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Rob de Bie

USAF aircraft markings with factory-applied non-standard markings - discoveries

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A few days ago I saw a few interesting USAF films on Critical Past. It included a short view of the tail section of an A-1E, and I noted that the serial number 35007 was different from the US Navy font, that we call Longbeach nowadays. From lower resolution photos I had earlier concluded it was Longbeach, and I had designed my own custom decals accordingly, years ago. Caracal also used Longbeach in their recent A-1E / AD-5 sheet.

 

a1e-20.jpg

 

It looked like the actual lettering had the same height-width ratio (6 to 4.5), stroke width and basic design, but the 30 degree cut-offs at the corners were absent. Instead I saw round corners. I decided to try to draw it on the same grid that is used for the US Navy font. I used half the stroke width for the radius. Shown here is the number 3 of both designs.

 

a1e-21.jpg

 

I pasted both Longbeach and my own fonts on the photo, and saw that my 'new' font was very close, and a lot better than the US Navy font.

 

a1e-22.jpg

 

After 'solving' the A-1E serial numbe case, I remember the early USAF bare-metal U-2As. I was always puzzled by the Navy style serial numbers - why would Lockheed do the 'U.S. AIR FORCE' markings in the correct USAF-prescribed font, but use the Navy font for the serial number? Having seen the case of the A-1E lettering, I considered that it may not have been 'Longbeach' but again something drawn on a grid.

 

u2-47.jpg

 

First I tried the A-1E-style lettering, with a height-to-width ratio of 6 to 4.5 and a radius of half the stroke width. Next I designed another version, with a height-to-width ratio of 6 to 5 and a radius equal to the stroke width. Both are shown here with the number 6 as an example.

 

u2-48.jpg

 

I overlaid the photo with these two fonts, and concluded that the second version (B) was closest. It's still not a 100% match though, maybe the stroke should be thinner.

 

u2-49.jpg

 

And then I thought of yet another case. This photo of an H-43B in the earliest paint scheme (likely the delivery scheme) also shows markings with irregular lettering. It looks a bit more like the Navy font, in being a bit more square with a thinner stroke.

 

hh43-12.jpg

 

The U-2 lettering had a stroke that looked too fat compared to the photo above. Therefore I tried a 7 by 5 grid, with radii of half a grid square. That looked quite good.

 

hh43-20.jpg

 

I took the best photo I found and tried to remove the perspective from the section with the 'U.S. Air Force' text. The width-height ratio is a bit of a guess actually. The 7 by 5 font agrees quite nicely I think.

 

hh43-21.jpg

 

The three examples probably have in common that the markings were applied at the factory (or civilian overhaul facility) and not by the Air Force itself. I found it interesting to find that most of the 'irregular' markings could be drawn systematically on a grid, similar to the way USAF and Navy lettering is designed. But I was also surprised by the number of variations, in terms of the grids and the ratio between radius and stroke. Comments are welcome!

 

Rob

 

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Posted (edited)

 I fail to see what is so surprising or new here - most, if not all, aircraft markings are drawn in this manner. While a non-familiar style may look "non-standard" to us, maintenance crews need to apply these in a consistent style and there is almost always a "standard", whether it is widely publicized or not. As always, there are occasional exceptions.

 

 For most of these markings and serial numbers; someone, somewhere designs a full alphabet based on a grid, with some rules governing the ratios, corners etc.  Unfortunately these rules are not always documented or easily available, so I try to find as many photos as possible that show the individual digits, and draw a full alphabet after figuring out the grid placement and design rules. I designed literally dozens of custom-drawn alphabets for many different sheets (but not the A-1E sheet); including the early U-2 sheets (CD48118 and CD72065) which include the full, custom designed  set of digits that you report finding about in your earth-shattering discovery : - ).

 

PS: The early style U-2 numbers most definitely do not have rounded corners like you drew them, by the way - and Lockheed most certainly did not do the "US AIR FORCE" in the "prescribed way". The aspect ratio of the letters is very different from the official spec and requires yet another custom design - see CD48118 above. 

 

 

 

Edited by KursadA

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Posted (edited)
35 minutes ago, KursadA said:

 For most of these markings and serial numbers; someone, somewhere designs a full alphabet based on a grid, with some rules governing the ratios, corners etc.  Unfortunately these rules are not always documented or easily available, so I try to find as many photos as possible that show the individual digits, and draw a full alphabet after figuring out the grid placement and design rules. I designed literally dozens of custom-drawn alphabets for many different sheets (but not the A-1E sheet); including the early U-2 sheets (CD48118 and CD72065) which include the full, custom designed alphabet that you report finding about in your earth-shattering discovery : - ).

 

Regarding the "earth-shattering discovery", are you always this cynical in your comments? Adding a smilie does not cover up the cynicism. I'm sharing my analysis with other modelers, and ask for their comments. I'm not claiming earth-shattering discoveries. Not every one is a decal designer like you who has seen it all before.

 

35 minutes ago, KursadA said:

PS: The early style U-2 numbers most definitely do not have rounded corners like you drew them, by the way - and Lockheed most certainly did not do the "US AIR FORCE" in the "prescribed way". The aspect ratio of the letters is very different from the official spec and requires yet another custom design - see CD48118 above. 

 

You're right that the U-2A's "US AIR FORCE" does not conform with the TO1-1-4 prescribed lettering, but you can easily see that it was the basis.

 

If you have proof that the early U-2A serial numbers "definitely do not have rounded corners", please share them with us. I cannot see anything else than rounded corners in the close-up of 66696.


Rob

Edited by Rob de Bie

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Rob de Bie said:

 

Regarding the "earth-shattering discovery", are you always this cynical in your comments? Adding a smilie does not cover up the cynicism. I'm sharing my analysis with other modelers, and ask for their comments. I'm not claiming earth-shattering discoveries. Not every one is a decal designer like you who has seen it all before.

 

Sorry, but note that the tone of this post would be a whole lot different if you did not start sharing your analysis by casually mentioning that you did not agree with my design decision on the A-1E sheet. The USAF elements on that sheet were designed in 2004, long before any detailed photos of these ex-US Navy Skyraiders became available. Particularly for markings on older aircraft, no single design is completely perfect; and one has to use whatever references/resources are available at the time. 

 

Coming back to the subject: As I mentioned, designing custom alphabets like this and figuring out the design rules is one of the tasks that I enjoy the most; so I think I  am in a position to share some insights here. Just to give a small example, my recent international T-34 sheet uses no less than 5 custom alphabet/serial sets that I designed at various times. In fact, I happened to read your post as I was working on a new set of digits for Korean War F-86 buzz numbers and figuring out the design rules.

 

 

Quote

If you have proof that the early U-2A serial numbers "definitely do not have rounded corners", please share them with us. I cannot see anything else than rounded corners in the close-up of 66696.


Rob

 

Here is a close-up that could help. The aspect ratio and overall design actually matches the serial number digits used, and they are clearly based on the same overall design.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/as4vm8jzuw8t185/u2closeup.jpg?dl=0

Edited by KursadA

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10 minutes ago, KursadA said:

 

Sorry, but note that the tone of this post would be a whole lot different if you did not start sharing your analysis by casually mentioning that you did not agree with my design decision on the A-1E sheet. The USAF elements on that sheet were designed in 2004, long before any detailed photos of these ex-US Navy Skyraiders became available.

 

In the same lines I mention that I made the same mistake. The rounded numbers are new insight.

 

Here is a close-up that could help. The aspect ratio and overall design actually matches the serial number digits used, and they are clearly based on the same overall design.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/1t8je5475e2dd5u/wilders_is_een_klootzak.jpg?dl=0

 

Yep, this one clearly has 45 degree corners. It seems I stand corrected, but I'll look for more good photos to be sure.

 

However, I did notice the title of your file: "wilders_is_een_klootzak.jpg".  For the ARC audience: Geert Wilders is a right-wing politician in the Netherlands, 'klootzak' means bastard. Compliments for your knowledge of Dutch politics, but is this kind of political statement really necessary? Is it even allowed here? I'm getting a very strange taste in my mouth again about your way of communicating. I think I am done.

 

Rob

 

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Posted (edited)
20 minutes ago, Rob de Bie said:

However, I did notice the title of your file: "wilders_is_een_klootzak.jpg".  For the ARC audience: Geert Wilders is a right-wing politician in the Netherlands, 'klootzak' means bastard. Compliments for your knowledge of Dutch politics, but is this kind of political statement really necessary? Is it even allowed here? I'm getting a very strange taste in my mouth again about your way of communicating. I think I am done.

 

 

The file name was like that when I downloaded the image - honest. Whomever originally posted the file on the Web must have some kind of beef with this esteemed politician.  I am just a barely educated immigrant without any knowledge of Dutch politics. I am shocked, just shocked that it actually meant anything like that - I will go ahead and rename it to something else. 

Edited by KursadA

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Posted (edited)

Following the comments above about the U-2A serial number, I next tried a '45 degree' style lettering, but on a 7 by 6 square grid. USAF TO 1-1-4 lettering (left) has a 6 x 4 grid.

 

u2-51.jpg

It (C) doesn't look bad either, but the picture is too pixelated / grainy to be 100% sure.

 

u2-50.jpg

 

Rob

Edited by Rob de Bie

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Posted (edited)

C is spot on. 

 

In fact, it is highly likely that the US AIR FORCE on the Kaman helicopter has angled corners as well. Note that these markings were probably applied by hand-masking or prefabricated masks from sheet metal at the time; when there were no computerized cutters and rounded corners would have been harder to make. You just need to keep searching for enough photos to gather enough details to allow you to figure out the design rules.

Edited by KursadA

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Posted (edited)

The A-1E example did have chamfered corners. The low resolution photos make the small chamfers look rounded. It is true the numbers don't follow the "Longbeach" font, as is the case with a lot of the letters/numbers then (even USN/USMC). Many modelers may overlook the fact that all "Navy" lettering is not the same regardless of what the spec says (I've found few actually do/did match).

 

Here's higher resolution, and also the different second "3" where it was touched up showing different thickness and chamfer as the rest.

 

A-1.jpg

Edited by ziggyfoos

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Posted (edited)

Here's a close-up of a VAL-4 OV-10. I realize it's not "standard" lettering but it's a good example of lettering that shows the lower corners of the "U" were actually rounded even though the U is usually incorrectly depicted/assumed to be standard chamfered format. Looking at low resolution or distant photos, it can be hard to make out what is chamfered and what is rounded.

 

VAL.jpg

Edited by ziggyfoos

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On 6/27/2018 at 12:15 AM, KursadA said:

C is spot on. 

 

In fact, it is highly likely that the US AIR FORCE on the Kaman helicopter has angled corners as well. Note that these markings were probably applied by hand-masking or prefabricated masks from sheet metal at the time; when there were no computerized cutters and rounded corners would have been harder to make. You just need to keep searching for enough photos to gather enough details to allow you to figure out the design rules.

 

C it will be! I received a high-res version of the photo of U-2A 66696, as shown in the first posting. The photo was not a first-generation print, but still it showed clearly 45 degree corners. I think some sort of overexpose (notice the color of the tail itself) also made the stroke appear a bit thinner than in the print above.

The conclusion is that the lettering is based on a 7x6 grid with 45 degree corners. How Lockheed arrived at that type of lettering is the remaining question. Maybe there was no Tech Order 1-1-4 or equivalent at that point?

 

u2-52.jpg

 

Rob

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On 6/27/2018 at 9:36 PM, ziggyfoos said:

The A-1E example did have chamfered corners. The low resolution photos make the small chamfers look rounded. It is true the numbers don't follow the "Longbeach" font, as is the case with a lot of the letters/numbers then (even USN/USMC). Many modelers may overlook the fact that all "Navy" lettering is not the same regardless of what the spec says (I've found few actually do/did match).

 

Here's higher resolution, and also the different second "3" where it was touched up showing different thickness and chamfer as the rest.

 

A-1.jpg

 

Wow, what a fantastic hi-res photo. Can I ask where you found it?? I went all out to analyze it 🙂

 

The '3' comes up a bit short on the 4.5 blocks length, but that could be the result of the rudder being deflected towards the camera. The '8' and '2' conform pretty well to the 6 x 4.5 grid. However all corner cut-offs deviate from the standard because the are only half a stroke wide. On the '3', the corners on the left are 45 instead of 30 degrees, and the cut-out in the middle of the right side is a weird angle of roughly 36 degrees. My best explanation is that these numbers were done with masking tape instead of templates, and the work was done quickly, the angles being judged by eye.

 

a1e-23.jpg

 

I think that I will put my 'rounded corners' theory to bed now 🙂 But the work did give me a few new insights, I'm happy with that. Thanks for all comments and contributions!

 

Rob

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Posted (edited)
On 6/27/2018 at 3:36 PM, ziggyfoos said:

Here's higher resolution, and also the different second "3" where it was touched up showing different thickness and chamfer as the rest.

 

A-1.jpg

Looks to me like it was hand painted after a repair.

Just my observation.

Cheers:cheers:

Itch

Edited by Cajun21

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