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Aircraft Roundels and Fin Flashes

Last modified: 2024-06-29 by rob raeside
Keywords: aircraft roundels | fin flashes |
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Military Aircraft Markings


The nationality of the air force aircraft is identified by a circle, square, cross, star, or other shape painted on the fuselage.France was the first country to create a nationality marking (roundel) painted on the wings and fuselage of military aircraft, which could be called a "national flag in the sky," in 1912. The roundel was a concentric circle with blue in the center, white and red on the outside, and the same design is still used today. It is said to have originated from the circular cap badge cocarde, a circular ribbon of the same colors as the tricolor flag that was attached to hats during the French Revolution.

Roundels images by Nozomi Kariyasu, 26 June 2024

The following year, in 1913, Serbia and Romania adopted the roundels, using the colors of their national flags and following the French roundel. In the same year, in Asia, the Republic of China adopted a star-shaped roundel instead of a circle based on the five-color flag, which was the national flag at that time. The year 1914 saw the spread of the practice of placing roundel on military aircraft in the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands. Around the same time, the directional rudders were also painted with vertical fin flashes in the national flag design. Later, the fin flash was repositioned from the rudder to the vertical tail.

During wartime, the color and design of the roundel of the home country were sometimes changed to make them easier to distinguish from those of the enemy. During World War II, the change in British roundel was particularly noticeable. In Europe, where it fought against Germany, the white circle was removed from the wing roundel, and in Asia, where it fought against Japan, the red circle was removed. The United States also frequently changed its roundels during the war, removing the red circles to make them easier to distinguish from the Japanese and to prevent misfiring by friendly forces.

After World War II, many new countries were born and new roundels were created.
The Vietnam War prompted the U.S. Air Force to introduce a smaller, less visible, less colorful nationality mark, and many countries followed suit.

As with flag designs, military aircraft markings have often been changed after political upheavals, such as the overthrow of a government.

Nozomi Kariyasu, 19 May 2024

Analysis of circular roundel design

Roundels  Roundels images by Nozomi Kariyasu, 30 May 2024

Currently, the air forces of many countries use circular nationality markings (roundel), accounting for 80% of the total.

Since the aircraft roundel is a symbol that can be called a “national flag in the sky,” many aircraft roundels are based on the colors and designs of national flags. Among them, countries with the same concentric circular roundel as France account for 60% of all circular roundels. Among the concentric circular roundels, the most common is the three-division concentric roundel that matches the national flag. When the color order of each country's concentric circular roundel is compared with that of its flag, it is clear that there are standards for determining the color order of the concentric circular roundel.

In the case of the vertical tricolor flag or the vertical three striped flag with two colors, the color at hoist side is placed at the center of the concentric circles, and the color of the fly side is placed at the outermost concentric circles, as in the case of France , which was the first to create a roundel . Verification showed that 100% of the cases are applicable. When the flag is a horizontal tricolor or horizontal three striped flag with two colors, the color of the bottom row of horizontal stripes is placed in the center of the concentric circles and the color of the top row is placed on the outermost side of the concentric circles.

As far as I know, Gabon and Bulgaria are the only two cases outside the standard.

Next, there are some countries that use the same circular roundel but instead of using concentric circles, the national flag is placed in a circle as it is.

This is a desperate measure because the colors used for national flags are limited and concentric circles of the same color are already in use, and is seen in relatively new countries with the exception of the Czech Republic.

Nozomi Kariyasu, 30 May 2024

France began the first Air Service in 1909 and soon picked the traditional French cockade as the first national emblem, now usually termed a roundel, on military aircraft. During World War I, other countries adopted national cockades and used these coloured emblems as roundels on their military aircraft. These designs often bear an additional central device or emblem to further identify national aircraft, those from the French navy bearing a black anchor within the French cockade.
Source: (which un turn Is based on: (1996). "The U.S. Air Service in the Great War, 1917-1919". Praeger. p. 202. ISBN 9780275948627").

The cockade was the precursor of many national flags (those of Argentina and France being two examples).
Esteban Rivera, 31 May 2024

Analysis of fin flash design

The fin flash is a nationality marking painted on the vertical tail and rudder of military aircraft. While most nationality marking roundels painted on the wings and fuselage are circles or stars, most of fin flashes are rectangles, and many are vertical rectangles due to the shape of the tail. National flags, simplified flags, national emblems, and military insignia are used for fin flash design.

When nationality markings were first applied to military aircraft, vertical fin flashes with the national flag design were attached to the rudder, but later they were also attached to the vertical tail fins.

Of the countries currently using fin flashes, half of all countries use horizontal flag designs, including Turkey, South Africa, Canada, and Germany.

The second most common type is the vertical fin flash, which is in the colors of the national flag and is attached to the vertical tail and rudder. Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom all use the three colors of the national flag, red, white, and blue, but distinguish them by changing the number of colors used and the width of the stripes. India, like New Zealand, uses a fin flash with a narrower stripe in the middle.

Roundels  Roundels images by Nozomi Kariyasu, 13 June 2024

Several countries use simplified flags as a fin flash.

Some of the fin flashes, which are just an array of colors, are difficult to identify which country they are from.

Many Latin American countries have stars on their fin flashes as well as on their national flags.

Next, there are several countries that use the shield-shaped national coat of arms as a fin flash.

Countries using military or air force insignia are East Timor, Guyana, and Kuwait.

Nozomi Kariyasu, 13 June 2024

Roundel Designs by Country - Dean McGee's analysis

Here's my analysis of how flags are represented in roundels

Vertical bi- and tricolours, hoist in centre: 12

Fly in centre: 4

Horizontal bi- tri- and quadricolours, lower in centre: 28

Top in Centre: 4

In addition, [Republic of the] Congo puts the upper hoist of its diagonal tricolour in the centre, while Katanga (Democratic Republic of Congo 1960-62) put the lower fly in the centre.

Almost every national marking alludes to the national flag; as can be seen above, many use simple circular roundels (including many not listed here), also, a number of nations have simply painted their national flags in a circular shape (Niger, Eritrea, Czech Republic).

The markings which have the least relation to the national flag include Germany, Lithuania, and Iraq. Canada, Australia and New Zealand have all adapted the British roundel; at least Australia and New Zealand use their flag colours, while the Canadian roundel was adopted when the country still used the Red Ensign and Union Jack (and since 1965 the leaf on the roundel matches the flag).

1 reversed design at some point (not included in totals).

2 not simple "roundels", but some other shape (triangular, pentagonal, etc.).

Dean McGee, 4 January 2012