United States military aircraft national insignia

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A USAF A-10 Thunderbolt II with low-visibility insignia on fuselage.

This is a listing of the nationality markings used by military aircraft of the United States, including those of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army and their predecessors. The Civil Air Patrol is also included for the World War II period because it engaged in combat operations (primarily anti-submarine flights) which its July 1946 charter has since explicitly forbidden.


U.S. Army Signal Corps Curtiss JN-3 biplanes with red star insignia, 1915
Nieuport 28 with the World War 1 era American roundels

The first military aviation insignias of the United States include a star used by the US Army Signal Corps Aviation Section, seen during the Pancho Villa punitive expedition, just over a year before American involvement in World War I began. The star was painted only on the vertical tail, in either red (the most often used color)[1] or blue (less likely, due to the strictly orthochromatic photography of that era, rendering the red star as a black one in period photos).[2] At the same time, the US Navy was using a blue anchor on the rudders of its seaplanes.

After American entry into World War I[edit]

As of 19 May 1917 all branches of the military, outside of the Western Front of Europe were to use a circular dark-blue field containing the single, five-pointed regular pentagram-outline white star, symbolic of a U.S. state from the national flag, itself containing a central red circle, painted in the official flag colors.[3]

The unique USMC roundel of 1918-1922

A tricolor roundel was introduced by the US Army Air Service in February 1918 for commonality with the other European Allies, all of whom used similar roundels. American aircraft also used vertically-striped British and French style tricolors on the rudders during World War I, the British and French markings having the blue stripe forward, while American regulations specified that their aircraft have the red stripe forward although some of their aircraft had the colors in the French order. The order of the USAAS roundel's colors were similar to those of the defunct Imperial Russian Air Service. No connection existed between the US roundel and other Allied forces' military aircraft services, beyond the fact that the United States had joined the Allies of World War I and was using a tricolor roundel in what was now an available order. Tsarist aircraft often used a significantly larger white central circle, while the narrower red and blue rings on such large white-centered variant insignia were often separated with additional white rings. From at least as early as the timeframe of the deployment of the First Marine Aviation Force in France during July 1918[4] until roughly 1922, the USMC's aviation units added an American eagle atop the roundel and a fouled anchor superimposed behind the roundel, mimicking the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor emblem on the fuselage sides in the manner of a unit insignia.

Post-WW I and interwar period[edit]

World War I US Army Air Service recruiting poster showing the new late-1917 roundel

In May 1917 the US adopted a red circle-centered white star in a dark blue circular field for all United States military aircraft. In August 1919, following the Armistice that ended World War I, the colors were adjusted to the current standards and the proportions were adjusted slightly so that the centre red circle was reduced slightly from being 1/3 of the diameter of the blue circular field, to being bound by the edges of an imaginary regular pentagon connecting the inner points of the star.

American entry into World War II[edit]

The US Army Air Corps began painting its roundel on only the top of the left wing and only the bottom of the right wing February 26, 1941, intended to help facilitate recognition of friend and foe if the United States became embroiled in the spreading conflict. The other reason was to “eliminate a balanced target” by presenting a somewhat asymmetrical effect — if you see two white stars (i.e., one on each wing), it is easier to aim your guns between them. The US Navy resisted this change and reverted to the roundel on each wing early in the war January 5, 1942. However, the US Navy finally adopted the asymmetrical single wing insignia February 1, 1943.[5]

In the months after Pearl Harbor - following the late-June 1941 conversion of the USAAC into the United States Army Air Forces - it was thought that the central red dot could be mistaken for a Japanese Hinomaru, from a distance and in May 1942 it was eliminated. On aircraft in service they were painted over with white. During November 1942, US forces participated in the Torch landings and for this a chrome yellow ring (of unspecified thickness) was temporarily added to the outside of the roundel to reduce incidents of Americans shooting down unfamiliar British aircraft, which could themselves be distinguished by a similar yellow outline on the RAF's "Type C.1" fuselage roundels of the time.

None of these solutions was entirely satisfactory as friendly fire incidents continued and so the US Government initiated a study that discovered that the red wasn't the issue since color couldn't be determined from a distance anyway, but the shape could be. After trying out several variations including an oblong roundel with two stars, they arrived at using white bars flanking the sides of the existing roundel, all with a red outline, which became official in June 1943. This still wasn't entirely satisfactory and at least one operational unit refused to add the red, resulting in bare white bars on the existing star roundel. The red outline was then replaced with a blue outline whose color exactly matched the round blue field that held the star in September 1943. On US Navy aircraft painted overall in gloss midnight blue starting in 1944, the blue color of the roundels was similar to midnight blue, so the blue portion was eventually dispensed with and only the white portion of the roundel was painted on the aircraft. In the Pacific Theater, some British Commonwealth aircraft in service with the British Pacific Fleet, and Royal New Zealand Air Force, as with Lend Lease Chance Vought F4U Corsairs, began to officially sport the white "bars" as a more-or-less "universal" symbol on Allied aircraft opposing the Japanese, while also eliminating the red center of the roundels they used for the same reason the United States already had.

Cold War (1945-1991) to present[edit]

The U.S. Coast Guard uses the national roundel as a fin flash on its fixed-wing aircraft, instead of on the fuselage

In January 1947, single bisecting, lengthwise-running red bars, one per side, were added within the existing white bars on both USN and USAAF aircraft – both replacing the old center red circle, and restoring the official presence of a red device in the insignia, much as with the red stripes of the American flag – and in September of the same year, the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) became an independent service and was renamed the United States Air Force (USAF).

In 1955 the USN would repaint all its aircraft from midnight blue to light grey over white and would use exactly the same roundel as the USAF again. Since then there have been some minor variations, mostly having to do with low-visibility versions of the star and bars roundel. Air superiority F-15s eliminated the blue outline in the 1970s, and later some aircraft replaced the blue and red with black or a countershaded color, or used a stencil to create an outlined "low-visibility" version. Almost all USAF aircraft now use low-visibility roundels in black or gray, with the full-color version limited to a small number of uncamouflaged aircraft such as the E-3 and E-8.

Partly due to the 1964 adoption, and early-April 1967 display initiation of the "racing stripe" insignia on its fixed-wing aircraft, the United States Coast Guard, unique among U.S. military organizations, uses the standard high-visibility roundel on the vertical fin of its fixed-wing aircraft as a fin flash.


Official dates refers to when a new insignia was officially ordered but implementation was not always immediate.

Insignia Official dates Info
Introduced Superseded
US Roundel 1916.svg 19 March 1916 7 February 1917 First national insignia of any type used by US military aircraft. Used by the U.S. Army Signal Corps Aviation Section's 1st Aero Squadron, while on the Pancho Villa Expedition.
US Navy Anchor Insignia.svg 15 April 1916 19 May 1917 United States Navy anchor in blue – first official US naval aircraft insignia. Used on rudders and wings.
US Roundel 1917-1918 (different proportions from 1919 version).svg 17 May 1917 8 February 1918 Note larger center dot from later (1/3 diameter) and colors were Flag Red and Flag Blue as specified for the US Flag as Old Glory Red, and Old Glory Blue.
US Army Air Roundel.svg 8 February 1918 19 August 1919 To avoid confusion with German cross, and for commonality with Allied air forces during World War I, the US changed its roundel to the disused Russian design. Colors were to be based on US flag but availability resulted in considerable variation in hues.
USAAC Roundel 1919-1941.svg 19 August 1919 15 May 1942

Center red circle now inscribed within a regular pentagon formed by inner vertices of star, making red smaller than first version. Colors were Flag Red and Flag Blue until late 20s when current colors of Insignia Red and Insignia Blue were specified

Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg 1939 1941 Neutrality marking on fuselage and sometimes wings of aircraft travelling in Europe, including Liberator transports. This flag was official from 4 July 1912 to 3 July 1959 when additional stars were added.
Roundel of the Civil Air Patrol (1941).svg 1 December 1941 1 July 1946 Civil Air Patrol roundel.[6]
US roundel 1942-1943.svg 15 May 1942 28 June 1943 Insignia Red dot removed to avoid confusion with Japanese Hinomaru roundel.
Roundel of the Civil Air Patrol (1941–1947).svg ? ? Civil Air Patrol World War II roundel. Insignia Red propeller removed to avoid confusion with Japanese Hinomaru roundel.[6]
US Roundel 1942 Torch.svg October 1942 1943 Operation Torch – yellow varied in thickness, applied to roundels on fuselage and under wing but not overwing, but some units applied yellow borders on overwing roundels regardless. Yellow outermost ring likely inspired by similar, slightly darker hued British Type A.2 and C.1 roundels' outermost "rings".
USAAF roundel 1943.svg 28 June 1943 14 August 1943 Experiments showed that at a distance, shapes were more important than colors, so bars were added to the roundel with an Insignia Red outline.
US Roundel 1943-1943 No Outline.svg 28 June 1943 August 1943 Several units in the Pacific refused to paint the red outline but added white bars pending new orders for a blue outline.
US roundel 1943-1947.svg 14 August 1943 14 January 1947 The Insignia Red outline was replaced with an Insignia Blue outline through the amendment of Army-Navy aeronautical specification AN-I-9 on 14 August 1943. This was followed by an amendment to Technical Order 07-1-1, issued on 24 September 1943, for units in the field. On some US Navy aircraft in the Pacific the blue outline was lighter than the insignia blue.
US Roundel 1943-1947 Sea Blue BG.svg 31 July 1943 14 January 1947 Insignia Blue lacked contrast with the Sea Blue or Black used on some aircraft and the Insignia Blue was dispensed with. Initially applications (as on the F6F) were made without orders; however, this became official practice in January 1945.
Roundel of the USAF.svg 14 January 1947 Current Twin Insignia Red lengthwise bars, bisecting the formerly all-white bars, were added to the roundel in reflection of 3 flag colors, roughly nine months before the official formation of the United States Air Force
US Roundel 1947-1955 Sea Blue BG.svg 14 January 1947 23 February 1955 Sea Blue or Black aircraft
Roundel of the United States (variant).svg 1973 ? F-15 Air superiority Compass Ghost Scheme with 1943 blue outline removed but with red and white bars retained
Roundel of the USAF (low vis).svg 1980s current Low visibility marking (also seen in other colors, including with colored area broken into several colors to contrast with background camouflage pattern); principally used on tactical aircraft in low visibility schemes
US Roundel F-117.svg 1980s current Low visibility marking as used on the F-117
USAF low visibility roundel.svg 1980s current Alternate low visibility markings used on some USAF aircraft.

Fin flashes and rudder stripes[edit]

Fin "Flash" Official dates Info
Introduced Superseded
USN USMC Rudder Stripes 1917-1918 & 1919-1942.svg 19 May 1917
19 August 1919
8 February 1918
8 May 1942
United States Navy and United States Marine Corps, stripes optional after 10 December 1930 and mostly eliminated from Navy aircraft.
USMC Rudder Stripes.svg 8 February 1918 19 August 1919 "Reversed" UK Royal Air Force/French Aéronautique Militaire fin flash/rudder stripes for USAAS, United States Navy and Marine Corps aircraft during World War I and immediate post-war years, with the red stripe forwardmost.
USN USMC Rudder Stripes 1917-1918 & 1919-1942.svg 17 May 1919 November 1926 US Army Air Service and United States Army Air Corps.
USAAC Rudder Stripes.svg November 1926 12 September 1942 USAAC > 20 June 1941 > USAAF – removed from camouflaged aircraft rudder surfaces from July 1940 and all other aircraft in 1942.
USCG Rudder Stripes 1936-1942.svg 1936 8 May 1942 United States Coast Guard
USN USMC Rudder Stripes 1941-1942.svg 23 December 1941 6 May 1942 USN and USMC. Number of rudder surface stripes not specified until 5 January 1942 when 6 white and 7 red stripes were specified (as with November 1926 USAAC red stripes) — officially removed four months before all USAAF aircraft had removed them.
Roundel of the USAF.svg 6 April 1967 Current Only in use on United States Coast Guard fixed-wing aircraft – the USCG "racing stripe" placed on the forward fuselage took the place normally used for the national roundel.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ as seen on the 1st Aero Squadron Curtiss JN-3s
  2. ^ "Historic Wings - Flight Stories - Chasing Pancho Villa". fly.historicwings.com. HW. 15 March 2013. Retrieved 21 February 2016. Just one day after arriving, on March 16, 1916, the first reconnaissance flight was flown by Capt. Dodd with Capt. Foulois (as an observer) on the Curtiss JN-3 S.C. No. 43. As with all of the Army's aircraft in that era, the plane carried simple markings — a red star on the tail and the large number 43 painted on the sides of the fuselage.
  3. ^ Kershaw, Andrew: The First War Planes, Friend Or Foe, National Aircraft Markings, pages 41–44. BCP Publishing, 1971.
  4. ^ De Chant, John A. (1947). Devilbirds – The Story of United States Marine Aviation in World War II. New York City, NY USA: Harper & Brothers. p. 4-5.
  5. ^ "'Why Were Aircraft Markings for the U.S. Army Air Forces Only Applied on the Top Side of the Left Wing?'". 25 February 2021.
  6. ^ a b Although technically a civilian organization, the Civil Air Patrol engaged in military operations during World War II, including patrolling and attacking German submarines with light bombs. Its charter was changed at the end of the war to explicitly preclude its subsequent use in military operations.


  • Archer, Robert D.; Archer, Victor G. (1997). USAAF Aircraft Markings and Camouflage 1941–1947, The History of USAAF Aircraft Markings, Insignia, Camouflage, and Colors. Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 978-0764302466.
  • Bell, Dana (1995). Air Force Colors Volume 1 1926–1942. Carrollton, TX: Squadron Signal Publications. ISBN 0-89747-316-7.
  • Bell, Dana (1980). Air Force Colors Volume 2: ETO & MTO 1942–1945. Carrollton, TX: Squadron Signal Publications. ISBN 978-0897471084.
  • Bell, Dana (1997). Air Force Colors Volume 3: Pacific & Home Front 1942–1947. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron Signal Publications. ISBN 978-0897473767.
  • Doll, Thomas E.; Jackson, Berkley R.; Riley, William A. (1983). Navy Air Colors: United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Aircraft Camouflage and Markings, Vol. 1, 1911–1945. Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications. ISBN 978-0897471435.
  • Doll, Thomas E.; Jackson, Berkley R.; Riley, William A. (1985). Navy Air Colors: United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Aircraft Camouflage and Markings, Vol. 2, 1945–1985. Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications. ISBN 978-0897471671.
  • Elliot, John M. (1989). The Official Monogram US Navy & Marine Corps Aircraft Color Guide Vol 1 1911–1939. Boylston, MA: Monogram Aviation Publications. ISBN 0-914144-31-6.
  • Elliot, John M. (1989). The Official Monogram US Navy & Marine Corps Aircraft Color Guide Vol 2 1940–1949. Sturbridge, MA: Monogram Aviation Publications. ISBN 0-914144-32-4.
  • Swanborough, Gordon; Bowers, Peter M. (1990). United States Navy Aircraft Since 1911. Naval Institute Press. pp. 26–32. ISBN 978-0870217920.
  • Section Color of MIL-STD-2161A (AS), the colors of this insignia are established as FED-STD-595 red 11136 white 17925 blue 15044. Visualization of colors is from http://www.colorserver.net/showcolor.asp?fs=11136+17925+)

External links[edit]