“Nose Art” refers to the paintings applied to the front of military aircraft by crew members of the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Crews were assigned to a specific aircraft, and frequently gave their aircraft a name, along with a picture, usually a scantily-clad young woman. One (or more) of the artistic crew would paint the front (nose) of the aircraft, often copying the pin-up paintings found on calendars and matchbook covers, by artists such as Alberto Vargas and Gillette Elvgren.
These pin-up girls preceded the first issue of Playboy Magazine by more than a decade. Those depicted on the aircraft were beautiful, strong, and assured: the idealized girls left behind. The art became a competition between crews, and good for morale. Nose art was also propaganda against the Aryan nationalism of Nazi Germany. Many of the AirCore men were barely eighteen years old, and they died at an average rate of 220 per day during WWII. When they climbed aboard their aircraft, they didn’t know if they would be returning. They relied on their aircraft, the skill of their pilot and crewmates, and luck. The girl on the nose was the girl they were fighting for, and she was their good luck charm as well.
The technology of war changed forever on August 5th, 1945 when the B-29 “Enola Gay” dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The atomic age signaled the end of the charm and luck associated with the pin-up girl.
Today, nose art is prohibited except by prior official approval. Regulations now require that any nose art be “distinctive, symbolic, gender neutral, intended to enhance unit pride, and designed in good taste.” While the era of nose art has passed, it is worth remembering that these long-legged lasses were the symbols of pride, power, and the fighting spirit, at a time when the fate of the whole world hung in the balance.