Naval Aircraft Paint Jobs

The one thing common to all historical data is exceptions. With that borne in mind, these are the basic paint schemes for USN aircraft in their order of appearance. And no, we don't have any color swatches.

1911 = Clear- or orange-doped fabric and natural wood colors.

1917 = In the autumn of 1917, when it was decided that paint would protect and preserve aircraft, an overall "stone gray" was appointed to do the job. This continued until silver began taking over, but wooden hulls of flying boats were still gray well into 1928.

1920 = Silver paint became standard for all USN combat aircraft until WW2 and was used post-war for many special-purpose aircraft. Trainers and large transports requiring no camouflage were left in natural metal silver during the war and until 1956. Gloss chromium yellow was applied to the upper surface of wings and horizontal tails — top wing on biplanes — from about 1924 to 1941. In 1930 a very light gray was used for exposed metal parts on most aircraft and for the entire fuselage on semi-monocoque metal aircraft. This was replaced by silver paint in 1936.

1941 = Overall light gray was revived in February and, except for the following, was standard until early 1943.

1941 = Matte-finish (non-specular) gray-green ("sea green") for tops and sides and light gray for undersides appeared in mid-1941 initially for aircraft flying in sea duties. The undersides of folding wings of carrier aircraft were painted with the sea green for camouflage integrity in lateral and aerial views.

1942 = Overall red was standard for aircraft used as flying targets during WW2 and until replaced by Day-Glo orange and red in more recent times. Overall white was applied to flying boats on patrol in Arctic areas. Transport aircraft in natural metal had tops painted white to reflect sunlight and reduce cabin heat, an idea that carried through until now.

1943 = Combat aircraft were repainted with non-specular dark blue for top surfaces, with a lighter grayed blue for lower sides, and white undersides. Until war's end this was standard for all combat aircraft except carrier planes (see next). Some aircraft used specifically for night operations were painted an overall non-specular black, and gloss black for transferred USAAF aircraft.

1944 = Overall gloss midnight blue was applied to carrier aircraft.

1946 = Midnight blue became standard for most other aircraft. Lettering was in white, or yellow for reserve units. Target tugs had wings, fin and stabilizer painted chrome yellow with ailerons, rudder, elevator and cowling, as well as as a three-foot wide band on each wing, in bright red.

1955 = Light gray ("gull gray") for tops and sides and white for undersides became standard for all USN combat aircraft up to now. A noticeably darker shade of gray was also used for some patrol and scouting aircraft and helicopters.

1956 = Trainers and light utility and transport aircraft were painted in white and orange for visibility.

1960 = The white and orange color scheme was adopted by USCG for its seaplanes.

1965 = The Royal Air Force's WW2 camouflage of brown and two shades of green ("sand and spinach") was standard for USN aircraft operating in the Vietnam War, with white or light gray undersides, to agree with the USAF's similar scheme at the time.