Pilots have long liked to personalize their aircraft. During World War I, German and Italian pilots would add mouths underneath the propeller spinner of their planes or insignia art on the fuselage. In the American air squadrons, these insignia became official policy, so that the pilots could identify each other's squadrons, like the heraldic shields of the Middle Ages.
During World War II, these designs evolved into true Nose Art: individualized designs painted usually on the aircraft's nose. Although some services, such as the U.S. Navy, prohibited such artwork, U.S. Army Air Force commanders were more likely to tolerate such personalization to encourage morale.
Sometimes the artwork was done by talented servicemen, but sometimes it was done by professional artists. Walt Disney Studios provided many nose art designs as part of the war effort. Nose art designs often featured beautiful women in pin-up poses; although the more risque designs tended to be used in the Pacific Theater, farther from civilian eyes.
WWII was the Golden Age of Airplane Nose Art. During the Korean War, changes in official attitudes towards decorating government property and in attitudes towards representing women led to a decline in nose art. More recently, however, nose art has had something of a revival, with the Air Force unofficially permitting the return of the pin-up (provided she remains clothed, anyway).
Game and Story Use
- Do your PCs have their own airplane/spaceship/vehicle of some sort? Let them personalize it with a nice, tasteful piece of nose art!
- If you or one of your players is an artist, they can design their own!
- (Yes, this arcanist is a cartoonist, so he would say that!)
- If you're doing a Weird World War, nose art can be functional, as a way to anchor spells to a plane.