Pin-up girls and the History of Nose Art

Vintage Nose Art Illustration
Vintage Pin-Up Nose Art Illustration

Ever seen a sexy pin-up girl drawn on the side of a plane and wondered: what’s that? This is the history of nose art!

Have you ever seen a fabulously sexy pin up girl painted on the side of a plane, or tank? This was, and remains to be a popular military practice called “Nose Art”. The phrase was coined because initially the painting was drawn onto the “nose” of a plane, or the propeller. While some may think of this art as being representational of the pilot himself, in reality it was the ground crews, and not the aircraft pilot’s themselves who came up with the nose art for their vehicles.

When did it start?

These army illustrations are giant shout-outs to pin-up and rockabilly culture of day’s past. The first recording of nose art was on an Italian “flying boat”, circa 1913. This practice exploded in popularity among German and Italian pilots, and has only further expanded across borders. While largely a military-based practice, nose art has obviously extended to the mass public by today’s standards.

Nose art on the Flying Tigers
Nose art on the Flying Tigers

Popular styles

When nose art began to take off (no pun intended!) the “hip” thing to do was to paint a fearsome mouth at the base of the propeller, almost resembling a jagged shark’s mouth. Surely this would help keep their enemies stunned from afar. Within time other famous art became popularized, such as the “Kicking Mule” or the “Flying Tiger.” However, the sexual aspect of it become more widespread as pin-up girl posters became more popular in the military.


Nose art in 1943, England
Nose art in 1943, England

By the time the World Wars came around, professional civilian artists and ground crews had made a sought-after habit of drawing on their aircrafts. This was around the time the famous nose art: “The Dragon and his Tail” came to be. This was art drawn on a WWII combat plane from an American Pilot. This art features a dragon clasping on to a half-naked woman. Definitely not something you see every day! Soon enough artists were dropping the shark mouth themes and painting gorgeous pin-up women onto the noses and sides of their aircraft units. Hey, if you’re going into battle, you may as well have something pretty to look at!

We hope you enjoyed our brief look into the WW2 trend of “Nose Art!” Stay tuned to our blog for even more rockabilly trivia and fashion tips and take a look at our website for some pinup and vintage clothing.

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