Aleutian PV-1 Painting Schemes
and the evolution of the US National aircraft insignia marks
Production of a PV-1 "Ventura" patrol bomber (Lockheed Model 237-27-01) was started in Burbank, CA in December 1942. The first US Navy squadrons equipped with PV-1 aircraft in the North Pacific were VB-135 and VB-136 deployed to the Aleutians. Their planes inherited several features from British Venturas, such as a "greenhouse" in the nose and rudimentary copilot seat, to allow the access to the bombardiers workplace. However, the nose compartment in these aircraft was occupied by a radar and provisions for aerial cameras installation.
The first batch of the Model 237-27-01 left the plant sporting two-color camouflage scheme, Blue Gray over Light Gray, according to the 8/20/1941 standard, and had eight "Star in Circle" US National insignia roundels, four on the fuselage, and four on both wing surfaces. Such design of the National insignia was introduced in May 1942, when it was realized that the central red circle of the pre-war US National insignia could be mistaken for Japanese Hinomaru. On aircraft in service the red circles were painted over with white. This solution was not entirely satisfactory as friendly fire incidents continued. A special study was conducted by the U.S. Army officials. It has discovered that the red wasn't the issue since the color couldn't be determined from a distance anyway-but the shape could be. After trying out several variations including an oblong roundel with two stars, they concluded at using white bars flanking the sides of the existing roundel, all with a red outline, which became official in June 1943 (see below).
February 1, 1943
One National Aircraft Insignia was removed from the upper and lower wing surfaces, leaving one on the upper left and one on the lower right. Tri-colored propeller tips were discontinued by a new requirement that all propellers, except those presenting no hazards to personnel, be painted on both sides from the tip four inches inward with orange yellow and the remaining blade area including the hub, with black.
June 28, 1943
A change in the US National aircraft insignia added white rectangles to both sides of the blue circular field, and a red border stripe around the entire design. The dimensions of the insignia were based on the diameter of the blue field. A general rule of thumb for the placement is to be the largest size possible but not to exceed 75 percent of the vertical height of the point of application. On the wings, it normally should be located one-third of the distance from the wing tip to the fuselage.
The side rectangles were simply added to the existing roundels, sometimes overlapping fuselage caricatures and windows (see photos below).
The red border stripe was eliminated from the National Aircraft Insignia (Army-Navy aeronautical specification AN-I-9) and use of Insignia Blue border matching the round blue field that held the star was ordered in its place (Technical Order 07-1-1, 24 September 1943).
Naturally, overpainting of the red border could not be performed overnight. Perhaps, cold weather and absence of the repair facilities in Attu did not help, either. For all major repairs the planes had to be flown to the Fleet Air Wing Four Headquarter Squadron (Hedron) workshops at Adak. By late fall of 1943 Hedron has moved to Amchitka, reducing the flight distance for the aircraft requiring service.
Fresh blue paint that was used to cover the red border often did not match the weathered base color of the roundel with white star. Some photos clearly demonstrate such difference (Photo #15).
Few early Venturas remained in possession of the Hedron after the first tour of VB-135 and VB-136 was over. Those planes continued to have two-colored camouflage scheme and National insignia markings with overpainted red border in the nose until they were finally written off in 1944 (Photo #16). Some of the newer PV-1s for some reason had National insignia with red border as late as spring of 1944 (Photo # 17 is dated 5 May 1944).
In December 1943, VB-139 Squadron arrived to Attu to relieve VB-136. Venturas of the VB-139 had quite a variety of camouflage schemes and National insignia applications. Depending on the batch, the planes had two- or three-colored main camouflage scheme. Some PV-1s had fully overpainted National insignia in the nose position (Photo #18). All fuselage National insignia markings were still "oversized". Because the "Bars" were simply added to the"Star-in-Circle" roundel in 1943, they were overlapping the entrance door on the port side and rectangular window on the starboard. (Photos # 19, 20). The planes of VB-135 Squadron which arrived to relieve VB-139 in May 1944, all had three-colored scheme and "trimmed" National insignia markings. Its size was reduced approximately by the width of the original red border. Also, fuselage "Star with Bars" were moved aft on the port side, and forward on the starboard, so the "Bars" would not overlap the door, and illuminator, respectively (Photos # 21, 22). The difference in size of the National insignia markings is clearly seen on the Photo # 23. This PV-1 has an entrance door replaced from an older aircraft with larger markings.
Three-color camouflage of VB/VPB-135 (Photos #22, 24, 25) and VPB-136 Venturas (Photo #26)
Many "formal" crew photos of Empire Express were taken by the tail of a PV-1 decorated with colorful mission marks which "migrated" from those photos onto Revell model kits of Ventura in 1:48 scale. Interestingly enough, none of the four veterans of VB-139 and VB-135 I communicated with, could not remember such markings painted on their planes. Analysis of the photographs confirmed that only one or two Venturas were decorated in such way, probably, specifically for the purpose of a group photography. One of them was BuNo 33282/ Squadron Number X20 from Hedron. It had nine mission marks on the left vertical stabilizer, and was used as a backdrop for VB-135 and VB-136 photos in May-June 1944 (Photos #27, 28). Another aircraft had six mission marks on the tail, and was used for the photos of VB-139, probably in early May of 1944. It could be either the same X20 minus three tail marks, or, according to the color profile from Osprey book, BuNo 33278, Squadron Number 25 of VB-139. Until today I could not find a photo confirmation of it (Photos # 29, 30 and 31).
There were, however, "real" mission marks painted on the PV-1s of both VB/VPB-135 and 136 (Photos #32, 33, 34, and 41). As always, for the modelers who desire to built an exact replica, it is advisable to refer to the photos of the prototype!
Photos #35 and 36: PV-1 BuNo 29737, VB-136. This Ventura opened the "Empire Express" route: 16 November 1943, Lt. Harold K. Mantius flew from Attu within 30 miles of Paramushiro and safely returned to Attu.
Early two-color camouflage scheme:
Top fuselage surfaces: M-485 Blue Gray (FS: 35189)
Lower surfaces: M-495 Light Gray (FS: 36495)
Photos #37, 38 and color profile # 39:
Specially equipped PV-1 BuNo 48919, VB-135, flown by Lt.(jg) Lewis “Pat” Patteson 14 June 1944. For this mission the plane was rigged with seven cameras, and a Photographer Mate was added to the crew. Also, tunnel twin .30 cal. machine guns were removed to accommodate three stationary aerial cameras F-56 in the back of the fuselage. Soon tunnel guns were removed on the majority of Empire Express Venturas, due to their low efficiency, and in attempt to minimize take-off weight.
To improve radar performance, by the beginning of July 1944 the paint from the nose cones of all Venturas was removed and they were left grayish-white (Photo #41).
Three-color camouflage scheme:
Top of the fuselage: ANA Non-Specular Sea Blue (FS: 35042) (flat).
Top surface of the wings, horizontal stabilizers, and underwing tanks: ANA 606 Semi-Gloss Sea Blue (FS: 25042) (semi-gloss)
Fuselage and underwing tanks sides: ANA 608 Intermediate Blue (FS: 35164) (flat)
Bottom surfaces: ANA 601 Insignia White (FS: 37880) (flat).
Transition lines between main camouflage colors are soft.
Many Venturas of the early batches were decorated with Disney-themed artwork. The Vega plant in Burbank, CA was located not far from the Disney studio which explains the beginning of the tradition. Interestingly enough, even more themes for the fuselage artwork were suggested by the Vega employees. (More about it). The tradition of the fuselage art continued with later PV-1 series, throughout 1944. Enjoy some of the authentic examples on the photos below. If you happened to have other photos of Ventura's fuselage art, I'd be very interested to see them, too!
Note the left "bar" of the fuselage National insignia partially overlaps the rectangular window
The image demonstrates at least three major mistakes of the previous profile: this plane was painted in two-color scheme, so the colors are wrong, and the transition line between the main colors was at a different level. The Squadron code 25 was larger, too.
5/23/43 it was completely destroyed on the ground by the PV-1 BuNo 29787/21V which crashed on take-off and burned.