First off it is worth noting the history of military aircraft artwork – nose art. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nose_art. This is a follow up to this post.
The subject matter in nose art varies but largely stayed within a few mainstay topics, namely the cartoon characters and female pin-up. The females occurred in various stages of dress, or undress, and were very popular. The style evolved and became more wild and provocative. As a result, the Army Air Force tried to restore a sense of decorum with AAF Regulation 35-22 in August 1944. The regulation didn’t prohibit nose art, but did try to, unsuccessfully, institute a “sense of decency.”
According to some accounts, the farther the planes and crew were from headquarters or from the public eye, the racier the art. For instance, nudity was more prevalent with aircraft based in the South Pacific than of those in England.
Other popular topics included animals, nicknames, hometowns, and various patriotic imagery. The Soviet Air Force decorated their planes with imagery of history, mythical beasts and patriotic motifs.
Most of the pin up images were copies of various Alberto Vargas illustrations, an artist whose work was often featured in Esquire magazine during WWII. The pin ups from Esquire were among the most frequent models for aircraft artists, as they were colorful, attractive, and ‘original’.
Rather than attempt to host a huge volume of aircraft nose art myself, here’s a list of some great sources for images and history:
http://northstargallery.com/Aircraft/sensualilty.htm – This website has a great write-up on nose art.
http://www.bombergirl.com/flightline/flightline.htm – Some recreations from crashed planes but not really much content on here.
http://www.nose-art.net/ – Not very well layed out but a wealth of pictures on the site but the quality of the images is low.
http://www.retrocrush.com/archive2006/noseart/ – Some good quality photos on here, not too many but well worth a visit.
http://www.acepilots.com/planes/nose_art.html – Good quality images sent in by pilots, all American images.
http://www.usaaf-noseart.co.uk/contents2.htm – More American nose art.
http://www.vistech.net/users/rsturge/nose_art.html – Only a few images but nice quality.
http://www.historicwings.com/features98/noseart/pin-up1.html – Perhaps the worst designed site I’ve seen in ages. Bad navigation and pop-ups galore. Some nice images though.
http://www.fsu.edu/~ww2/nose-art/pinups1.html – Not many images but at least the site is easy to use!
http://www.military-patches.com/wwii/noseart.html – Buy nose art pins.
http://parentseyes.arizona.edu/militarynoseart/photo.htm – Only a few images here.
http://rides.webshots.com/album/6909985SDiMSWTxTh?start=0 – Quite a few images and an easy to use website.
http://www.raf.mod.uk/gulf/tornadogrs.html – Modern RAF nose art.
http://www.noseart.ch/main.htm – Some nose art but just as importantly lots of Alberto Vargas imagery, superb. See http://www.noseart.ch/gallery.html
Personally I prefer the artwork of George Petty to Vargas but it’s a close call, for example:
Kudos go out to all those hosting aircraft nose art. If you think of of the links are now dead, or have new links for me, leave a message in the comments, thanks.