Victory on the fuselage

Pilots of Russian Aerospace forces in Syria assigned stars on airplanes

Photos of Russian aircraft from the structure of the VKS (Aerospace forces) taking part in the hostilities with the terrorists in Syria attracted attention by the presence of stars on the fuselage, which were traditionally considered a distinction for the victories in aerial combat. There is no apparent enemy in the sky there, but there are 6 stars, aboard one of the Su-34 bombers, the fifth generation fighter Su-57, which is being tested in Syria, is decorated with ten insignia. They are on attack aircraft. It is said that one star is given for 10 successful combat missions with the actual destruction of targets. How correct is it to draw stars on airplanes that are not participating in air battles? We turn to the history of the issue.


In a combat aircraft, like a horse, they sit on the left, which is initially determined by anatomy — they rest on the left leg, and the right one is transferred to the cockpit or saddle. Perhaps that is why the left side of the fighter fuselage was used for insignia – the number of air victories. The history of marking marks on victories on weapons is very old (in the case of an accurate shot, the sniper put a mark on the butt), aircraft also did not stand aside. Symbolic marks of victories in the air introduced the pilots of the First World War, but this practice was especially widespread during the Second World War, which in Russia is called the Great Patriotic War.


“Achtsamkeit im Himmel Pokryshkin!” – “Attention, Pokryshkin is in the sky!”, was heard on the air when German pilots noticed Bell P-39 Airokobra fighter (shipped from the USA by Lend-Lease) in the sky, which was recognized by the number of stars on fuselage testifying to air victories, and there were 59 of them by the end of the war. There could have been another star, but they did not count it – Alexander Pokryshkin, later three times Hero of the Soviet Union, air marshal, shot down his first plane first day of the war. June 1941, but it turned out to be … our own bomber. The future air ace was saved from the serious consequences by the chaos and confusion of that time, and he got rid of only catching up with the authorities.


On the La-7 fighter pilot Ivan Kozhedub, also three times Hero of the Soviet Union, there were 62 stars — the number of German Messerschmitts, Junkers, Focke-Wulf, and other German aircraft. Fascist aces also recognized him in the air by the number of symbols of aerial victories on the fighter’s fuselage, and chose not to get involved, left the battlefield. Ignorance and inattention led the American pilots – Ivan Nikitovich without hesitation shot down two American F-51 Mustang fighter jets in the sky over Berlin in April 1945, who by mistake (or maybe not?) tried to attack him. Already during the Korean War, from March 1951 to February 1952, being the commander of an aviation division, Ivan Kozhedub shot down 17 American aircraft in the skies over North Korea (his subordinates “filled up” 264). They are not included in the number of his air victories and no symbols appeared on the plane – the Soviet Union did not officially participate in those hostilities.


And still remember the dialogue between the pilot Skvortsov and the mechanic of his plane from the movie “Only Old Men Go To Battle”? “How much to draw? Two? “, – asks the mechanic, delighted with the success in battle, asks. “Two … While you’ll fill up with one thing – you’ll be tired of it,” the pilot wipes sweat from his forehead. The asterisks on the aircraft’s fuselage testified to the pilot’s skill, his courage and courage. Just so, according to the pilot, about the downed enemy aircraft, they were not drawn, which, by the way, the Germans sinned (Erich Hartman allegedly shot down 352 aircraft, and he was reliably shot down 14 times) and the American pilots, who believed that it was enough to release a machine-gun fire in the tail the enemy, and then roll off into the clouds without looking at the result. Confirmation was required either from the flight commander or the aviation group, or a message from the infantry that recorded the battle itself or the fallen enemy aircraft. At times, partisans who became eyewitnesses of the air battle sent radio signals to the German aircraft.


Individually shot down enemy aircraft was usually “drawn” on the fuselage with red paint, sometimes with a white edging along the contour. Knocked down in a collective battle – white paint or just a contour, although in this case pilots often “gave up” the victory to someone from the group. Stormtroopers and bombers by definition, couldn’t brag about air victories, they had another combat mission. They rarely knocked enemy down, and to draw a small number of stars was not accepted.

Nevertheless, on the Il-2 attack aircraft, the squadron commander of the 175th air regiment, Captain Alekseev, showed seven symbols of victories – the German planes were shot down both by him and his air gunner. Bombers designated on the fuselage the number of successful sorties by a white bomb, sometimes with the name of the area of ​​combat work, the pilots of naval aviation torpedo bombs drew the contours of sunken ships. The situation changed after 1943, when the dominance of the German aviation in the sky had noticeably decreased, and by the final finale of the war it had been completely eliminated. The crosses on the sides of the German pilots, who were wary of attracting attention, disappeared even – the Soviet pilots announced the hunt for the best aces of Goering. At the same time they were not shy – they decorated the aircraft with stars, and those who received the title of Hero (more than 10 shot down German planes) always painted the Star on the fuselage.

  • This tradition in aviation is old and there is nothing bad in its revival, especially since stars draw on planes, who take part in real hostilities, – says Colonel-General Nikolai Antoshkin, former deputy head of the Air Force.

– In peacetime, there was no such practice, and for successful combat shooting, the pilots were declared only verbally or in writing thanks to conferring the rank of “pilot-sniper”. It was not fixed on the aircraft fuselage – everyone already knew who was taking off or landing. Each fighter or bomber has a strictly defined symbolism, understandable only by its own, just like the system of recognizing “friend or foe”, there is nothing unnecessary here. Yes, and at supersonic speeds it is not particularly distinguishable. There is also a system of individual callsigns. When I commanded the air force of the Moscow military district, everyone knew that if “Ruby” was on the air, it means Antoshkin is flying. When you served in reconnaissance aviation, this was excluded, especially under the ban there were some characteristic signs on board the aircraft.

Asterisks on the fuselage of aircraft in Syria demonstrate combat merit. This is a powerful incentive for the pilots themselves. This is the army, where the military rank is also determined by the number of stars and stars on the epaulets – four small – captain, three large colonel-general, army general – one big. Similarly, combat pilots, where their status, aerobatic skills and personal courage can be determined by the number of stars on the aircraft fuselage. One can immediately see who is who. In general, the traditions of domestic aviation have a long history of displaying the number of air victories, so the appearance of stars on the fuselages of fighters and attack aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria does not cause much surprise. And if on November 24, 2015, the Russian Su-24 front bomber, which was shot down by the F-16C of the Turkish Air Force, was accompanied by the Su-57 fighter, then in addition to ten stars for the number of sorties and work on ground targets, it could draw a star in full height – a Turkish plane, it would have shot it down on distant approaches.