A sharks tale…

Not the Dreamworks animated film about gangster sharks but the ongoing debate on whether controversial shark mouth decal is acceptable on airplanes or not. I have noticed since I started writing this blog that there a number of people who do not think that the shark mouth motif is always appropriate. Many say it is only acceptable on certain aircraft such as Mustang’s and P-40’S but not transport aircraft. Whatever you opinion it has become a cultural icon in its own right and it is interesting how it caught on to the point where debates still continue. Obviously it makes sense that it suits fighter planes as they innately assume an almost shark like shape and we humans do like to make inanimate objects look like animals.

(Curtiss P-40 Flying Tiger http://www.acmp.com)

(North American P-51C-1-NT Mustang http://www.geocities.ws/raf_112_sqdn/112_photos_page_6.html)

This distinctive example of nose art, almost turning the nose in to a sharks face is, if nothing else, very impressive. It became popular during WW II, having been made famous by the American Volunteer Group Flying Tigers, and I’m sure its aggressive appearance would have had the desired effect on the enemy. The shark mouth style is quite possibly one the most famous of all nose art styles along with the Varga girls. It first appeared on a British Sopwith Dolphin and German Roland C II during WW 1, though in early examples they appeared less menacing and almost comical.

(German C II (1916) http://www.legalassassin.com )

Fast forward three decades and during WW II German planes were seen decorated in this style and the Brits were inspired to use it (though sans eyes) which can be seen on the BF 110 heavy fighters of ZG 76. The American Volunteer Group based in China happened upon a newspaper picture of an No. 122 Squadron RAF P-40 fighter in North Africa and started to paint their P-40B’s.

(ZG 76 Bf 110C http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zerst%C3%B6rergeschwader_76)

Of course the shark’s mouth art is often considered a typically American decal, however this extract from the essay entitled “Desert Kittyhawks”, by Squadron Leader Jim Collier, DFC, RCAF (published in William J. Wheeler, ed., Flying Under Fire, Vol. 2 (2003), p. 88) explains otherwise: “…Everyone has seen pictures of No. 112 Squadron’s Tomahawks and Kittyhawks with shark mouths painted on the front. They were the only ones in our wing who sported this device. Chennault’s Flying Tigers later used the same decoration on their P-40s in the Far East. Most people think that the shark-mouth design originated in China with the American Volunteer Group. The AVG pilots had simply seen pictures of 112’s aircraft, taken in North Africa, and adopted the design. Hollywood got to China first, with the film God is My Co-Pilot, based on the book by AVG pilot Colonel Robert L. Scott.You learn something new every day!…”

(14th Airforce P-40K Warhawks in China)

Personally I just enjoy the art work and as I am not particularly an avid aircraft fan I do not personally have an opinion on the type of aircraft it adorns.  Though it clearly does not look as impressive when comically grinning on a commercial airliner…

(http://www.ww2aircraft.net/forum/aircraft-pictures/shark-mouth-aircraft-31211-23.html)

What do you think?…

P.S and it’s not just aircraft…

(http://oppositelock.jalopnik.com/sharkmouth-mustang-part-ii-1658434968)

(http://www.vintagewings.com)

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23 comments

  1. Mike K · November 27, 2014

    Just my opinion, but if a shark’s mouth marking on the nose of an airplane is enough to start a debate, I think some people need to suck it up and get a life.

    Like

    • lenahedges · November 27, 2014

      Thank you for your comment mike, of course you are entitled to your opinion. As it is other people’s choice if they wish to debate/discuss the topic. It is not my place to say which view is correct. I am merely researching the subject and passing on information. Have you not though, in effect made yourself a part of the debate by commenting? Healthy debate on any subject is a good thing!

      Like

  2. the muscleheaded blog · November 28, 2014

    The Flying Tigers aircraft made quite an impression on me !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tony Wilkins · November 28, 2014

    Reblogged this on Defence of the Realm.

    Like

    • lenahedges · November 28, 2014

      Thank you for the reblog Tony

      Like

      • Tony Wilkins · November 28, 2014

        You are welcome. It was a fascinating article. I agree that it certainly suited the P-40 but I would certainly not say it was limited to the P-40. I never liked them on Spitfires and Hurricanes nor on big aircraft like the C-130. I do like them on Harriers.

        Liked by 1 person

      • lenahedges · November 28, 2014

        Thank you. It took quite a lot of research. There seems to be so many differing views on which aircraft it is appropriate or attractive on.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tony Wilkins · November 28, 2014

        The natural choice of course is an aircraft with a nose mounted intake. It is why the P-40 looked so good. I never knew about the WWI aircraft though. That was my lesson for today. Thank you for that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • lenahedges · November 28, 2014

        I’m glad I could find something new for such a seasoned aircraft fan. I do worry that I am just rehashing information sometimes lol

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tony Wilkins · November 28, 2014

        I know exactly what you mean as I too sometimes think I am just throwing out information that is probably on wikipedia. What you have to remember is that the problem with the internet over books is you have to look for something and if you don’t know its there then how do you find it? With a book you can look through it and happily stumble upon something new. Its the same with a specific site like yours and mine. We can now much more easily stumble upon new facts like I did today with your article. I find it humbling when that happens and exciting that there is always something new around the corner

        Liked by 1 person

      • lenahedges · November 28, 2014

        Very true. I find one of the challenges is not repeated too much what others have said. Unfortunately when I talking about facts I have to research them and there’s only so many ways one can write something. I do try to look deeper though rather than just accepting the first piece of information I come across and as I actually know nothing about aircraft or aviation I tend to double check and cross reference. I’m learning so much all the time. Though to be honest I do prefer the people side of it (ie the artists biogs) & the reasons behind the art rather than details of the actual aircraft.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tony Wilkins · November 28, 2014

        I find its more to do with your writing style and how you present your information that makes an article new even if you have heard the information before. I have found people know when I am just spitting out information like the news article i just posted. I just put a snippet and then linked it to the RAF page because I have no enthusiasm to write about it but I do want to make it known.

        Let me give you an example of what I mean.

        1) The Sea Harrier flies at a maximum soeed of 720mph

        But I would write it as

        2) The “Shar”, while not being supersonic in level flight, was a very high subsonic aircraft being able to attain 720mph and even pass the sound barrier in a steep dive.

        YES – its a longer way of saying the same thing but there’s more passion behind it. When I commit to an article thats how I try to write it. I see the same in your work and I am not trying to flatter you here. I found your article an interesting read and the words just flowed which is why I reblogged it. I don’t just reblog anything you know 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • lenahedges · November 28, 2014

        Thank you. I try to write it with passion as I love writing however I find it hard at times. It was easier when I was writing about fashion which I already had a genuine deep down passion for ( http://www.forayintofashion.com ). I am glad I am succeeding with my work on this blog too. I genuinely love the art, I have just never been that interested in aircrafts or war.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tony Wilkins · November 28, 2014

        Each their own I suppose. As I am constantly reminded by my wife I know more about Avro Lancasters than I do about fashion 😀 Good luck with the future stuff. If you ever need any help with the technical stuff then please feel free to get in touch either on here or on Facebook.

        Liked by 1 person

      • lenahedges · November 28, 2014

        Thank you. Much appreciated. My partner is a big fan of aircraft and as such we have spent many a weekend at museums such as Duxford. It was during these visits I discovered a love for the nose art. I love writing and it seemed a good way to share an interest with him and educate myself on the subject also. Is your Facebook under your name or defence of the realm?

        Like

  4. pickledwings · November 28, 2014

    It’s rather strange to see the appropriateness of an inoccuous graphic element being left up to aesthetic tastes. Appropriateness should be about social acceptability rather than opinion. the sharkmouth certainly isn’t in the same league as the Swastika.

    That said, certain aircraft do wear the sharkmouth better than others. The P-40 doesn’t look right without it, though I never cared for it on P-52 Mustangs.

    Some Hawker Typhoons got sharkmouths and, in my opinion, looked horrible with them. The Typhoon nose shape just wasn’t right for it.

    It’s good that you made note of RAF 112 Squadron. The sharkmouth became so associated with them that they carried it on all of their aircraft into the postwar period until their 1957 disbandment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lenahedges · November 28, 2014

      Quite often social acceptability is connected to aesthetic tastes. And vice versa. The swastika for example has become synonymous with Hitler and as such reviled however that wasn’t it’s original use. Obviously as with all art it us subjective.
      Thank you for your comment. I hope you enjoy my little blog

      Liked by 1 person

      • pickledwings · November 28, 2014

        Yours looks like a good blog for an aviation nut like me to follow. I look forward to visiting often. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • lenahedges · November 28, 2014

        Thank you 🙂

        Like

  5. JBarbaud · March 8, 2015

    These “112 Sq Tomahawks” are in fact 14th Air Force P-40K Warhawks in China 😉

    Like

    • lenahedges · March 8, 2015

      oh right, thank you. Unfortunately I do my posts by research not personal knowledge. my apologies if a mistake has been made. Thank you for your comment.

      Like

    • lenahedges · March 8, 2015

      I had a look and checked what you were referring to. Thank you for the heads up. I have edited the photo caption. I am constantly learning 🙂

      Like

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