After the Vietnam War, nose art, at least as far as the U.S, is concerned went into a decline as the military decided to enforce restrictions during peacetime. Another factor that further contributes to this decline was the routine transfer of Strategic Air Command (SAC) aircraft between units. This is due to the fact that they have to be repainted each time.
However, from the early years of the eighties through 1991, nose art made a comeback. This was initially limited to a few selected units and eventually, the scope was expanded to all aircraft in 1985 by SAC. However, the authorities still required, as per stipulation, that the aircraft artwork was in good taste and there was no nudity. This was in the continuance of the trend seen in the U.S. Air Force Project Warrior. In the early years of the eighties, SAC ruled that historical units could have historical nose art.
As the ‘Nose Art,’ controversy raged, in 1988, the commander of the SAC revised his regulations yet again and ruled that no other color than the subdued eight specified could be put into use for tail stripes and nose art. With the restrictions still in place, this artwork still finds its proponents among pilots and the public with memorabilia and WW II names and of course replication of nose art.
This practice is better viewed from the perspective of popular culture rather than old subjects. It is a reflection of contemporary popular culture just as the nose art of the forties was. Music and TV dominated their silver screen counterparts. The presence of the mainstream rock group Guns’ n Roses to its aficionados indicates this cultural shift. After 1991 new paintings on the nose of the aircraft appeared which complimented the new bomb scores as well as the mission markings. Due to perhaps a more conservative outlook or for the general interest of camouflage some of the outrageous designs were toned down and even painted over.
If we are to compare side by side the 80’s with Vietnam or WW II then the general consensus among most people would be that there is more freedom than what was enjoyed in the Vietnam era but less than what was allowed during the Great War. In the wake of the infamous “Time” story on the fifth of December 1988 “Bimbos for Bombers”, nose art earned public ire so much that it invited the criticism of the National Organization for Women and the National Women’s History Project. But the art, as always, was not without its staunch defenders and continued to enjoy a cult following. It is interesting to know that ships had escaped their wrath as exemplified by Miss B. Havin.
Nose art still retains popularity but with a formal and often elaborate process to get it approved. It was a far cry from the audacity that you would find in the forties.