deliberation and a bit of happenstance, the national star insignia
on American military aircraft has evolved since 1917. Mutations give
warbird restorers many options, and occasional confusion results
from changes that can only be understood in the context of six major
the height of World War I, the United States adopted its first
official insignia, consisting of a white star on a blue disc, with a
free-floating red center (Photo 1). (Previous attempts at insignia,
less than official, included the use of a red star in 1916 on some
aircraft, and a roundel of red, white, and blue.) The official 1917
device handily combined red, white, and blue with a star reminiscent
of the U.S. flag. This style sufficed until July 1942. By then,
seven months into war with Japan, experience showed the red center
to the insignia caused gunners to mistake it for the Japanese red
disc. The red was taken out as an expedient (Photo 2), and some
vintage photos show aircraft with obviously doctored centers.
year later, desiring to return red to all three national colors, the
military adopted an insignia that placed two white bars aside the
star, and surrounded the whole device with a red border (Photo 3).
It was believed the non-circular nature of this emblem would not
confuse those gunners. Not so. Some warplanes in the Pacific were
given white bars, but no red outline (Photo 4). Two months later, in
September 1943 the red outline was ordered painted over with
insignia blue. This winged blue-and-white insignia remained in use
throughout the remainder of the war and into the early postwar era
(Photo 5). It owes its shape to the original red outline that
surrounded other elements of the insignia. It gives the appearance
of floating the star and bars in a sea of blue. The rationale is
only evident when one looks at the short-lived red outline variant.
confusion with Japanese warplanes was no longer an issue, in January
1947 red bars were added to the national insignia (Photo 6).
All six examples of
U.S. star insignia are present at AirVenture 2008 in the Warbirds
area, making a fun scavenger hunt.