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Naval Aviation Paints a Colorful Centennial

Friday, December 3, 2010

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Most centenarians wouldn’t think to mark their 100th birthday by trotting out all of their old fashions. Then there’s the U.S. Navy, which is doing just that, by means of an unusual painting project in honor of the centennial of Naval Aviation.

More than two dozen Navy aircraft are getting new paint jobs that replicate the paint schemes of a variety of eras in the service’s history.


The project is the brainchild of Capt. Richard Dann, Director of History and Outreach for the Centennial of Naval Aviation and a self-confessed “airplane nerd” and graphic designer.

Three years ago, Dann was searching around for an idea to mark the centennial, in 2011. The service will be the first to mark its 100th continuous year.


27 Aircraft, 27 Themes

Dann said he had seen a few British aircraft painted in historic themes and thought it would be a great way to display the history of U.S. Naval Aviation.

Initially, he was hoping to do six aircraft. Now, he’s at 27, and counting.

Dann has personally designed every paint scheme except one, and the Naval Aviation Maintenance Program has given the project a thumbs-up.


Dann has made the project affordable—free, essentially—by scouting aircraft that were due for heavy maintenance, including repainting. Some of the historical themes are more expensive than conventional schemes to paint; others are less expensive, making the project a wash in terms of cost, says Dann.

Suppliers and Contractors

The paint comes from the Navy’s regular suppliers, including PPG, Deft Inc. and Western American Specialties Inc. Some of the painting has been contracted out to Sabreliner and other contractors; some is being done in-house by the Navy. Hawker Beechcraft is contributing a brand-new (painted) plane to the effort.

All of the aircraft are in service, but none will be deployed overseas.


Themes reflect every decade of the last 100 years, from an anchor theme of 1916 to the latest design, which copies the Navy’s current Working Uniform.

It has been a dream come true for Dann, a history buff who may be the only person alive who boasts of knowing all  650 Federal Standard 595C colors off the top of his head (which means being able to tell  Coast Guard Blue from Clear Blue from Air Superiority Blue from Light Blue International from Navy Blue from…)

Visual History

About half of the project’s 27 aircraft are complete and back in service; the rest are in various stages of production.

For civilians and even service personnel who have only seen Navy aircraft in orange and white or gray, the paint themes have been an eye opener—a visual history lesson in flight, Dann said.

Planning is still underway on how to showcase the collection. A 150-plane flyover will be among the events at the San Diego Centennial Kickoff Celebration & Aerial Review in February. And EAA AirVenture 2011 in Oshkosh, which bills itself as the world’s greatest aviation celebration, will dedicate its entire week to the centennial in August.

Here is a list of the airplanes, schemes they represent, and status as of about a week ago:

Completed aircraft

• T-45C - Yellow Wings (Black Tail)
• T-45C - Yellow Wings (Blue Tail)
• HH-60H - HAL-3 " TH-57C - 1916 with anchor insignia
• MH-60S - 1950s Sea Blue
• MH-60S - 1950s Sea Blue
• T-6B - Trainer Yellow - complete, new at factory
• S-3B - Battle of Midway
• F/A-18F - Navy Working Uniform
• MH-60R - Three-tone WWII

Currently being painted

• T-39N - Yellow Wings (Blue Tail)
• TC-12B - 1942 with red and white rudder
• T-44 - NC-4 Flying Boat (1919)

Planned/Not started

• T-34C - USCG 1930s
• T-34C - USMC 1930s
• T-34C - USN 1930s
• F/A-18C - USNR 1950s
• F/A-18 - Three-tone WWII
• EA-6B - Coral Sea
• EA-18G - Three-tone WWII
• F/A-18C - T&E Paint
• F/A-18C - Shangri La Air Group Glossy Sea Blue (tentative)
• EA-6B - 1970s
• F/A-18C - Mid-WWII
• P-3C - VP-44 Battle of Midway
• P-3C - Seaplane Gray/White
• UH-1N - USMC MoH aircraft

For more about the centennial, visit


Tagged categories: PPG; Restoration; U.S. Navy

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