Military Jet Markings
October 21, 2007 6:00 PM   Subscribe

What are protocols regarding air force fighters/bombers having markings on them nowadays.

Working at an outdoor market in Long Beach today, two fighter(?) jets flew over at about 2000-3000 feet. I noticed that there were no markings on the plane (I could only see underneath) and they both seemed gray, which makes me think they were navy planes. The flyover was very strange, namely that they were flying so low.

So what gives? Are Air Force/Navy jets marked anymore under wings?
posted by goalyeehah to Grab Bag (10 answers total)
are there ever markings on the bottom?
posted by Salvatorparadise at 6:20 PM on October 21, 2007

I used to live near NAS Oceana, and I never saw markings beneath the wings, even when they were very low.
posted by 4ster at 6:23 PM on October 21, 2007

Nope. Modern military planes don't carry insignia or other markings on their lower wing surfaces. In the past, it was common practice to do so, but now that all piloted military weapons have computerized IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) systems, it's not necessary.
posted by pmbuko at 6:30 PM on October 21, 2007

It isn't required by any treaty I've ever heard of. The Geneva Convention requirement that ground forces wear distinctive identification marks is intended to permit enemies to differentiate between soldiers and civilians. But military aircraft don't look like civilian aircraft, so there's no equivalent confusion problem. (Besides which, if you can see an enemy warjet well enough to pick out insignia on it, it's too late to shoot.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:25 PM on October 21, 2007

All aircraft do have insignia, but it's usually also grey-colored and much, much smaller than WWII aircraft, so as not to be reflective or highly visible. Check out this F-18 as an example. Here's the underside of an F-15. Lots of photos and specs here. Grey colors aren't limited to any one service, so you could've seen just about anything -- Navy, Air Force, Marines, etc.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:50 PM on October 21, 2007

Oh, one other interesting thing is that some aircraft, typically ground-attack planes, will have a two-toned marking, so they're both less visible to people looking up and enemy aircraft looking down. Here's an example of a Soviet/Russian Su-25 Frogfoot with that style. The U.S. military has generally done away with this style of marking, as it was never very effective, although some versions of the A-10 Thunderbolt are still painted that way.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:56 PM on October 21, 2007

I'm fairly sure there is a requirement that military aircraft must have national markings on them, but I can't remember where I read this. On the other hand, the markings don't have to be particularly visible; hence all the low-vis markings used these days.
posted by Jakob at 8:12 AM on October 22, 2007

I've read suggestions that the flamboyance of military aircraft markings (US in particular) track international tensions. This would have been in the 80s, commenting on the relative heat of the cold war..

It is kind of a stretch, but markings do convey a message. Kind of like cops going from blue shirts to black shirts in the same era as zero tolerance politicking.
posted by Chuckles at 8:47 AM on October 22, 2007

An interesting side note: one of the many evil tactics used by the Sudanese government in Darfur has been to make their bombers look like UN relief planes, by painting them white and putting UN markings on them.
posted by 4ster at 1:58 PM on October 22, 2007

Army aircraft have tail markings that are usually a flat black. They use the same CARC (Chemical Agent Resistant Coating) Paint that is used on the rest of the aircraft. It is not very visible unless you know what you are looking for. Mostly this is tactical. You don't want your enemy being able to ID your aircraft and flight patterns.

Nose art, while really cool, unfortunately identifies that aircraft to good and bad guys. By tracking this, the bad guys have a way to determine troop strength.

As I understand it, the other armed forces follow similar conventions.

Incidentally, you would not believe how many calls we would get from folks scared of the "Black Unmarked Helicopters" they saw flying around. There was even a news report on one of the local TV stations where I was stationed for a while.
posted by Chickenjack at 5:17 AM on October 23, 2007

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