The topic today is aircraft nose art. Because the story is so large I have split the story into several parts, the first being the beginnings of the art and the contributions made by the Walt Disney company.

When I started my research into aircraft nose art I thought its origins were in the Second World War, in fact to my surprise the first examples began in the first world. Even more surprising was that the first examples showed up on French trucks.

Different  squadrons began to individualize their aircraft to  recognize men or companies that had either sponsored or bought an individual aircraft. Artwork began with overall paint schemes rather than single pieces on the nose of the plane. The most well know of these is the squadron led by Manfred Von Richthofen , otherwise know as the Red Baron. He permitted each pilot to paint his plane any colour or scheme that he desired, resulting in a guady array of paint shemes. Another well known paint scheme was on the planes belonging to the american Top Hatters commanded by Eddie Richenbacker. His squadron had their squadron motif on the fuselage. Very few planes had art on their nose but the were a few as seen below.

WW1 bomber nose art (German)


It is in post World War One France that Walt Disney was introduced to these cartoons and caricatures. He was like all young men at the time, trying to get into fight. Luckily for us, he was too young. He found a way by joining the American Red Cross. He was in France just after the armistice and stayed for over nine months. He saw the drawings and painting on different vehicles and even painted a cartoon on his ambulance.

In World War Two it is believed that the first nose art appeared on an aircraft belonging to 266 sqdn flying Fairey Battles in 1939 France.

Walt Disney was asked by Cadet Burt Stanley (USN) to design a mascot for his newly commissioned carrier, the USS Wasp. Disney asked his head artist ( Henry Porter) to come up with a design. It was a wasp standing in a belligerent stance, wearing 4 boxing gloves. This design was so well accepted and loved that it adorned everything from the ships crest to flight jackets and letterhead.

Disney’s second commission was for a mascot for the MTB flotillas known as the mosquito fleet. These single requests turned into a flood of requests, so much so that a department in the company was started up to handle these. Disney eventually created over 200 individual characters for the many armed forces on the allies side. These characters were also used without permission in very creative ways. Some of these were child friendly and others were very much for adults only. The common thread amongst almost all of them was the sense of humour that they had.

Disney did however have a rule that his main characters (Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Pluto) would not be allowed to be used. This however did not prevent squadrons and individual pilots from using these characters.


Mickey Mouse

Donald Duck

Donald Duck


Canadian squadrons were some of the first to use a well known character. This was dumbo, who’s movie was released in 1941, a week after Pearl Harbour. The squadron to use dumbo for a mascot for the first time was #10  RCAF bombing Squadron.

Anotherr first for the Canadians was when the 6th recon sqdn recieved their new Ventura bomber from the factory. All 266 came with their mascot, Dumbo, painted on the nose. Below are some examples of nose art featuring Dumbo.




As the war progressed so to did the artistry and message. The other thing that progressed was the liberties taken with the Disney characters. Much loved children’s characters sometimes showed a very adult message. In all my research however, I never found a case where Mr. Disney sued any squadron or individual for using his characters.

Pluto – from our Main Gallery




In my next piece on this topic I will talk about how the airmen used words, double entendres and puns to bring humour to a serious subject. I hope you are looking forward to the next chapter as much as I am. See you soon.