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Make Your WWI Plane Replicas Accurately

Mar 17, 2008
It is surprising and somewhat disappointing to witness the astounding number of scale replicas of aircraft that sport incorrect color schemes. This is not just a matter of small details but of the overall color scheme which ruins an otherwise beautiful model. We shall now endeavor briefly to summarize the outstanding color schemes used by the principal air powers during the First World War. Obviously, it will not be possible to cover every type of color scheme and camouflage used; therefore it is quite possible that the reader may discover color schemes which are not mentioned herein.


During the early days of the first World War no effort was made by either the Central Powers or the Allied Nations to paint their aircraft. The clear doped fabric, therefore, gave the aircraft a buff appearance. As the use of airplanes increased the belligerents realized that the potential of the airplane in warfare was tremendous and thereupon began to devise ways of concealing this powerful weapon whose major asset was surprise.

The famous "S. E. 5" biplane of the first world war was one of the fighters which wore the British color scheme of olive drab top and buff bottom. The letter is white and is pilot identification while the fuselage polygon is squadron insignia. It has a gray nose. At times all metal parts were gray or silver.

The French air arm began applying large patches of varying shades of browns and greens to the upper surface of the aircraft in an attempt to conceal the airplane when viewed from above. The under surface remained unpainted and, therefore, appeared buff. This scheme remained unchanged throughout the war. Squadron markings such as storks and dogs appeared on the fuselage.

The United States Air Service, which was composed mainly of French aircraft, followed the French color scheme. Some U.S. aircraft had light gray undersides.

A more simple attempt at camouflage was devised by the British Royal Flying Corps. The upper surfaces and fuselage were painted olive drab and the under surfaces of the wings and tail were unpainted again resulting in the buff color. Like their French and American Allies, the English did not alter this method of concealment for the duration of the war. British squadron markings consisted of white bands around the fuselage rear or white bars and geometric shapes.

Italian aircraft followed the French scheme or remained unpainted.

The initial German attempt at camouflage followed the French method of large patches on the upper surfaces except that the colors were light purple and green or brown and green. Unlike the French and English the Germans painted the under surfaces sky blue. Many German aircraft of this period, 1915-1916, had fuselages which were covered with wood.

These fuselages were normally unpainted at the factory and usually appeared at the front with only a clear varnish protective coating which gave it a straw-like color. The German flyers soon took advantage of this unpainted surface upon which to afix personal emblems, initials or colorful and bizarre markings such as stripes, checkerboards, arrows, hearts and even a premature swastika!

Late in 1917 the Germans developed a printed fabric which reduced the time formerly consumed in painting. Once the fabric was in place on the airplane it only required clear dope. The pattern of the fabric was most unusual in that it consisted of irregular hexagons throughout. This fabric was printed in a variety of colors including; pink, cobalt blue, clay orange, dark red, light purple, gray, blue-green, and dirty yellow. Usually only four or five colors were used in one pattern. The hexagon size was approximately 3" x 6".

Many of the leading German Aces received permission to color their entire airplane in a personal manner. Some of the outstanding examples are: all black-Ritter von Schliech; all red-Manfred von Richthofen; all white-Hermann Goer-ing; all silvery-blue-Werner Voss; and blue tail; Ernst Udet.

These are the main color schemes used on aircraft during the First World War. Try to follow one of the schemes when you paint your model aircraft.
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