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Tips on the US National Insignia

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Old 08-08-2008, 02:50 PM
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Default Tips on the US National Insignia

A friend challenged me to post some information about the US national insignia. I have extracted some key points from my how-to article/handbook on the US Insignia for modelers. In the larger article, I go into far more detail about the history of the insignia, how to draw it, and then make your own mask or iron-on markings.

We’ve all seen really well executed scale models with rivet detail, panel lines, and color matched paint schemes. But on some, when it came time to add the star and bars…well, that’s where the attention to detail ended.

Maybe if more ARF and kit manufacturers studied the US Insignia, better markings would be included in the box. It probably cost just as much do them incorrectly as it would if they were made geometrically correct. Unless you are getting your markings from reputable graphics companies or high-end kits intended for competition scale modelers, it is likely decals of the US insignia will be wrong.

What do we mean by geometrically correct? We mean that all of the insignia’s individual components including the star, the roundel, boarder or surround, bars and stripes, are placed and proportioned correctly to each other. This is not a discussion of the size the complete insignia should be in relation to the model. That would be for another article.

Later in the thread, we’ll look at how to identify problems on commercial decals, and look at some bad examples.
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Old 08-08-2008, 02:51 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

We don’t intend to insult anyone’s intelligence, but there is such thing as an upside down star. It doesn’t matter if it’s part of the insignia with a roundel or not. I am always surprised that an upside down star is not more obvious. Just as in flying the flag upside down, it would always be better to know the difference. Let’s think of it this way. The star needs to stand on two feet with its arms spread out, and his pointy head up in pride. So let’s meet Mr. Star.

In the following graphic we see Mr. Star standing firmly upright.
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Old 08-08-2008, 02:53 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

Our star should not only be upright on the fuselage, but on the wings of an aircraft also. He needs to be like Superman flying forward pointy head first. Check your subject’s photos. The star’s head might be aligned in relation to an aircraft component, like a wing's swept leading edge. It will all depend on the standard for that aircraft. Look at photos and be a copycat.

At no time however, would the star’s feet be up or facing the direction of flight.

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Old 08-08-2008, 02:54 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

Now that we’ve gotten Mr. Star flying right, we’re going to join him with his insignia family parts. We’re going to build the insignia in phases so we understand the geometry and how the parts go together.

Learning Point 1: The star’s radius is the basis of other part dimensions.

As mentioned before we are limiting our discussion to the geometric relationship of the individual parts that make up the finished insignia. The insignia had parts added through the war, and each part has a dimensional relationship determined by the star’s radius. The star’s radius is key to all of it.

It’s very important to remember how key the star is to the rest of the parts. Note also, that the blue circle and star have the same radius at this stage of the insignia.

Later you will see that the blue circle gets surrounded by a boarder so it appears the star shrinks. But the star does not shrink as the insignia evolves.

We’ll start with the circle…….. then we’ll add the star.
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Old 08-08-2008, 02:55 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

In this graphic we’ve added the two white bars.

In the example we see the original June 1943 bars have been added to the basic blue circle and star. It was hoped at the time that it would make the US insignia look less like the Japanese “Hinomaru” (red meat ball).

The bars are always the star’s radius in length, and a half radius in width. This is extremely important, and never changes. The bar dimensions do not include the boarder we’ll see later.

Learning Point 2: The bar’s inner edge should touch the star’s tips.

At this stage there is no boarder surrounding the bars yet. That was added later. Note the bars should touch the tips of the star. It may look in the graphic that there is a slight gap, but that is how the original drawing copied into the .jpg file. You can be sure the specification requires they touch. That is not to say that some full scale examples may not differ. In that case you should follow your documentation if you intend to compete.

Notice also that the bars stop at the star’s outer radius. This is very important to remember and does not change when we add the boarder later.
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Old 08-08-2008, 02:56 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

In the next graphic, we should also point out that the top of the bars, and the top of Mr. Star’s arms form a straight line.
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Old 08-08-2008, 02:57 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

Learning Point 3: The bars are not centered on the circle or roundel.

We also must point out that the bars are not centered on the blue circle. This is a subtle mistake often made. The next graphic shows this. The correct bar centerline is in red.
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:00 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

Later in the war, the Navy used just the white star and bars on most aircraft painted in the late war solid blue. The Navy simply eliminated the surround. But the geometric relationship of the star and bar remained. The Navy practice continued as long as the Navy had dark blue aircraft, including throughout the Korean conflict with the red stripes.

The graphic appears to have a very thin line around the star's circumference. This is an artifact of the drawing, but it does show the proper contact points.
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:01 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

The next thing we must add; unless we’re modeling some 15th Air Force aircraft, is the surround that borders the whole insignia. As we learned this was intended to be red, but by 14 August 1943; just over 2 months after the red surround was directed, folks in the pacific theater determined that red was too risky and labor intensive to apply.

Roughly two months later the border was changed to be the same color as the blue background behind the star. The key characteristic though was the width of the surround. This was often done incorrectly on the full size just as it is on models.
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:02 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

Learning Point 4: The insignia boarder or surround is 1/8 star radius in width.

The proper surround width is one eighth (1/8) of…you guessed it, the famous star's radius. The 1/8 width is maintained all the way around the whole insignia. It is the same width around the circle as it is around the bars. That is why the star appears to shrink. This is important to the insignia’s unique character and geometry.

This was often done incorrectly on the full size just as it is on models.
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:04 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

Now let’s re-emphasize another key issue that is so often missed with decals and stickers provided with models. This is another way to state learning point 2, which said that the bar’s inner edge should touch the star’s tips.

Notice in the graphics that the inner edge of the white bar ends at the circumference of the star’s radius not at the outer circumference of the surround. Most often folks try to make the bar end at the outer surround circumference.
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:05 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

If we decide we need the insignia for a post January 1947 aircraft, all that remains is to add the red stripes.

But first go back to your model’s documentation photos. If you look closely you might see full scale production aircraft with red stripes that are too thin. Of all of the things on the US insignia that the full scale manufacturers got wrong most often, it was the width of those red stripes.

Learning Point 5: The red stripe is 1/3 of the white bar width.

Often whole production runs of post war jets had incorrectly applied red stripes. Usually they were painted too thin using the surround's 1/8 width measurement. Instead, the red stripes are 1/6 of the star's radius to be exact. Or just make them one third (1/3) of the width of the white portion of the bar, assuming your bars are correct. The red stripes are the same width as the white stripes within the bars. Just like the on US flag, red and white stripes are the same width.
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:06 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

This graphic shows that the red stripes are too thin. In some cases this is hardly noticeable even to the manufacturer of the full scale. Look at some photo documentation. You will see this quite often. If you are modeling for competition you should follow the photos, even if you know the insignia on your subject was done incorrectly.
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:08 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

Now that we’ve seen how the components of the insignia were added, we can better understand their geometric relationship to each other. This family of parts goes together to form the insignia with the father or Mother (if you prefer), being the star.

So here’s what we did to make the insignia:
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:11 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

Now it’s time for the fun part. Let’s take a look at some of the common errors we all see with decals, stickers, or other forms of markings we get with most ARF kits. As stated before if you are ordering competition quality US insignia from the reputable graphics suppliers, they have probably done their homework. If they have not, then you will be able to tell based on what we have learned.

You will note that most decals made for scale plastic models are done correctly, and more often in the correct color shades as well. The plastic modeling market is much more oriented at documented accuracy and would never accept incorrectly rendered markings. This is especially true, given the competitive aftermarket decal world.

I have found that I can live with insignia that may not be done with the exact color shades, but if the insignia is not done right geometrically I throw them out, even if I’m just doing a sport model. It would be so easy for the printers to make them properly rather than improperly if they knew how the insignia should be done. I can’t see how the cost would be any different.

So read on for some examples of how not to do it.
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:12 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

Some of the more common mistakes made when producing the US insignia can be rather subtle, as in the red stripe example. But most mistakes are obvious after you’re shown the basics.

Star Issues

Let’s start with our friend Mr. Star.

In this first example (although somewhat exaggerated) note the star is old and out of shape. Like me he has added some out of proportion weight. I call this a Gnome star.

We’re not making cookies. He's not buff, does not have straight lines between points, and looks more appropriate on a wizard's hat rather than a combat aircraft.
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:13 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

In this next example below, Mr. Star has shrunk. He's too small for the job and should be transferred to an insignia he can handle.

Notice he can't even touch the handle bars. Where are his parents? Like the amusement park ride,
He doesn't meet the height requirements. "Go away kid; come back when you're older".
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:14 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

Below we have Brutus.

I've seen some big dudes stuff into the aircraft I fly for the Army, and it isn't pretty. He'll be uncomfortable and irritable. He doesn't quite fit the part. Like the fat kid on the ride, or the fat guy in the coach section, he takes up more than his share of the space.

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Old 08-08-2008, 03:15 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

Bar Issues

Mr. Star is the correct size in this next example but because the bar is too short, or out too far from the star, he has to flap his arms and suspend himself. It looks as if he'll just slip out of the insignia altogether under a G-load.

Remember, the bar does not, and should not, stop at the outer circumference of the surround. It should always touch Mr. Star's pointy fingers. This is another more than subtle but often made mistake, and you will see it on models and decals. You will rarely see this mistake on the full scale. In the example he doesn't touch the bars. Note how it makes the blue circle look bug-eyed or bloated even though it is the correct dimension.
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:16 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

In this example someone attached barn doors to an otherwise happy Mr. Star and makes him look like Batman. These bars add unnecessary weight and drag.

Not only are the bars too large, but they are also centered on the circle. That’s bad. That messes up the insignia’s CG and he'll crash.
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:17 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

Good stuff!
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:18 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

The next graphic shows the “weeble” version. The bars are quite stubby.

The bars look like an after thought. It appears this insignia could easily topple. This is one of the more radical mistakes, but you’ll see it on occasion.
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:19 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

Call the flight surgeon. In this first example, the insignia’s blood pressure is too high to stay on flight status. Those red blood vessels have got to thin out.

Yet, look at the second insignia. If we get them too thin, our insignia looks anemic. The thin red stripes are usually combined with a surround that is too thin also. But we’ll look at a few combination problem insignias later.
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:20 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

Below, the bar is the star instead of Mr. Star...or whatever. This is the Weeble’s evil twin. In the example, our star and circle is so upstaged by the bars, that he may get missed altogether. Someone was painting highway stripes and blew right over our aircraft in the process. This will also upset the airplane he rides on because there's less room for other markings, such as naked ladies, numbers, etc.
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Old 08-08-2008, 03:22 PM
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Default RE: Tips on the US National Insignia

Surround or boarder Issues

Next, we’ll look at some of the common mistakes made when drawing the surrounds.
In the below graphic our insignia is a too thinned skinned. Mr. Star doesn't have adequate armor.

This is very prevalent even on the full scale during WW2. For post war insignias with this problem it is often combined with red stripes that are too thin as well. The surround should be 1/8 of the star radius. Makes his whole presentation rather wimpy no matter how right the star may be. Much like using tissue covering rather than glass and paint!
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