Left or Right? National Flags Vex Aircraft Makers
(Source: defense-aerospace.com; published July 4, 2008)

PARIS --- When reporting the maiden flight of the first production Joint Strike Fighter in December 2006, we were taken to task by several readers for having stated that the partner-nation flags on the aircraft’s starboard side were painted back-to-front.

Our Editor’s Note added that this was an unfortunate oversight for a program that Lockheed calls "the world standard-bearer” of fighter aircraft.

Unhappy readers commented that the flags on the JSF are, in fact, displayed correctly, i.e. as they would appear if hung from a mast at the nose of the aircraft (see Photo n° 1, JSF).

We disagreed: while this is the proper display for an aircraft’s national markings, in this case the flags are used as logos representing JSF partner nations, and so should be displayed in normal reading order (left-to-right), like other logos and non-national markings, such as tail or nose codes.

Close examination of photographs taken before and during the June 26 roll-out of the first A400M military transport aircraft show that Airbus, faced with a similar dilemma, took the opposite course to Lockheed’s.

Photo n° 2, taken before the roll-out ceremony, shows that the flags of A400M partner nations on the starboard side of the first A400M were initially painted back-to-front, as Lockheed did for the JSF.

However, by the time the official ceremony began on June 26, wiser heads had prevailed, and the flags had been re-painted the right way around (see Photo n° 3), i.e. as they would appear when viewed looking at the aircraft from the right.

In both A400M photos, national flags are displayed in alphabetical order from left to right, perhaps unconsciously reflecting French notions of "égalité" between partners. Flags on the JSF are not arranged alphabetically, but appear to reflect the size of national stakes in the program (decreasing aft from the nose), which may be an unconscious affirmation of the United States' more capitalistic approach to cooperation.

We would suggest that Lockheed take a leaf out of Airbus' book and re-paint its F-35 JSFs before some prickly partner nation complains about having its national flag painted back-to-front.

Is there is any real point to all this? Not really, although it is refreshing to write about modern military aircraft without once mentioning cost over-runs, production delays or technical hitches.


When Lockheed flew the first Joint Strike Fighter aircraft in December 2006, the flags of partner countries on the starboard fuselage were painted back-to-front. (Lockheed Martin photo)

Airbus Military also painted partner country flags back-to-front when publicity photos were taken before the A400M’s official roll-out. (EADS photo)

But by the time the June 26 roll-out ceremony began, the mistake had been spotted and the flags repainted the right way around. (EADS photo)

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