WW2 Aircraft Colors and Camouflage of The US Army Air Force

WW2 Aircraft Colors and Camouflage of The US Army Air Force

Contents:

Introduction to US color standards

The first color standard in use by the US armed forces was known as Specification No. 3-1, introduced on 28 November 1919 and including a palette of 24 colors of which only one would still be in use during World War II. The earliest standard in use by the US Army Air Corps (USAAC) before the war was Specification 14057 which dated from April 1931 and had been revised numerous times since, the latest being Specification 14057-C on 27 December 1939. An updated eight-color (later nine-color) palette was introduced shortly thereafter, in Air Corps Bulletin No. 41 dated 16 September 1940 and this would include all the main colors in use when the US Army Air Force (USAAF) replaced the USAAC in June 1941. Camouflage schemes would later be specified in the Technical Order No. 07-1-1 although in many cases these were applied in an ad hoc manner by commanders in the field. The US Navy (USN) had its own color system during the early years of World War II based around Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) Specification M-485 from 6 December 1940 which listed 6 (later 7) basic non-spectacular (matt) colors.

The need to unify color codes for the USAAF and USN (which used completely different camouflage schemes) resulted in the Army and Navy Aircraft (ANA) system, introduced on 28 September 1943. ANA Bulletin No. 157 included an initial palette of 19 mostly matt (plus a few semi-gloss) colors using a three-digit numbering system in the 600s. ANA Bulletin No. 166 added a further 15 gloss colors numbered in the 500s. A number of additional colors were later added for a total of 44. Notably, a few of these were gloss colors but were added to the 600s range. The ANA system also included numerous substitute colors for British colors, necessary in light of the large number of US aircraft provided to the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm through Lend-Lease.

On 12 January 1950, the US published Federal Specification TT-C-595 which superseded the ANA system with a four-digit numbering system. This was short-lived and just a few years later was superseded by the Federal Standard system, formally known as FED-STD-595. Each color the palette is identified by a five-digit code. The first digit refers to the sheen of the paint, these being gloss (1), semi-gloss (2), and matt (3). The second digit refers to the color, these being brown (1), red (2), yellow (3), green (4), blue (5), gray (6), all others including whites, blacks, and metallics (7), and fluorescents (8). The last three digits are unique for each color and typically go from darker to lighter. The initial palette included 358 colors although some colors only officially exist in one or two out of the three sheens. Although the hues are identical regardless of sheen, there have been some notorious exceptions such as Olive Drab whose semi-gloss version used by the US Army on tanks (FS 24087) was different from the matt version used on helicopters (FS 34087), this being an error that took decades to correct.

The Federal Standard system has gone through numerous revisions, starting with FED-STD-595A in January 1968 (437 colors), FED-STD-595B in January 1994 (611 colors), and FED-STD-595C in January 2008 (650 colors). The ANA Bulletin 157/166 continued to be updated post-war as well, until 15 October 1964 when it was discontinued in favor of FED-STD-595. On February 17th, 2017, the Federal Standard system was replaced by the Aerospace Material Specification Standard 595, or AMS-STD-595. It is largely equivalent to the Federal Standard system and most existing colors have been carried over with identical numbers.

Paint guide basics:

All colors in this page include a paint chart with matches or equivalences from 19 different model paint ranges. Paints are considered matches if they are labeled with the intended color (either uniquely on together with another color). Paints are considered equivalences if they are close to the intended color but not labeled as such. The accuracy of any paint is independent of whether it is a match or an equivalence and these are described in the text (there can be poor matches and highly accurate equivalences). The following nomenclature is used in the paint tables and is based on matches or equivalences to US Insignia Red FS 11136:

Paint Match or equivalence type (label)
MP01 Labeled to match one specific color (FS 11136)
MP02* Labeled to match more than one color of same-country standards (FS 11136 / ANA 509)*
MP03** Labeled to match more than one color of different-country standards (FS 11136 / BS 538)
MP04 (!) Questionable accuracy of label match (doesn't look like FS 11136)
MP05 (?) Questionable accuracy of label match, untested (doesn't look like FS 11136 in the bottle)
(MP06) Close equivalent to FS 11136 (BS 538)
(MP07) (?) Questionable equivalent to FS 11136 (Generic Gloss Red)

*A single asterisk also denotes implicit matches for same-country standards where there is an official succession between standards. For example, H327* would match ANA 509 even if the label only references FS 11136 since ANA 509 is its official predecessor. This does not apply when there are considerable differences between successive paints (ex: Olive Drab No. 41/ANA 613/FS 34087) and this will be described in the text. By and large, however, single asterisk matches should be considered close enough to unique matches as to not be seriously questioned.

The paint charts make no distinction between gloss, semi-gloss, and matt variants of a color if the correct sheen is unavailable (ex: gloss FS 11136 will be a specific match for matt FS 31136 if the latter does not exist in the same paint range). Exceptions are made where there is a known or suspected color difference (ex: FS 24087 and 34087).

Color Tables

Specification 14057-C (27 December 1939)

Color FED-STD ANA No. 41 Munsell*
  No. 25 White FS 37886 ANA 601 No. 46 N9
  No. 26 Sand FS 31433 (?) ANA 616 No. 49 5YR 7/4
  No. 27 Light Blue FS 35466 (?) - - 5B 7.6/4
  No. 28 Sea Green FS 34092 (?) ANA 612 (!) No. 42 (!) 1G 2.8/3
  No. 29 Dark Blue FS 35109 - - 4B 2.8/3
  No. 30 Dark Green FS 34077 (?) - - 4G 2.4/1.8
  No. 31 Dark Olive Drab FS 34088 (?) ANA 613 (!) No. 41 8Y 3.6/3
  No. 32 Neutral Gray FS 36173 ANA 603 (!) No. 43 N5
  No. 33 Black FS 37038 ANA 604 No. 44 N2
  No. 34 Rust Brown FS 30117 - - 5YR 3/4

* Munsell values were originally provided using 1929 notation. N values have been converted to Hex relative to greyscale range.

Air Corps Bulletin No. 41 (16 September 1940)

Color FED-STD ANA 14057-C Munsell
  No. 41 Dark Olive Drab FS 34086 (?) ANA 613 (!) No. 31 ?
  No. 42 Medium Green FS 34092 ANA 612 No. 28 (!) ?
  No. 43 Neutral Gray FS 36173 ANA 603 (!) No. 32 ?
  No. 44 Black FS 37038 ANA 604 No. 33 ?
  No. 45 Insignia Red FS 31136 ANA 619 - ?
  No. 46 Insignia White FS 37886 ANA 601 No. 25 ?
  No. 47 Insignia Blue FS 35042 ANA 605 - ?
  No. 48 Identification Yellow FS 33538 ANA 614 - ?
  No. 49 Sand FS 30315 (?) ANA 616 No. 26 ?

US Army Specification 3-1 (21 April 1943)

Color FED-STD ANA No. 41 Munsell*
  No. 302 Earth Brown FS 30099 - - ?
  No. 303 Field Drab FS 30118 ANA 617 - ?
  No. 305 Earth Yellow FS 30257 - - ?
  No. 306 Sand FS 33448 - - 0.7Y 6.6/3.7
  No. 307 Light Blue FS 35190 (?) - - ?
  No. 312 Earth Red FS 30117 - - ?
  No. 319 Olive Drab FS 34088 ANA 613 No. 41 ?
  No. 321 Light Green FS 34258 ANA 611 - ?

* Hex values adapted from color plate in Archer & Archer (1976) modified to match No. 306 Sand Munsell value provided by Nick Millmann via Britmodeller.

ANA Bulletin No. 157 (28 September 1943)

Color FED-STD No. 41 14057-C Munsell
  ANA 601 Insignia White FS 37875 No. 46 No. 25 8.3Y 9.17/0.6
  ANA 602 Light Gray FS 36440 - - 2.4GY 6.51/0.5
  ANA 603 Sea Gray FS 36118 No. 43 (!) No. 32 (!) 3.7PB 3.94/0.96
  ANA 604 Black FS 37038 No. 44 No. 33 3.2PB 2.28/0.1
  ANA 605 Insignia Blue FS 35044 No. 47 - 5.7PB 2.47/1.55
  ANA 606 Semi-gloss Sea Blue FS 25042 - - 1.0PB 2.94/1.5
  ANA 607 Non-spectacular Sea Blue FS 35042 - - 0.3PB 2.67/1.4
  ANA 608 Intermediate Blue FS 35164 - - 0.3PB 4.86/2.45
  ANA 609 Azure Blue FS 35231 - - 5.3PB 5.36/6.35
  ANA 610 Sky FS 34424 - - ?
  ANA 611 Interior Green FS 34151 - - 3.3GY 4.55/3.6
  ANA 612 Medium Green FS 34092 No. 42 No. 28 (!) 0.3G 3.57/1.85
  ANA 613 Olive Drab FS 33070 (?) No. 41 (!) No. 31 (!) 7.0Y 3.62/1.5
  ANA 614 Orange Yellow FS 33538 No. 48 - 0.5Y 7.16/11.0
  ANA 615 Middle Stone FS 30266 - - ?
  ANA 616 Sand FS 30279 No. 49 No. 26 ?
  ANA 617 Dark Earth FS 30118 - - ?
  ANA 618 Dull Red FS 30109 - - 9.3R 3.71/5.5
  ANA 619 Insignia Red FS 31136 No. 45 - 5.2R 4.16/10.65
  ANA 620* Light Gull Gray FS 36440 - - 4.55GY 7.08/0.27
  ANA 621* Dark Gull Gray FS 36231 - - 7.3B 5.36/0.5
  ANA 622* Jet FS 17038 - - 0.8PB 0.68/0.5
  ANA 623* Sea Blue FS 15042 - - 0.55PB 2.59/1.45
  ANA 625* Sea Plane Gray FS 26081 - - ?
  ANA 626* Semi-gloss White FS 27875 - - ?
  ANA 627* Field Green FS 34097 - - ?
  ANA 628* Sierra Tan FS 30219 - - ?
  ANA 631* Forest Green FS 34079 - - ?

* Added later

ANA Bulletin No. 166 (4 December 1943)

Color FED-STD No. 41 14057-C Munsell
  ANA 501 Light Blue FS 15102 - - 3.7PB 3.54/8.15
  ANA 502 Insignia Blue FS 15044 - - 4.9PB 1.25/2.95
  ANA 503 Light Green FS 14187 - - 8.5GY 4.67/8.15
  ANA 504 Olive Drab FS 24165 - - 6.8Y 2.88/1.95
  ANA 505 Light Yellow FS 13655 - - 5.4Y 7.74/11.8
  ANA 506 Orange Yellow FS 13538 - - 1.2Y 7.3/13.05
  ANA 507 Aircraft Cream FS 13594 - - ?
  ANA 508 International Orange FS 12197 - - 9.3R 4.49/13.7
  ANA 509 Insignia Red FS 11136 - - 7.65R 3.13/11.5
  ANA 510 Maroon FS 10049 - - 1.4YR 2.38/3.25
  ANA 511 Insignia White FS 17875 - - 4.2GY 8.93/0.6
  ANA 512 Aircraft Gray FS 16473 - - 2.4B 6.68/0.8
  ANA 513 Engine Gray FS 16081 - - 2.7B 3.10/0.35
  ANA 514 Instrument Black FS 27038 - - 2.4PB 2.30/0.4
  ANA 515 Gloss Black FS 17038 - - 0.9PB 1.34/0.45
  ANA 516 Strata Blue FS 15045 - - -

Note: Where Munsell values are available, these have been converted to RGB/Hex values using Munsell Color Palette.

References:

  • Archer, Robert D. and Archer, Victor G., USAAF Aircraft Markings and Camouflage 1941-1947, Schiffer Publishing (1997)
  • Bell, Dana, Air Force Colors Volume 1 1926-1942, Squadron/Signal Publications (1995)
  • Bell, Dana, Air Force Colors Volume 2 ETO & MTO 1942-1945, Squadron/Signal Publications (1980)
  • Elliot, John M., The Official Monogram US Navy & Marine Corps Aircraft Color Guide Vol 2 1940-1949, Monogram Aviation Publications (1989)
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