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Nose art ‒ for imaginations in the sky

Great noses: Making a plane more beautiful

Somebody once said that the history of our civilization is the history of wars. As a rule, during all wars fighters decorate their arms. It was true in Europe and Asia, before Christ and during the Renaissance, and nobody knows the definitive reason for it. I think a lot of the supposed reasons are possible, such as protection from evil, to stand out from the crowd, to get help from the heavens and a delight to the eyes.

Despite the development of technology, human psychology remains the same. In the 20th century, the need to make deadly weapons beautiful gave birth to an interesting art movement called “Nose art”, which originated with aeroplanes ‒ the nose was the propeller’s spinner under which was painted the beast. Weaponry has changed from swords to aircraft, but still the most popular symbols are beauties and beasts.

The first example of Nose art is generally considered to be the Italian flying boat, a fixed-winged seaplane with a hull allowing it to land only on water, painted back in 1913. Neither pilots nor land crew had permission to paint their planes in WWI. The painting of crafts was never officially accepted and a lot of them were made by anonymous artists. Nevertheless, pilots were men who needed positive motivation just as people do today. During all wars, Nose art was an emotional booster. When faced with death at every flight, the crew needed some warm sentiments and cause to smile while boarding the aircraft.

It’s no wonder that World War II is considered the golden age of Nose Art, when pilots made their mark from cartoon characters, invaders and graffiti to pin-up girls, dressed and undressed. One of the largest known works of Nose art from this period is The Dragon and his Tail. It was painted on the American combat aircraft B-24J Liberator, flown by Joseph Pagoni as a captain and Sarkis Bartigan as a Staff Sergeant, who was the author of the cartoon. The dragon, whose body is covering almost the whole length of the craft, is holding a nude woman at its feet. It’s a bit of everything: cartoons, smiles and comics for adults.

To restore a sense of morality in some countries, such as the US, regulations to prohibit too immodest forms of Nose art were issued, unsuccessfully. We still can observe pin-up girls on fighting machines. Modern military Nose art also exists, though rarely. In 1993, the US Air Force permitted a pilot to make a personal touch to his craft, as long as it was gender neutral, pin-up ladies not allowed.

As for the painting of commercial crafts, which can be very artistic as well, it usually takes 8 to 15 people working around the clock. For a Boeing 737, the most popular narrow-bodied passenger airliner, it takes eight to ten days to paint and adds 255 kilograms to the aircraft. The paint requires 12 hours to seven days to dry and the whole process costs between 100,000 and 200,000 US dollars. Most planes are repainted every six to eight years. On the other hand, Emirates Airbus 380, the largest passenger aircraft, needs 34 people working 6,000 hours over 15 days to repaint; last year Emirates repainted 33 planes.

Of course, artistic painting takes more effort, but the effects can be amazing. If you want to paint your own “flying baby”, or even the model of it, everything is up to you. As Einstein said, “Others have seen what is and asked, ‚Why?’ I have seen what could be and asked, ‚Why not?’.