Modeling-ABC by Wilfried Eck





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Markings 1942-1944 Markings 1945


Markings of the US Navy - carrier aircraft

Part I - Markings 1936 - 1941


Grumman F3F-2, model and photo: Wilfried Eck   Brewster F2A-1, All  photos on this page US Navy

"Always a red band?"

If one believes color profiles and decal manufacturers all US Navy aircraft bevore WW II wore red bands around motor cowling and fuselage.  In reality the US NAVY used six different ones. According to an order of the Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer), not to the like of an individual squadron, and certainly not to the taste of an individual pilot.

Colours were not decorations, but part of an elaborate recognition code.

In times where radios were either not yet available or not reliable it was necessary to aid the individual pilot in finding his assigned place within the squadron. A squadron normally consisted of 18 planes, this number being divided in 6 sections with 3 aircraft each. As too much time needed to assembly the formation could result in the loss of one or more aircraft due to fuel starvation on the return flight time, quick recognition was an absolute necessity.

As aircraft carriers were the main reason of naval aviation recognition markings were developed for carrier aircraft at first, but land based included as well. Therefore also the US Marine Corps, although with some minor exeptions resp. alterations.



Marking of individual aircraft within the squadron:
















































1th section, assigned colour red. The aircraft of the section leader - number 1 and also the squadron commander - had one complete band around the motor cowling, 15 in. wide if not constricted otherwise. Plus band of the same color in the middle of the rear fuselage, 20 in. wide.

Right wingman of the first section, number 2: Upper half of the cowling red, no fuselage band.

Left wingman of first section, number 3: Lower half of the cowling red, no fuselage band.

To make these bands even more conspicuous they were bordered with a contrasting line, black or white, 1 in. wide.

Second section - numbers 4 to 6 - as above, color white. And so on according to the table at the left.

In effect even in a greater distance color and kind of application gave a sure clue to the number of the aircraft and also it's position within the formation.

In the reverse way in black and white photos the color of these bands is easily determined when the plane number is visible.

The exact color designations were:

  • Insignia Red (FS 11136, ANA 509)

  • Insignia White (FS 17875, ANA 511)

  • Light Blue, called "True Blue" (FS 15102, ANA 501)

  • Black (FS 37038, ANA 604)

  • Light Green, called "Willow Green" (FS 14187, ANA 503)

  • Light Yellow, called "Lemon Yellow"  (FS 13655, ANA 505)









Left: White upper half of cowling correlates with number 5 (second section), "6"  shows the aircraft is member of the squadron VF-6, and the "F" says VF-6 was a fighter unit.


Mission letters (to show only the most important ones):

Bomber: B

Fighter: F

Scout: S

Scout-Bomber: SB

Torpedo: T

Patrol: P





Left: Leader of section 6, VF-6

"V" in the squadron designation denotes "heavier than air" in contrast to "Z", "lighter" than air (blimps, airships).

Aircraft of the US Marine Corps could be distinguished by an additional "M" in the mission designation, i.e. 6-MF-16.

A diagonal band indicates the personal aircraft of a flag officer (i.e. wing commander).








Tail colors of carrier based aircraft:






CV-2 Lexington


CV-3 Saratoga


CV-4 Ranger








CV-5 Yorktown


CV-6 Enterprise


CV-7 Wasp


Originally markings of the vertical control surfaces consisted of vertical bands in blue, white and red (blue at the rudder hinge), then squadrons were assigned individual colors to be carried on the empennage. As this led to a very colorful mix aboard a carrier the Navy simplified color assignment by assignment of one color to each carrier (recommended Oct. 22nd 1935, approved by BuAer May 1936).

As aircraft of the US Marine Corps were not carrier based at this time they still had the rudder colored in blue/white/red (blue in front on both sides). Also consistently land based aircraft.









Additional recognition colour, section markings:





To make ditched aircraft more easily found the upper side of the upper wing was painted "Orange Yellow" (FS 13538, ANA 506).

In the middle of the wing a chevron - point forward - denoted the section color, placed in between was the individual number (height one foot). In example section leader two.

The section color „Light Yellow/Lemon Yellow" (FS 13655) was lighter in hue to "Orange Yellow" and therefore still visible.

Later monoplanes were to show these colors and markings too, though bisected by the fuselage; the individual number being placed at each rear of the wing.






Markings in general:






Vertical stabiliser, upper third: BuAer number on the fin, type designation on the rudder in the same height. This was manufacturer oriented and different to current use. "F4B-4" said "Fighter, 4th type of Boeing" (B), 4th variant (F-4B was a Phantom). Height 3 in. Manufacturers letters weren't always consistent with the alphabet, i.e. Grumman had an F.

Under the horizontal stabiliser, border 12 in. from the rudder hinge, "U.S. NAVY", minimum height 8 in.

In the middle of the rear fuselage mission designation in center, left of it the squadron number, to the right individual number within the squadron. Marine aircraft were distinguished by an "M" in the mission designation, see photo below.

All inscriptions "block style", straight lines with 45° oblique corners (altered Feb. 1th 1949 to 30°).






National insignia:






The national insignia - star on "Insignia Blue" disc - with a red dot in "Insignia Red" centered in the middle was not to interfere with the ailerons, distance from the wing tip equal to the wing chord in the middle of the red dot (see drawing above). It's size was determined by the tangential lines of the star, so in effect the dot did not touch the corners of the star.

"Insignia blue" (FS 15044, ANA 605) is nearly black, never a bright blue.

To make neutral US aircraft more conspicuous by order of March 19th 1940 a further national insignia had to be placed on the forward fuselage where best view was possible. Height 24 in, larger on bigger aircraft.










early VF-1, VF-14   VF-4, VF-5B   VF-6






In the Navy nothing was left to personal taste. Only an appoved squadron insignia could be carried below the cockpit or the windshield.

Further decorations were the "efficiency E" a coveted trophy bestowed in annual competitions (machine gunning, bombing an so on); further ones being indicated by hash marks. The second one was a turtle - to be applied on top of the fin - for crossing the equator.

Personal decorations of individuals: None.

Concerning squadron badges: Renumbering of squadrons was common, also commission and decommission of a squadron. So adoption of an approved unit marking by another unit was not unsusual.






Paint color:




Model and photo Wilfried Eck


Since 1934 silver corrosion protective paint on all outer and inner surfaces. Only aircraft of NAS Anacostia showed polished metal.

Neutrality paint:

By order of Dec. 12th 1940 all outer surfaces were to be shown in "Light Gray" (FS 36440, ANA 602). Deletion of colors, squadron badges and other decorations.

Inscriptions changed from black to white, height 12 inches. "U.S. NAVY" was reduced in size to 3 inches and placed centrally above the BuAer number on the fin. By order of Oct. 13th 1941 the inscriptions were to be black again.

The national insignia was placed on the rear fuselage too, deletion on the right upper and left lower wing per Feb. 26th 1941.

Naturally the change couldn't be executed at once, so new and old schemes were to be seen for some time.








Land based F3F-2 of VMF-2, USMC


FF-1 of VF-5B, CV-2 Lexington (according to VF-5)







A photo deciphered:



"SB2U-2" on the rudder indicates "Scout Bomber, 2nd one acquired from Vought/United, 2nd variant. The "72-S" on the fuselage gives a hint which color the empennage is, as VS-72 was embarked on CV-7 "Wasp" from 11/1939 to 01/1941 and her assigned color was black. Therefore the empennage of this SB2U-2 is not dark blue (the other alternative), but black. On the motor cowling there is a light spot, barely discernible due to the lack of a black border. But the individual number 5 says it's a white band on the upper half of the cowling (2nd section of VS-72). Last not least the neutrality star on the cowling makes clear this photo was taken after 03/19/40.

Markings 1941-1944

English glossary