show, Captain Sheridan has Babylon 5's emblem painted on the hull of his flagship.
- Several ships and watercraft operated by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on the Animal Planet series Whale Wars feature this; their rigid inflatable boats and the Bob Barker sport shark mouths on the bow, while the Gojira had a picture of the titular monster before being rechristened the Brigitte Bardot, whereupon the nose art changed to that of a woman bearing a trident and the organization's flag.
- In the TV series Riptide the boys use a custom painted helicoptor called "Screaming Mimi."
- Space: Above and Beyond: Chiggy Von Richtofen's Super Prototype: A human skull painted on the nose with Abandon All Hope written on the side.
- BattleTech has Legacy Character "The Bounty Hunter". His Mech is painted a bright green with various currency symbols all over it.
- Warhammer 40,000 encourages various Kustom Jobs on models.
- Imperial aircraft can actually buy distinctive paintjob or decals as an upgrade (it lets one unit that sees the plane reroll one leadership test).
- Void Dragon Phoenix, a special variation of the Phoenix ground-attack plane used by the Eldar Void Dragon corsair band is depicted with a full-body paintjob (that, unsurprisingly considering the corsair band's name, looks like the scaly hide of a dragon) in its official paintjob.
- A staple in the Ace Combat series, from about Ace Combat 3 Electrosphere onwards. Shooting down certain enemy Ace Pilots allows you to slap their paint jobs onto your planes of the same model. Other special paint jobs were unlocked by completing certain plot missions. Ace Combat 6 Fires of Liberation also introduced downloadable custom paint jobs.
- Alluded to in the Codex of the Mass Effect games: Warships use heat-sinks to disperse internal heat to the outer hull due to an aversion of Space Is Cold. The portions of the hull absorbing all of the heat glow white-hot in combat, giving the ships the appearance of bearing glowing white tiger-stripes.
- In Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, the titular mech is decorated with a butterfly insignia on its head. Naked Snake uses the word 'nose art' to describe it.
- X2: The Threat allows you to import an image file from your computer that would be applied as nose art to all your ships and stations. It could be a pin-up, a coat of arms, whatever. (Game Spot's reviewer used a character from The Simpsons.)
- The A-10 Warthog ground attack planes in Battlefield 2 have a warthog face on the nose of the aircraft.
- Sabre Ace Conflict Over Korea used the "shark mouth" on the F-51 Mustang.
- Team Fortress 2 features a rather half-assed variant on the payload carts. It seems that the Heavy vandalizes them; they all have something he says scratched into the paintjob or spraypainted on them. For example, the one that's used most often says "CRY SOME MORE" on it. One of them also happens to be designed like a mechanical shark's head.
- The practice dates all the way back to the first major use of airplanes in battle: World War I. Pilots painted designs on their airplanes both to personalize them and to make them easier to identify on the battlefield (as much to avoid shooting friendly planes as to avoid being shot at by friendly ground forces.)
- Probably the most famous example from that war, of course, would be Manfred von Richthofen, AKA The Red Baron, with his Fokker Triplane's red full-body paintjob.
- During World War II, The American Volunteer Group, also known as The Flying Tigers, were famous for the shark-nose paint jobs on their Curtis P-40 Warhawks. Of course, while they are famous for using the shark-nose paint scheme, they were not the first squadron to do so, having drawn inspiration from photos of British planes in Africa.
- The Flying Tigers' winged tiger insignia was designed by Walt Disney Studios: At one point Disney had five artists assigned full time to the creation of insignia for any allied ship or unit that requested one. Ironically, they didn't do much nose art for individual airplanes. Not racy enough, apparently.
- Similarly, the 332d Fighter Group was famous in Europe for painting the tails of their planes red, earning them the nickname "Red Tailed Angels" by the Bomber pilots they escorted. Nowadays they are famous, of course, for being the first black fighter pilots in US military history, the Tuskegee Airmen, who are said (though disproved in 2007) to have never let a bomber under their protection be shot down by an enemy plane.
- The Germans were big fans of this too. Messerschmidt Me-109s typically featured yellow noses, the paint scheme originally being adopted to avoid being shot at by their own troops while attacking ground targets. Supposedly, the Germans lost more fighters to friendly fire from ground troops during the invasion of Poland than they did from the Polish military.
- The distinctive Invasion Stripes insignia was painted on fighters, reconnaissance planes, transports, and twin-engined bombers belonging to the Allied nations during and after the Battle of Normandy, in order to prevent friendly-fire incidents amongst the thousands of aircraft operating over Western Europe. The practice ended a few months later because the paint jobs also made it much easier for German pilots to spot the planes on the ground.
- Likewise the distinctive paint job of the FW-190Ds of Jagdverband 44, which were tasked with providing protection for Me-262 jet fighters during take-off and landing. As such they operated only in the close vicinity of their airfield and avoiding friendly fire from AA guns was more important than being difficult to see.
- During The Vietnam War, it wasn't unusual to see shark faces painted on Huey Cobra helicopter gunships.
- Up till quite recently, most prototypes of new fighter aircraft were painted in bright colours not too dissimilar from those that might be found on the title mecha of a Humongous Mecha series. Example here. Of course, a prototype would have none of the practical concerns of a production aircraft destined for the battlefield, and indeed, being highly visible would be considered a plus given that the whole purpose of a prototype is to demonstrate whether or not it works.
- Aircraft belonging to the United States Air National Guard typically feature a tail flash with their state's flag, and aircraft in active duty wings will often have color-coded tail flashes to distinguish jets from separate squadrons within the wing.
- A US Navy tradition is for one or two aircraft per squadron to be brightly painted with the squadron's colors and emblazoned with its emblems, while the rest are the usual haze-gray low-visiblity paint scheme. These aircraft typically "belong" to the squadron's commanding officer or executive officer, who being more senior fly less often and are not as likely to see direct combat. This allows the squadron to show off its traditions and pride while remaining maximally combat effective. The planes are still fully functional and deadly, however.
- It is fairly common for military aircraft to receive flashier paintjobs for airshows, in order to make them more entertaining for the crowds.
- Milestone anniversaries are popular occasions to break out the paint for military aircraft. Squadrons from across the world will paint one (or all) of their aircraft to honor the anniversary of the founding of their nation, their branch of service, or even their specific unit. Anniversaries celebrating when certain aircraft were first introduced are also common, as are anniversaries of certain battles. Some examples:
- During the United States' bicentennial, a number of squadrons celebrated with a custom paint scheme for one (or all) of their aircraft. The Florida Air National Guard's 159th Fighter Squadron used this paint scheme. Other aircraft were painted in schemes resembling those used by the Thunderbirds, such as this F-14 [dead link] and this F-15.
- In honor of the centennial of Naval Aviation, the United States Navy has adorned various jets with World War II-era paint jobs.
- During the 50th anniversary of D-Day (the invasion of Normandy), a number of NATO squadrons painted invasion stripes on their aircraft. Here's an F-16 from Belgium, and a few U.S. Navy A-6 Intruders painted up.
- NATO squadrons have an annual tradition known as the "Tiger Meet," which involves any squadrons that thematically involve tigers or other kinds of big cats (either in their name, or their unit patch/coat of arms). In addition to being a joint military exercise, Tiger Meets also involve a Nose Art painting contest, in which the squadrons compete to make the coolest tiger (or big-cat) themed paint job they can. These schemes run the gamut of types, from nose art or tail fin flashes to full-body paint jobs.
- Since they are only Honorary Members of the NATO Tiger Association, American and Canadian tiger-themed squadrons have their own Tiger Meet of the Americas for the purpose of hosting the event on their side of the pond. Like with the European-based Tiger Meet, paint job competitions are a central event.
- Averted during World War II for some American planes which were never painted at all. The plane was sent out of the factory in bare aluminum alloy without paint (except for the national insignia). The reasons were that it was cheaper and quicker to skip the paint job; and the plane, being somewhat lighter without paint, was also slightly faster (and used slightly less fuel). This was continued for several decades with certain planes.