USAAF unit identification aircraft markings
, commonly called "tail markings" after their most frequent location, were numbers, letters, geometric symbols, and colors painted onto the tails (vertical stabilizer fins), wings, or fuselages of the combat aircraft (primarily bombers
) of the United States Army Air Forces
during the Second World War
. The purpose of these markings was to provide a means of rapid identification of the unit to which an aircraft was assigned. Variations of these markings continue to be used in the United States Air Force
in the form of tail codes
identifying operational wings.
At the beginning of the war the USAAF was a small service in comparison to the air forces of the combatants fighting since 1939. Its initial deployments to the European
theaters in 1942 involved relatively small numbers of fighter and bomber aircraft and no system of Group
identification was used. Some aircraft were identified by numbers painted on their fuselage.
The USAAF quickly adopted the system used by the Royal Air Force
to identify squadrons, using fuselage codes of two letters (later letter-numeral when squadrons became too numerous) to denote a squadron
and a third single letter to identify the aircraft within the squadron. However by 1944 the USAAF in Europe had grown to nearly 60 groups of heavy bombers (240 squadrons) and thirty groups of fighters (90 squadrons), and this system became impractical in combat after the summer of 1943,... Read More