USAAF Nose Art Research Project


The Dragon And His Tail
B-24J-190-CO 44-40973

43rd Bomb Group


Nose art painted by
43rd Bomb Group
Le Shima

The Dragon And His Tail

This amazing creation by Bartigian stretched back along the entire side of the B24 from the nose turret to the tail turret. Although the full imagery is not seen in the photo above, the dragon's green tail swept right back along the enormous flat side of the aircraft making it possibly the biggest single artwork ever painted on an aircraft in WW2. This Liberator is known to have survived the war to be sent back to the USA for scrapping. The story goes that the men working at the reclamation plant at Kingman, Arizona, were so impressed by this wonderful, colourful artwork that they kept it until last. It languished in the desert sand, devoid of its engines and thus tail-heavy with its nose in the air. The hope was that someone would come along and buy the plane to save it for posterity -- just $2000 would probably have secured it in 1946 but no one came. The plane went the way of almost all the B24s and B17s which had survived the fighters and the flak and the long trip home. Into the melting pot to be made into pots and pans for a world sick of war.

But The Dragon and His Tail does live on. There are hundreds of kits and models painted with a copy of this glorious and unique artwork. In 1989 The Collins Foundation acquired and undertook a multi-million dollar restoration of the only flyable B24J left in the world. In doing so, they afforded the ultimate honour to Sgt Bartigian and to the men of the Pacific-based USAAFs by having the aircraft painted as The Dragon and His Tail (It's first restored paint job had been as 15AF's "All American"). Although it was repainted again some years later in another guise, the "Dragon" took to the air once again and flew across the USA at many air shows to the delight of tens of thousands of onlookers and enthusiasts. How sad that the man who had created the original masterpiece had died some thirty years previous and was not able to see the tribute paid to him.

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© Ray Bowden 17 June 2024