Next week it will be Valentine's Day, when expressions of love are the order of the day. If you're thinking that a box of Pot-'O Gold chocolates or a day at the spa is the best way to express your love for your partner, you aren't thinkin' out of the box man. You won't be able to hold a candle to the men of the Allied air forces of the Second World War. Back in the dangerous days of the air war over Europe and the South Pacific, a new art form emerged in full bloom to express the personalities and longings of the pilots and aircrews that flew the bombers and the fighters against the enemy. Nose Art still remains part of our popular culture today and B-52s, B-1Bs and other modern aircraft often sport the very same type of artwork. Most of today's examples seem to be more apocalyptic and dark in theme, but 60 years ago, it was sex, humour, pop music, wishful thinking and more often than not, love that inspired pilots and their artists.
We are all familiar with the testosterone fueled themes employed by young buck fliers just out of their teens - evocative and provocative names combined with sometimes very racy images of naked women steeped in the pop culture of the 40s like Ladies Home Companion, Classy Chassis, Crack Up, Satan's Little Sister, Sack Time and Moonlight Maid. There are many other categories of nose art from state references like Kentucky Belle and George McGovern's Dakota Queen, to alliterations like Wicked Wanda, Suzie Sag Sump, Battle Baby, Loopy Lou, Tennessee Toddy and Kraut Krusher, but perhaps the most honest expression came in the form of a dedication of the aircraft to the pilot's wife or "gal".
While baboons offer displays of rosy red buttocks, and peacocks spread a fantail of spectacular colour, air force pilots puffed out their chests for the camera and leaned in manly casualness against their powerful aluminum machines. Back home, Mrs Pilot-to-be would open her letter and find a black and white or hand tinted image of her man standing with his warhorse and surely feel the heat of love as she gazed upon her name written in loving script across the cheek of the flying machine that would carry him safely through the war. Now, that man was definitely worth waiting for! Imagine the pride these women would have felt as they showed the photo to the girls on the assembly line or back at the veteran's hospital. There's no doubt that this kind of demonstration of love sealed the deal for many of the pilots who managed to get back home.
For anyone thinking of studying the history of Canadian nose art further, there are two recognized leaders in this field. The first is Alberta's Clarence Simonsen who has crusaded for decades to save, preserve, protect and display this heritage. Clarence is also an accomplished nose artist whose replica nose art paintings on actual aircraft metal have gone a long way to showing us how these works appeared in their day. The other nose art guru is Ottawa's own Stephen Fochuk, whose book Metal Canvas: Canadians and World War II Aircraft Nose Art is available through Barnes and Noble.
One of the best known examples of “Valentine” nose artwork was Memphis Belle - the darling of the American propaganda machine of the Second World War and modern day Hollywood. The B-17’s pilot, Robert Morgan (4th from left) named the Flying Fortress after his wartime sweetheart Miss Margaret Polk of Memphis, Tennessee. The Belle was the first American heavy bomber to reach 25 completed missions and this photo was taken after that time as all 25 are accounted for in the mission symbols. The famous design was based on a pin-up originally painted by George Petty of Esquire Magazine and was painted on the Flying Fortress by Cpl. Tony Starcer. The Belle and Starcer's paint job were preserved for posterity and reside in the United Stes Air Force Museum at Wrght-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Photo: USAAF Historical
While some pilots and their airplanes were not as well known as Robert Morgan and the Memphis Belle, they none the less cut a large swath through the skies over Europe. Here we see a Mustang P-51D of the 504th Fighter Squadron named Mary Beth, flown by Captain Kirke B. Everson who sits in the cockpit. Everson was a very accomplished double ace with 12 confirmed kills registered on the fuselage at the time of the photo. Photo: Kirke Everson
USAAF Captain Robert M. Kuhlman poses with Anabel in this rare colour photograph of a 504th FS, 339th Fighter Group P-51. Some squadron artists were not as gifted as others, but the pilots were proud none the less. Photo via www.web-birds.com
It was much harder to find images of Canadian nose art that fit this category. Canadian nose art tended to be much more polite and more understated and a whole lot less risqué. This image was found at the very execllent rcaf.com website. No finer site exists that tracks the places, people and aircraft of our military aviation history. This image is of a 419 Squadron Lancaster named Dorothy which was subsequently lost with all crew on December 28th. The aircraft pilot at the time was F/O F. How. There is no way to know if How was Dorothy's beau. The call sign letter for this aircraft was "D", so Dorothy could stand for just that, however it is likely someone on the naming crew knew a Dorothy. Canadians tended to connect the name of their aircraft with its single letter call sign within the squadron. So aircraft D would be Dorothy, P might be Picadilly Princess and N - Nancy. Photo from www.rcaf.com/6group via Dan Logan
Lovely Lou, an RAF Lancaster with 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron. The Brits also connected their naming system with the ship's call letter - L (seen at the nose) for Lovely Lou. Pictures are F/L Harry Warwick, DFC and crew at RAF Chedburgh in 1945. Photo from www.goldcoastsquadron218.co.uk
Some pilots would give the squadron artist a snapshot from their wallets to create a painting of their beloved. Here Barbara AKA “Babs” is immortalized on the fuselage of her man’s Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. On closer examination it is possible that this is a love tribute to a movie star from the day - the stunningly beautiful Barbara Stanwick. Photo: www.457thbombgroup.org
OK, Beatrice, do you love me now??? A P-51B named 'Bonny Bea' and flown by Capt Lee D. 'Dutch' Eisenhart, 504th FS, 339th FG. Photo: Via www.web-birds.com
Certainly the real-life woman to inspire the most nose-art paintings has to be Glennis Yeager, born Glennis Dickhouse, the wife of Second World War and post war test pilot Chuck Yeager (centre), the man who was the first to break the sound barrier. During the war, Yeager named his first Mustang Glamorous Glen in her honour, as well as replacement ships Glamorous Glen II, III (pictured here). And that was just the beginning. Glamourous Glen III sports 12 (actually 11.5) kills on her fuselage. The first Glamorous Glen was lost when Yeager was shot down over France.
Of all the Glamorous Glens, and in fact of all dedicated-to-love aircraft, the most famous (other than Paul Tibbets’ more infamous Enola Gay which was dedicated to his mother) has got to be the Bell X-1 sound barrier-breaking experimental rocket plane Glamorous Glennis. Perhaps he had too many off colour remarks about the name Glen, so decided on Glennis’s full name for this orange painted bullet. Featured in the movie The Right Stuff, Glamorous Glennis was assured a more lasting tribute when it was installed permanently in the Great Hall of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. NACA Photograph
Today, a fully restored Mustang, seen here at a Gathering of Mustangs and Legends 2007, flies the skies in the exact markings of Yeager's favourite of the Second World War - Glamorous Glen III. Yeager became an “ace in a day” when he shot down five aircraft on one mission. Photo: Phil Ross
An 80 year old Chuck Yeager poses with the F-15 he flew on the 50th anniversary of his flight in the Bell X-1 in which he broke the sound barrier. His former wife Glennis is still honoured in the form of the nose art - though only for the event. Photo via NASA Archives
This early model Mustang sports nose art that sums up the practice of dedicating one’s aircraft to the woman of your dreams. Somewhere in Europe, Peg O’my Heart sets out on a mission. The girlfriend’s name on the nose was looked upon as a good luck talisman. Let’s hope that the boy in the cockpit made it home to Peg, the young woman whose name he carried into battle.