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Chris Smith 08-08-2008 02:50 PM

Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 02:51 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 02:53 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.


Chris Smith 08-08-2008 02:54 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 02:55 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 02:56 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 02:57 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:00 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:01 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:02 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:04 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:05 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:06 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:08 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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:

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:11 PM

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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:12 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:13 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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".

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:14 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.


Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:15 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:16 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Evil_Merlin 08-08-2008 03:17 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
Good stuff!

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:18 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:19 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:20 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:22 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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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!

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:23 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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The next graphic shows a circle surround width that doesn’t match the bar surrounds. In this case, the bar length and bar surround are actually correct. Yet they look oversized or too long because the circle surround is too small.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:24 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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Combination mistakes

Now let’s look at some of the more obvious mistakes and common combination errors on typical decal sets for models.

In the next graphic there are numerous related problems. Immediately obvious is that the star is too large thus eliminating room for a proportional circle surround. If we were to reduce the star radius we’d have the circle surround, but the bars are not long enough to reach in and touch the stars fingers. Might be better just to throw this one away and start over.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:25 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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In this combination example below the star is too small and the bars are attached to the outer circumference. This makes a really goofy looking insignia. Just for fun we’ve thrown in surrounds that are too thin on the bars, and too thick on the circle. Whew, throw this away too.


Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:26 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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On occasion, you will see the example below. This one you have to blame on the modeler. The insignia may have been produced correctly but applied to the model upside down. Maybe it isn’t obviously upside down to some folks. I can not think of any country that uses an upside down 5-point star!

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:28 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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A few points should be made regarding placement on the aircraft, and then we’ll conclude.

Learning Point 6: Only one insignia on the top of the wing and only one on the bottom of the wing.

Since the addition of the bars to the roundel in 1943, the US insignia is presented only once on the top left wing, and once on the bottom right wing. With extremely rare exception, there were never 2 insignias on top or bottom. The one exception was with the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter/bomber. Because of its heavy ground attack mission, it was thought an additional and larger insignia should be placed on the bottom left wing to help friendly gunners avoid engaging by mistake. Not all P-47 units adopted the practice. It would be a strange anomaly to find any other documented exception and would not represent the normal. Some will find photo documentation of what appears to be US insignia on both left and right top wings on aircraft during the Vietnam War. Color photos will show they are South Vietnamese aircraft with SV insignia which used different coloring.

Otherwise, assume if you are modeling a US military aircraft you will only need 4 total decals. One for the top left wing, one for the bottom right wing, and one for each of the sides of the fuselage. What size they should be is a whole different issue.

Chris Smith 08-08-2008 03:29 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
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Conclusion

There are probably as many ways to render the insignia incorrectly as there are kits out there. I’m sure you’ve probably seen some we’ve not discussed. As you get familiar with the insignia, you will recognize problems you may not have before. When you need accurate markings and you don’t have acceptable ones included in your kit, you’ll be more inclined to make your own or use aftermarket suppliers. For best results be sure to use the more reputable companies that competition modelers would use. If the full scale subject you’re modeling has insignia that are not geometrically correct, you will now be able to recognize that and have the graphics maker supply your needs. As always competitors will have to duplicate their documentation.

What about modern grey combat aircraft and the insignia made in various shades of grey? The best information sources in that case would be photo documentation. Fortunately modern combat aircraft are well documented. The challenge is to find an example for the aircraft you want as the variations are many.

If you are only adding US insignia to a sport model consider using ones that are correct. It shows a certain ability and attention to detail. We all know how our models come alive when we add the colorful markings. Wouldn’t it be additionally rewarding if they matched the real world?

Chad Veich 01-02-2013 03:36 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
I see you are currently online Chris so I wanted to revive this old thread just to say thanks for putting it up. Incorrectly rendered US national insignia are one of my biggest pet peaves and I've considered making a similar post on numerous occassions. Now that I've found this one that will not be necessary as you have covered the topic quite nicely! I'm surprised no one else responded but, respond or not, I hope lots of scale modelers took, or will take, the time to read through the information. Hopefully some of the Chinese ARF manufacturers will do the same!

aghost 01-02-2013 07:29 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
Hadn't seen this thread before. Read the whole thing. Thanks Chris. and Chad for reviving it.<div>
</div><div>Now to go look at a couple of my planes.</div><div>
</div><div>Brian</div>

darren763 01-02-2013 08:35 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
Thanks I'm subscribed. I knew some stars and bars didn't look right and you wrote this so well. Its bookmarked.

Darren

Boomerang1 01-02-2013 11:50 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
Don't forget the number 1.17.


If you want to draw a 5 pointed star 1.17 is the key number.

First determine the diameter of the circle which will be the size of the star.

Mark the top of the star (what Chris Smith would call Mr Star's head :D).

Use a compass set to 1.17 X the radius of the circle, put the centre of the compass at the top of the star & make an arc across the outside of the circle, doesn't matter which side, I go clockwise.

Move the centre of the compass to the arc you have just drawn & make another arc across the circle.

Keep doing this & you end up with 5 arcs, the 5 points of a star.

Join all the points where the arcs cross the outside of the circle & you have your 5 pointed star.

John.

Chris Smith 01-03-2013 02:28 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
Glad you guys can use the info. I always say if just one guy benefits it's worth it.

What is surprising is the number of high placed contest airplanes with the insignia done incorrectly!

The jet community is particularly bad, as that is where I spend most of my time. The influence of Chinese ARFs have made the issue prevalent.

FireBee 01-07-2013 06:19 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
I had never seen this thread either. Great explinations Chris! Thanks Chad for revival.
I truly believe painted on insignia add that final scale touch.

Only q is North Africa with the added yellow surround. I don't recall if U.S. directive or British
Is it safe to assume that this was a 1/8 radius yellow surround?
R, Mike

Chris Smith 01-08-2013 04:56 AM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
You're probably talking about the yellow used for operation "Torch". The yellow was directed for all allied aircraft in that operation and was not a universal modification to the national insignia. kind of like d-day stripes.

You will need to refer to individual aircraft documentation since the application varied widely.

FireBee 01-09-2013 11:06 AM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
Thanks Chris.

Again I commend you for an excellent tutorial for us all!

Chris Smith 01-09-2013 02:47 PM

RE: Tips on the US National Insignia
 
You're more than welcome. I wish I could write it in Chinese.


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