From the most feared military aircraft to commercial planes flying passengers to a variety of different countries, nose art has remained a favorite hobby for certain artists. Even Richard Branson's fleet of Virgin planes got in on the act with their signature "Virgin Girls" planes.
That said, the practice evolved from the military to create a sense of warmth and identity in a time of uniformed bloodshed. Read on below as we chronicle 30 of the best examples of aircraft nose art from around the world.
1. The Outlaw
This impressive piece of artwork on a pressurized long-range bomber was a fairly common sighting in World War II. Various planes had their noses painted with images of attractive women. Army Air Corps reportedly referred to this plane as the super bomber, an apt name considering it was capable of dropping a 20,000 pounds bomb payload at a distance of over 2600 miles.
After a bidding war between Douglas, Lockheed, and Boeing, Boeing ultimately proved victorious.
2. Southern Breeze
This beauty is housed at the Andrews Airforce Base in Maryland and remains an enduring example of wartime nose art. The Southern Breeze Belle was painted on the tip of a KC–135 aircraft. A colossal plane with a length of 136’3″, the military aircraft is comprised of just 50% aluminium.
Other metals include magnesium and titanium. The best part of all? Its landing wheels are comprised of the same amount of material as that of 100 automobile tires!
3. Executive Sweet
Being a bomber was an isolating job which involved a constant state of malaise and moral questioning of one's actions, so it was always nice to know a sweet woman was by their side, or in these particular cases: on their nose.
This particular model, the B-25, was comprised mostly of glass and would be seen flying above the Pacific and engaging in the many wars that took place in that region. During the five years served in the war, they were upgraded and kitted out with new features. At one point, a later model contained up to 14 machine guns.
4. Fightin' Sam
Now if you wanted a fearless companion by your side in combat, then this Fightin’ Sam artwork would sure ease your mind going into battle. This cool piece of art was on the nose of a B-24 bomber. The famed plane came fitted with a Pratt & Whitney R-1830 twin supercharged engines and these epic three blade variable pitch propellers.
Later models would see the plane upgraded with better wingspans to aid flight performance. A favorite of the British Royal Air Force despite being made for the French army, Britain affectionately nicknamed this plane the Liberator.
5. Superman II
If I was going to go into a battle in sky-high altitude, I'd want Superman watching out for me. A great, uplifting superhero that can lift anyone's spirits, this can piece of nose art can be found on the KC–135A.
Better still, the model would be one of the first wartime aircrafts to adapt with the climate in mind, and thus later models reduced pollution and bettered their fuel efficiency and noise levels. So ahead of its time was this innovative beast that two of its following engines were capable of doing the work of three KC–135A engines.
6. Dream Girl
Check out the talent on this propeller. Adorned on the A–26 Invader as an upgrade from the A–20 Havoc, this aircraft engaged in a variety of European battles during World War II.
A three-seater behemoth that could single out targets in a way not even faster jets could, this impressive feat of engineering was famed for its ability to handle long-distance journeys.
7. La Patrona
How stylish is this? This high-toned bad boy is as slick as they come. Used in World War II, the F-7F Tiger Cat was one of many innovative, groundbreaking Grumman factory aircraft.
It was equipped with two massive 21,000 horsepower engines with its speed bettering even that of the Bearcat, Wildcat and Hellcat.
8. Hard To Get
The Douglas A–26C Invader was a standout plane during the Korean War effort and did some serious damage to the enemy but it also saved the lives of many American soldiers thanks to its remarkable performance as a combat aircraft.
The models themselves were mostly involved in ground strafing, rocket attacks and level bombing combat. First introduced to the skies in 1942, only 2,500 of these beauties were built, making them one of the more prized aircraft on our list.
9. Old Soldier
The Old Soldier accompanies this awesome B-52 bomber which was pictured on display at the Yokota air base in Japan when the Friendship Festival of 1989 came to town. But the Old Soldier's history in that country is undoubtedly one built on past tensions. After all, this model was spawned following the attack on the American navy base of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.
Inspired to improve their aircraft fleets, the Americans introduced the B-52s, long-range, jet-powered bombers built by the American automotive giant, Boeing. The model has undergone various upgrades over the years and has been given a host of nicknames from BUFF to Big Ugly Fat F*%#er.
10. Tico Belle
One of the most famous examples of airplane nose art is the Tivo Belle, a sweet sight for the eyes painted on the Douglas C–47 Skytrain. Decorating and in some cases terrorizing the sky since its first flight in 1935, this beauty is still in service to this day.
Nicknamed the “Gooneybird” during World War II, she could carry up to 10,000 pounds of military cargo, the equivalent of 27 passengers. So popular were these "Gooneybirds" that Britain ordered 2000 of them while another 600 were purchased while 650 were leased.
11. Executive Sweet
Wouldn't it be nice to have a long-legged beauty accompanying us throughout our working lives? Well, for one pilot of the B – 25J, that was their reality. The productivity was always reliable thanks to its stellar reputation ever since its first foray into the skies in 1940.
Boasting a top speed of 355 mph, the J series would later be reconfigured to match the popular H model.
12. The Pink Lady
The Pink Lady, as seen here showcasing her beauty on a B–17 Bomber, cost more than $200,000 when built in 1940- $3 million in today's money. Despite the hefty production costs, 12,731 planes have been built, with a total production cost of more than $38 billion.
These Pink Ladies came about after the dwindling performance of the older Martin B–10 models. So the upgrades were much-needed and created a spectacular fleet of trigger-happy planes capable of protecting other bombers during flights thanks to its 50 calibre machine guns which were responsible for dropping over 640,000 tons of bombs on Nazi Germany during World War II.
This bad boy is none other than the B–17 Bomber. However, it was nicknamed 909 following the last three digits of its serial number and remains one of the most celebrated combat aircrafts in the world for its success in missions, 140 of which were experienced in World War II.
Of those missions, no crew members perished, a remarkable success story and a testament to the robustness of the aircraft.
14. Old Crow Express
Now this is great, isn't it? One of G versions of the B-52 Bombers, thousands of these were manufactured between 1958 and 1961 before they were eventually retired in 1994. For history buffs with a keen knowledge of military aircraft, you'll probably know that these planes were part of the most extensive mobilization effort since WWII when the US involved itself in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
The plane pictured above was mostly active in the Middle East and would have then been found in the 1708th bomb wing in the Saudi US air base. A scary proposition for any opposing army these bombers are capable of carrying up to 20 armed nuclear warheads each.
15. O’Riley’s Daughter
While it may look more like an amusement ride than a military aircraft, this plane, the Curtiss P–40 Warhawk, was one of the most popular aircraft in World War II despite more illustrious planes such as the Thunderbolt, Lightning, and Mustang overshadowing it.
Well, that and the others mentioned above were a lot better. While the P-40 wasn't bad, it wasn't particularly good either. Still, it did have some awesome nose art and handled well in most cases unless you were caught in a tailspin, something pilots dreaded when flying this model.
16. Sugar's Blues
Sugar's Blue, named after a beloved wartime dance tune, is the impressive Lancaster Bomber KB–864. The model was nicknamed “sugar,” because of the last letter of the aircraft's marking "NA-S".
The beautiful woman pictured is "Varga” a famous model that was featured in Esquire Magazine’s January 1945 edition.
17. Texas Raiders
This Texan belle is one of only eleven B-17 Flying Fortresses still in existence. The Douglas Aircraft Corporation military craft was actually transferred to the US Navy for further modifications after it was first delivered to the US Army in 1945.
After the navy upgraded their Bombay door and modified it with a few snazzy extras, such as a couple of long-range fuel tanks and search radar it was good to go. The model pictured above can be found at the Commemorative Air Force museum in Mercedes, Texas.
18. Aluminum Overcast
A B-17 Bomber flown throughout Europe during World War II, these planes were great for longer missions, with the planes capable of lasting longer than eight hours. Indeed it was their long-range capability that made them such an indispensable part of so many nation's war stock.
For those interested, the EAA hosts 24 minute long flights in the beauty pictured above if you're willing to pay $400 for the experience.
19. Liberty Belle
This B-24 Liberator is now housed at the Douglas, Georgia Brooks Aviation Center after years of loyal service fighting the enemy. Now restored to its full glory by the Liberty Foundation, the Liberty Belle is a sight to behold.
The popular moniker was adorned on over two dozen Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses and Consolidated B-24 Liberators during World War II.
This voluptuous beauty sits on the side of this mammoth KC–135 Stratotanker. Very explicitly suggestive, Patches herself is holding the fuel pump in hand which certainly gives off a phallic vibe and while some might label this crude, artwork like this was a great way of boosting morale for pilots faced with some of the most horrific circumstances known to humankind.
However, Patches wasn't only a one-time thing. The busty blonde can be found with her legs sprawled across many different models of B-17s.
21. Sentimental Journey
On the topic of pinup girls, they didn't get more celebrated in the war effort than Betty Grable. The nickname was spawned from the titular Doris Day track and certainly went on an adventurous journey as well as a sentimental one.
Yes, this beauty was everything from an air sea rescue craft to a mothership. In other words, a plane which guided drone aircrafts to their target area. Now performing in airshows across North America, this aircraft certainly had a fascinating journey.
22. Take-Off Time
Another female beauty adorning the nose of a fighter jet is the B-25 Mitchell Bomber, 1 of 9,890 bombers built during World War II. Following the conclusion of the war, most of these aircrafts were disused and sent to long-term storage facilities. However, some have been given a new lease of life like this model.
In fact, there are 27 B-25 bombers displayed in museums and airfields across America, with cool nose art on many of them. It was a popular way of creative expression and revealed that when it came to beautiful women, boys would always be boys...
23. Versatile Lady
Scantily clad women painted on aircrafts is nothing new in this article. But in a Hawaiian dress? Now that's something different, at least. This exotic beauty can be found on the nose of a Douglas B-26 invader. This mean bomber is now located in the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas with its dark color representing the ruthlessness of such an aircraft.
Such bomber crafts were highly in demand during World War II and would be deployed to missions all over the world from as far as China and Pacific theaters which was why nose art was such an integral part of the war effort when it came to keeping up the morale of troops, many of whom had their own beautiful ladies waiting for them at home.
24. The Patriot
This KC–135E Stratotanker has been spending its retirement day at the Davis–Monthan Air Force Base since 2007. One of the few pieces of nose art not to depict an attractive woman, this magical painting actually depicts some of America's foremost attractions and achievements, from Mount Rushmore to Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the space shuttle launch from Kennedy Space Center.
There's also an illustrative painting of the Iwo Jima raising of the flag and the Vietnam Memorial from Washington DC. The plane's serial number 57–1447, includes the year of its construction in 1957.
25. Lady Orchid
This article has been very American-heavy, so we thought we'd shed light on some cool Canadian nose art. This comes in the form of a Lancaster MKX, serial KB–895 which was tested by Captain Ron Jenkins and his crew who quickly purchased it as his aircraft after first doing battle way back in 1945. One of its missions saw it attack submarines in the German port city of Hamburg.
After deciding the aircraft needed a name, the crew agreed on “Wee Lady Orchid” in recognition of the plane's code letters WL–O before settling on the shorter and sweeter name of “Lady Orchid.”
26. Tiger Freedom Fighter
This groovy tiger nose art is plastered across the Northrop F–5A Freedom Fighter, owned by the Royal Norwegian Air Force. Not exactly known for their war chest, Norway's airplane was the result of the U.S. Navy’s demand for more lightweight fighter jets and The tiger II is undoubtedly that.
Among a host of other impressive features, the model is capable of reaching a monster top speed of 1060 mph. Wow.
27. In the Mood
Pictured at the 2011 Colorado sport international airshow, the yearly show attracts thousands of plane enthusiasts from across the country to the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport site to marvel at planes just like the B–25J Mitchell bomber.
On the side is a racy, sexually attractive image of a woman in lingerie posing proactively. As we've mentioned earlier, pinup girls were a great way of boosting morale in the war effort with planes like this one being responsible for playing an integral role in the Allied victory over the Germans.
28. Apache Princess
The Apache princess has an incredible history dating back to 1944 in Pounds Field, Texas. The B-25 bomber then moved three years later to Pyote, Texas before finding a more permanent home at the Stewart Air Base in New York, 1952.
A nomadic lifestyle saw it modified numerous times and by 1957 she was used up and thrown in storage before the Blue Mountain Air Service gave her a new lease of life a year later. Ultimatley, it was sold again and extensively restored each time it landed a new owner. It currently resides in Borrego Springs, California.
29. Memphis Belle
This sultry nickname was given to the Boeing B–17 Flying Fortress that undertook a variety of missions in World War II. She inspired two motion pictures. One was a 1994 documentary film which followed on from a 1990 Hollywood feature called Memphis Belle.
However, what makes her more remarkable is that she was one of the first B-17 heavy bombers to complete 25 combat missions without any fatalities. She has since found a resting place at the National Museum of the United States Air Force located in Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
30. Heavenly Body
An intricate paint job depicting a scantily clad female with flowing locks of hair adorned this B-29 Super Fortress and was aptly named Heavenly Body. As we've explored in this gallery, aluminium aircraft nose art was a regular fixture among soldiers keen to remember a more simpler, carefree existence of love and beauty rather than the disturbing reality of combat that would dominate their life for the next four years.
By decorating these steely aircraft with character, they became humanized and real.