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

(North American P-51C-1-NT Mustang

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) )

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

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…


What do you think?…

P.S and it’s not just aircraft…



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