During the First World War, European forces were the first to experience aerial combat, and the first to develop strategies from it. Many used paint for personal or unit identification, such as the Red Baron’s infamous Flying Circus. A few others adorned their crafts with personal works as well.
When the US forces, the American Expeditionary Force, entered into the war, they were inexperienced compared to the European forces in air combat. Many speculate that this need to prove oneself individually is what led to the spread of nose art by AEF pilots. By the end of the war, American pilots had popularized personal paintings on their crafts to the point where nearly all forces had adopted this trend to a degree.
Personal nose art in World War I is often simple and can often be only a name or a shape. Other more standardized art, such as unit insignias, are often large and easily spottable from great aerial distances to aid in combat awareness for allies.
To view the artworks of the World War I era, click here for the gallery.