Northrop BT-1 of VB-6 USS Enterprise (CV-6), 1940

Interwar Yellow Wings USN Aircraft

Interwar US Navy & USMC Camouflage Reference Contents:

Yellow Wings Color Scheme (1922-1941)

The era of Interwar Yellow Wing USN Aircraft stands as a pivotal chapter in the annals of US Naval Aviation, tracing its roots back to the early 20th century when Captain W.I. Chambers was appointed as the overseer of all aviation affairs within the USN in 1910. While the CV-1 Langley was recommissioned as a carrier in March 1922, it wasn't until October of that year that the inaugural aircraft took flight from its deck, marking the dawn of a new era in naval aviation.

During this significant period, Navy Aircraft boasted a distinctive appearance, characterized by overall Aluminum-doped fabric complemented by orange yellow wing tops on the upper wing and aft horizontal stabilizer. Despite the official order forthe yellowpaint not being issued until May 1925, this vibrant hue had unofficially become a standard practice since 1920, serving as a crucial aid in locating aircraft that had made forced landings in water. The aircraft were adorned with a National white star,with a red circle in its center against a blue disc. Aircraft insignia were to be placed on the upper and lower wings, with the aircraft's Bureau Number prominently displayed on the fuselage sides. The size of the star was intricately determined, reflecting the precise dimensions between the leading edge of the wing and the leading edge of the ailerons, while its position along the wing spanwise was meticulously defined by the wing's chord. E.g. if an aircraft's wing had a 3 foot chord the disc would be painted three feet from the outer edge of each wing.

Grumman f2f-1 color profile
The color profile of the Grumman F2F in the typical yellow-winged color scheme of the 1930s. Note the distinctive color markings: green elements indicated that the aircraft was flown by an engineer officer, and the black tail stated that the aircraft was assigned to VF-7 (later re-designated VF-72) based on the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7).

However, early silver paint formulas encountered significant challenges in adhering to metal surfaces, prompting the Navy to introduce a substitute Aircraft Gray paint. Although akin to silver in tone, this gray variant exhibited varying shades, with aircraft stationed on ships more likely to receive this distinctive paint application.

By 1934, notable advancements in paint formulas ushered in a resurgence of silver paint on metal surfaces, with newly constructed aircraft proudly flaunting all-over silver finishes. Aircraft undergoing overhaul during this period underwent a transformative process, with their once-gray surfaces repainted to gleaming silver. Notably, monoplanes emerged as the epitome of sophistication, exclusively adorned in resplendent silver tones, without any hint of gray substitutes. This transformative period not only marked technological advancements but also symbolized the enduring spirit of innovation within US Naval Aviation.

Color Guide to the Yellow Wing US Navy Aircraft Scheme

  • Orange Yellow: It was a golden yellow color with a subtle orange tint. In 1943, it was replaced by ANA 614 Orange Yellow. If we talk about modern analogues, the closest is FS 33538.
  • Aluminum: Not to be confused with a natural metallic finish. It is an aluminum lacquer with a moderate metallic sheen. All dull metallics are well suited to imitate this color.
  • Aircraft Gray: This light gray color was used as a substitute for Aluminum to paint the metal covering of airplanes in the early 1930s. It had almost the same shade as Aluminum, but did not have the distinctive metallic sheen. This color also had a successor in the ANA palette - Aircraft Gray ANA 512. The closest modern counterpart of this color is FS 16473 ADC Gray.
Original Paint Orange Yellow Aluminum Aircraft Gray
General (1922-1933) Wing Tops Overall (Fabric) Metal Parts
General (1934-1941) Wing Tops Overall
FED-STD FS 33538 FS 17178 FS 16473
Pantone 7408 U 877 C 442 C
RAL RAL 075 70 70 9006 RAL 180 70 05
BS 08 E 51 - BS381C 676
Arcus Colors - 079 537
A cross-reference table of paints used in the yellow-wing color scheme of US naval aircraft in the interwar period.

Photos of US Navy Yellow-Winged Aircraft of the 1930s

Close-up of the Douglas Devastator of CV-6
Close-up of Douglas Devastator aircraft aboard USS Enterprise. Worth noting is the boundary of the yellow color on the upper surfaces, which extends slightly beyond the leading edge onto the lower wing surfaces.
Crashed SBC-3 BuNo 0524 of the VS-6 USS Enterprise
The crashed SBC-3 BuNo 0524 alongside the island of VS-6 USS Enterprise. This photo clearly illustrates that US naval biplanes had only the upper wings in an Orange Yellow color. The lower wings were completely painted Aluminum.
Color photo of the Curtiss Helldiver XSB2C-1 prototype
Not only operational aircraft were outfitted with yellow wings, but prototypes of naval planes also sported this color scheme, as evidenced by this Curtiss XSB2C-1.
Grumman F3F of VMF-1, Quantico, VA, 1939
The aircraft of the United States Marine Corps had the same color scheme as the US Navy aircraft. However, instead of colorful tails, they received tricolor national markings on the rudder, as seen in this photo of the Grumman F3F-2 from VMF-1, taken in Quantico, Virginia, in 1939.
Hall PH-2 of the US Coast Guuard, circa 1936
The Yellow Wings paint scheme was also adopted by the USCG aircraft in the 1930s. However, as seen in this photo of the Hall PH-2 seaplane, such aircraft had a different marking, with no national insignia on the wings and a different type of stripes on the rudder, typical for Coast Guard units.

References to the Yellow Wings Scheme:

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