scotartt on Sun, 2 Mar 2003 08:09:20 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Military aircraft Nose Art

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Steve Cisler wrote:
> Bruce Sterling's posting led me back to the library. In this case,
> University of Arizona, which published a history of military aircraft
> nose art.

That's very interesting. I notice they don't really deal much with WWI airplane
art, in fact they dismiss it in a single paragraph. I think it a very important
development phase, which shows where this impetus comes from, especially in the
obvious manifestation of Baron von Richtofen's famous squadron, the purpose of
which was to make the aircraft conspicuous, so everyone knows who is shooting
at you (or whom you are shooting at). When I was a child I loving built a model
Fokker DVII (LO! 4253/18 - as flown by Ernst Udet) and along with a equally
brightly coloured Spaad with American insignia and a SE-5 in the standard drab
British livery maintained many an afternoon in mock air-battles over the
Western Front. I still have the Fokker DVII, easily the best aircraft of the
war but too late and in too small numbers to be decisive for the weakened
Germans of 1918.

But is this phenomenom of painting aircraft such a new thing? In the first
world war, aviators saw themselves as the "knights of the sky" and bound to
sort of common brotherhood of flyers no matter if their day job was to kill
each other. The nacent air forces where a sort of cavalry of the sky, and many
of the flyers where of aristocratic birth or otherwise "gentlemen" of good
families - indeed the type one might have found in the cavalary during the
Napoleonic wars a hundred years before. The cavalry, indeed European militaries
in general, always used heraldric arms and devices as well as distinctive
uniforms to identify units typically at the regimental level. But knights,
being of the great houses of Europe, used personal arms that identifed that
knight particularly.

So rather than seeing this 'folk art' as a type of new outcropping of
expression amongst military men perhaps it's rather more productive to see it
as a development in a long and ancient tradition of military arms and devices -
effectively it's heraldry in the modern form.

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