This question is restricted to US Air Force fighters, as I don't know if other air forces paint the pilot's name on the fighter.

This question pops into my mind because of 2 reasons:

  • this comment reminds me a fact I saw on a comic strip long time ago: the name of the pilot is written on the fighter cockpit, at least in the US Air Force and perhaps in the US navy.
  • in this video (smarter everyday, episode235) there is one scheduled flight with the videographer. For this single flight they took the time to write the videographer's name on the fighter (see at 6min17s).

How often is this name (re)painted?

  • is it updated for every scheduled flight if needed?
  • is it updated for a single flight flown by another pilot of the same squadron?
  • is it updated when the fighter is operating on an external theater?
  • if no update is needed, is it repainted more often than the rest of the airframe?
  • does this answer varies from squadrons to squadrons?

Bonus question: is it actually painted (I may have made a false assumption, in which case I should substitute "painted" by another more suited word in the whole question)?

  • $\begingroup$ Reminds me of a scene from some movie or TV episode I saw a long time ago where the WW2 fighter pilot scores a victory in combat and then right there in mid-flight he slides back the canopy and reaches out and slaps a decal on the side of the fuselage representing his latest "kill"-- yeah, right! $\endgroup$ Commented May 22, 2020 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ @quietflyer was that a TV episode of Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse? Sounds like one of the WWII propaganda films they produced... $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented May 22, 2020 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ @FreeMan -- no, it was a human actor, but I don't recall whether the whole thing was meant to be a ridiculous slapstick spoof, or not. $\endgroup$ Commented May 22, 2020 at 22:52

1 Answer 1


I cannot answer for the USAF, but Navy and Marine Corps squadrons have also done this for years. In addition to the pilot, if there is more than one seat the Weapon System Officers name(s) will also be painted, in addition to the Plane Captain. It is an honor to have your name on a plane, and it is done for morale reasons. It does not mean that that airplane is assigned to you alone.

Names are painted based on seniority in the squadron. Typically there are more crews in a squadron than airplanes, so the junior most pilots will have to wait for some time to have their name on a plane. It is a minor rite of passage when it happens.

For example, in the EA-6B squadrons I served in there were 4 airplanes, and typically 6 crews assigned. The senior 4 pilots got their names painted, and if memory serves me correctly, the Naval Flight Officers, (NFOs, or WSOs...) who were assigned to their crews were also painted on the same plane. So, while a junior pilot might need to wait a year or two, a brand new NFO assigned to the Commanding Officer's crew might get on right away.

They are painted on with a stencil whenever a change is called for. It is low priority in the maintenance scheme of things, so when a senior pilot transfers out and someone moves up the rung it might take several weeks before the plane is moved into the hangar for some other maintenance interval, and the name is repainted then.


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