synthetic haze Lockheed f-5 and olive drab p-38 in flight

The Blue Recce WW2 Aircraft Camouflage of The US Army Air Force


Photo-Reconnaissance (1942-45)

Shortly after the US entry into the war, the USAAF was approached by a Boston paint manufacturer known as Samuel Cabot with a proposal for a new white Haze paint that allegedly rendered aircraft close to invisible by means of the Tyndall Effect, the same light scattering effect that causes skies to appear blue. The effect on aircraft was achieved by using a black base and then spraying the haze paint in layers, building it up to produce sections of the aircraft that were lighter (such as the undersides) resulting in a mottled appearance. The USAAF was impressed and eventually adopted it on its F-4 and early F-5 Lightnings (photo-reconnaissance version of the P-38) from March 1942. Unfortunately, Haze tended to darken considerably in use, was extremely time-consuming to apply, and could not be applied at night either. As a result it was briefly discontinued between October and January of the following year. However, a revised version referred to as Synthetic Haze was developed shortly thereafter by Lockheed. Unlike the original, it was applied on a dark sky blue base and was also applied more uniformly giving the appearance of a single color. This became the standard color on the later F-5 Lightnings from March 1943. The closest equivalents to the intended color (known as 'Flight Blue') is FS 35190 and, to a lesser extent, ANA 501 (Light Blue). Given the brighter base color, it it likely that Synthetic Haze had a deeper appearance than its Haze predecessor.

Given that the new Synthetic Haze paint did not fully resolve some of the problems of the original in terms of its complex application, from around 1944 most USAAF photo-recon aircraft began painting their aircraft identically to their RAF counterparts using PRU Blue. This is a darker blue-gray compared to Synthetic Haze and would have been applied as a single color. The USAAF was also a major user of British photo-recon aircraft through Reverse Lend-Lease and these included PR versions of Spitfires and Mosquitoes which would have been factory-painted as such. It is likely that the switch to PRU Blue occurred mostly in Europe and the Mediterranean or in regions where there were available stocks of RAF paint.

Color Guide to WW2 USAAF Blue Recon Aircraft

  • Haze / Synthetic Haze: Any generic deep sky blue fading into a sky blue underside should be good enough for Synthetic Haze, while a lighter less saturated blue would work best for Haze, fading towards white on the sides and undersides.
  • PRU Blue: A grayish-blue color which clostest equivalent is the modern BS 381C 636 PRU Blue color. As for US colors, the most applicable analogues are ANA 608 Intermediate Blue or its successor FS 35164.
Flight Blue PRU Blue
1942-43 Overall
1944-45 Overall
Gunze Aqueous - -
Gunze Mr. Color - -
Humbrol - 230
Model Master - 2061
Revell - -
Tamiya - -
Vallejo Model Air - 71.109**
Vallejo Model Color (70.901) -
AKAN (72076) -
AK Interactive - -
AK Real Colors (RC236) RC297
AMMO by Mig - -
Colourcoats - ACRN14
Hataka - HTK-_042
Lifecolor - -
Mission Models - -
Mr. Paint (MRP-239) MRP-120
Xtracolor X160* X008
Xtracrylix - XA1008
Arcus - 365

Photo Reference of WW2 USAAF Recce Aircraft Camouflage

Locheed F-5 Lightning of 90th Photographic Reconaissance Wing North Africa Despite the lack of color photos, this F-5A in North Africa shows the original Haze pattern with considerable whitening on the sides and underside.
Single line of synthetic haze Lockheed f-5s This line of F-5s are painted in the later Synthetic Haze, which shows more uniformity but the lighter sky blue undersides are evident.
Lockheed f-5 267332 and p-38 267183 in flight Maybe the best photo of what freshly painted Synthetic Haze looked like. Despite the uniformity of the color, other photos of this same aircraft definitely show lighter sections of the underside.
USAAF Supermarine Spitfire PR MkXI of the 7th Photographic Reconnaissance Group 14th Recon Squadron at RAF Mount Farm This excellent photo of a Spitfire PR.IX in USAAF service shows the PRU Blue that became the standard color in 1944, at least in Europe. Strangely, the lower nose looks like a lighter color.

External Reference:


  • 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)
  • 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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