United States Naval Aircraft Painting Practices
by Jeff Herne

Douglas TBD Devastators of Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6) flying off Diamond Head, Hawaii. Time Life Archives photo.

If you’re building an aircraft carrier model, having the colors schemes of the aircraft match the time frame of the ship’s color scheme is quite important. Although bright and colorful, you’ll never see a yellow-winged aircraft operating from a dazzle-painted Essex Class carrier. So here’s a quick overview of the principle changes to USN aircraft during the war years.

Grumman F4F Wildcats wearing overall ANA 602 Light Gray. USN aircraft wore this scheme from December 1940 until October, 1941. US National Archives Photo.

US Navy aircraft in 1939 carried a color scheme dating back to May 1925, requiring aircraft to be painted Overall Aluminum, with upper wing surfaces painted Orange Yellow 614. Hulls and floats of seaplanes were painted Non-Specular (flat) Light Grey 602. This scheme was used until December 1940, when all ship-based aircraft were painted overall Light Grey 602. Patrol aircraft wore overall Non-Specular Light Grey 602 except for surfaces viewed from above, which were painted Blue-Grey (FS 35189) * .

Two months prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, orders came down requiring all USN and Marine Corps aircraft to be painted overall Non-Specular Light Grey 602 except for upper surfaces, which were painted Blue-Grey (FS 35189). On aircraft with folding wings, the portion of the wing viewed when folded was also painted Blue-Grey. This scheme was to remain until February 1943, after which time the tide of war had turned against Japan.

SBDs wearing USN Blue-Gray scheme with subdued roundels. Close examination of the photo shows traces of the red and white tail stripes and red roundel center. Time Life Archives.

The Non-Specular, or Three-Tone, scheme appeared in February of 1943. Orders required all upper surfaces be Non-Specular Sea Blue 607, with Non-Specular Intermediate Blue 608 being applied to fuselage sides, vertical tail surfaces, and rudder. Under surfaces were Non-Specular Insignia White 601. On aircraft with folding wings, the portion of the wing viewed when folded was painted Non-Specular Intermediate Blue 608.

In late March 1944, colors from the 1943 Three Tone scheme were changed from Non-Specular to Glossy. The exception to this rule was fighter aircraft, which were to now carry Glossy Sea Blue 623 overall. Non-Specular Sea Blue 607 could be substituted in areas where it was necessary to protect the pilot from sun glare.

Grumman F6F Hellcat wearing mid-1943 3-color camouflage scheme.

By October 1944, the 1943 Three Tone scheme was dropped from all combat aircraft, including torpedo and dive bombers. This was replaced by the earlier March 1944 fighter scheme calling for Overall Glossy Sea Blue 623. The exceptions to this rule included Seaplanes, Transports, Helicopters, Patrol, and Observation aircraft, all of which retained the earlier Non-Specular scheme of February 1943.

A well-worn Overall Sea Blue F4U Corsair. This aircraft still retains the Insignia Blue portion of the roundel, which was often eliminated as the war progressed. US National Archives Photo.

Other schemes of interest were the two applied to Anti-Submarine and Patrol aircraft operating in the Atlantic. Although orders dictate these schemes were to be used in areas where there was no enemy air opposition, evidence seems to point to the fact that this scheme was rarely, if ever, used in the Pacific Theater. Aircraft carrying Scheme I had upper surfaces sprayed Dark Gull Grey 621, fuselage sides Light Gull Grey 620, and all under surfaces Glossy Insignia White 601. Side surfaces in the shadow of wings and tail were to be sprayed Non-Specular Insignia White 601. The inside of engine cowlings, prop domes, and prop blades out to the inner edge of the cowl openings were to be sprayed Non-Specular Insignia White 601. Scheme II replaced all Non-Specular white with Light Gull Grey 620. It should be noted that Lt. Gull Grey 620 has the same FS# as Light Grey 602 (FS#36440).

Wildcats wearing the ASW “Atlantic” scheme. Author unknown.

In December of 1944, an addendum was made to the October 1944 order, requiring all land-based patrol to carry Semi-Gloss Sea Blue upper and lower wing surfaces and horizontal tail, with Non-Specular Sea Blue being carried on fuselage and vertical tail.

* While Navy Blue Grey had a Spec. 3-1 number, it was intended to be superseded by RAF Extra Dark Sea Grey, and did not receive an ANA number. By the time the ANA system was adopted in June 1943, Non-Specular Blue Grey had been removed from USN aircraft in favor of the Non-Specular Sea Blue and Intermediate Blue (2/43). In the case of Navy Blue Grey, the FS# appears in place of the ANA or Spec. 3-1 listing.

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