Air Force Life

Nose art on a Lancaster bomber during the Second World War.

Afghanistan nose art on Chinook helicopter 147201, which is now part of the collection of the National Air Force Museum in Trenton, Ontario.

Nose art

They could be humorous, hot or heavy!

During the Second World War, pilots and aircrew with artistic talent often personalized the nose of their aircraft with painted pictures. In the male-dominated service of those years, the pictures were often take-offs of the popular “Varga” or “Vargas” girls — paintings of scantily clad women by Alberto Vargas that were featured in men’s magazines of the era. Other favourite themes were cartoons or scenes suggesting death and destruction for the enemy.

With the air campaign in Afghanistan, nose art again adorned Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) aircraft in theatre, including CH-146 Griffon and CH-147D Chinook helicopters. Four nose art panels from Griffons that flew in Afghanistan have been preserved as part of Operation Keepsake, an initiative to preserve the historical legacy of the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan.

Miss. Behavin’ nose art

One of the unique features of CH-147D Chinook 147201 is the artwork of “Miss. Behavin’”, painted by Master Corporal Robert Bannen while serving in Afghanistan.  Miss. Behavin’ is reminiscent of the pin-up imagery from the Second World War, and was based on the sign from the Lady Mary-Ann Cabaret in Quebec City, Quebec.

While common practice during the Second World War, today this nude and semi-nude imagery is often considered offensive and objectifying to women. In 2015 the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) instituted Operation Honour, an initiative to combat an underlying sexualized culture that was found to exist in the CAF and the sexual misconduct and harassment that resulted from this culture. As a result, the nose art that is painted on RCAF aircraft post-2015 generally focuses on animal and nature themes, and no longer includes female figures. Miss. Behavin’ is therefore likely the last piece of RCAF nose art that will feature pin-up style art.

RCAF Hurricanes

The Air Force won the Grey Cup in 1942 — but it was a foregone conclusion.

The Second World War was on and most football players had gone into military service. So on December 5, the first-ever non-civilian Grey Cup match took place, played between two Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) teams: the Toronto RCAF Hurricanes and the Winnipeg RCAF Bombers. The Hurricanes took the game, played at Toronto’s Varsity Station in front of a crowd of 12,455 fans, 8 to 5. Seven of the Hurricanes’ players later died in the war.



The Smithsonian Institution

An RCAF pre-unification tunic, worn by W/C Gareth W. Flewelling, that he donated to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Some might say that the Russians gave the Air Force the blues! 

After wearing the khaki of the Royal Flying Corps and the navy blue of the first Canadian Air Force, the RCAF adopted the blue grey of the Royal Air Force (RAF).

The RAF first obtained the material from the haberdashery Burberry’s of London. An Imperial Russian cavalry regiment had originally ordered the fabric, but the unit did not survive the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the newly installed Communist régime had no need for the material. Burberry’s then sold the fabric to the RAF at a bargain basement price.

The RCAF also had a tan coloured summer uniform. With unification, the Air Force put on “rifle green”, but returned to a light blue uniform in 1985 with the reintroduction of distinctive environmental uniforms for the Navy, Army and Air Force.