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Aircraft Markings (U.S.)

Last modified: 2020-07-04 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | aircraft markings |
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Normal (high-visibility) version
[aircraft marking] image by Joe McMillan, 2 July 2003

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Good histories of this subject can be found at for the Air Force (and its predecessor, the Army Air Corps), and for the Navy and Marine Corps.

The 1917-1918 and 1919-1942 insignia should have a smaller red circle. The circumference of the red circle should be tangent with the sides of the imaginary pentagon connecting the inner angles of the star, not with the inner angles themselves.

The insignia for general use from May 1942 to June 1943 was simply a white star on the blue disk, with the points of the star touching the edges of the circle. A version with a yellow border around the circle had only limited use in connection with the November 1942 invasion of North Africa.

The insignia with white bars added on each side of the blue circle and a red border all around was in use from late June 1943 only until August (Navy-Marines) and September (Army Air Corps) 1943, when the red border was replaced with blue.

Red stripes were added to the white bars flanking the star on 14 Jan 1947, giving the insignia still in use for non-tactical aircraft.

Low visibility color schemes date back to at least 1977 for the Air Force and 1985 for the Navy and Marines. The details vary by background color of the airplane, and also by service and over time.

The colors on the red, white, and blue version are the same as the official colors specified for the US flag, meaning the blue should be very, very dark (RGB 0:0:102 or thereabouts).
Joe McMillan, 2 July 2003

See for a timeline of US aircraft roundels.
Esteban Rivera, 12 September 2019

Early Airplane markings

Early version
[Organizational flag] image by Marc Pasquin, 4 May 2005

Flipping through a book on the history of aviation, I came upon the reproduction of a French poster from 1915 that showed some planes of the world. Those that are visible (its only part of the poster) carry what you would expect in terms of markings but this one is unusual:

USA: 4 red concentric circles on white with over a blue wedge (top toward center) containing 5 stars. The wedge point is covered by the central white circle. It was probably considered to be too complex for ease of identification at a distance and while moving.
Marc Pasquin, 4 May 2005

Low visibility color schemes

Air Force camouflage paint scheme

[aircraft marking] image by Joe McMillan, 2 July 2003

Navy/Marine Corps tactical paint scheme

[aircraft marking] image by Joe McMillan, 2 July 2003

Navy/Marine Corps land camouflage scheme

[aircraft marking] image by Joe McMillan, 2 July 2003

The colors of the normal version are specified as insignia red, insignia white, and insignia blue. These names refer to specific paint colors but correspond to the shades used for the national flag.

The low visibility patterns vary in colors depending on the background color of the aircraft at the location where the marking is applied. The Navy specification, for example, stipulates that on a dark gray or light gray background, the marking is medium gray, while on a medium gray background it is dark gray. In the land camouflage scheme, it is black against either a green or brown background. The Air Force specification stipulates only that a contrasting color is used.

Many USAF tactical aircraft seem to use the Navy pattern rather than the one in the Air Force technical order. All low visibility patterns are applied in flat paint.

Joe McMillan, 5 July 2003