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How to: Get the Stars-and-Bars right

How to: Get the Stars-and-Bars right

If you are one of many modelers who acquired an ARF-type model of an American airplane, the chance that its star-and-bar markings is correct is about one in 10. It’s sad but true. Among models built by usually careful modelers and displayed at meets, like the Toledo Show and Joe Nall, the situation is somewhat better, but incorrect markings still outnumber the correct ones.

What is it about the star-and-bar marking that makes it so difficult to get right and so often to be done wrong? Judging by the wide variation of ways to goof it up, there are a number of reasons. To illustrate this point, at a recent Top Gun event, one of the static judges, Rich Uravitch, and I looked in amused amazement at one particular model where the star and bar appeared in six places and each one was wrong—and each in a different way. If we take a look at a correct marking and analyze its construction, we can see how easy it is to get wrong. In doing this analysis, it must be noted that, like anything military, the markings follow a strict formula, with variations from it being virtually nonexistent.

On the positive side, the formula is extremely simple because all the dimensions are based on one measurement only: the radius of the circle enclosing the star. So let’s start.


Draw a circle with a known radius. This dimension is referred to as “R.”


Inside the circle, draw a regular five-point star. (Note: The top point faces up on the side of the fuselage and forward on the wings.)


From the shoulders of the star, draw lines outward whose lengths are the same as R.


From the ends of these lines, draw vertical lines downward whose lengths are ½ of R. (Note: This is where many mistakes are made.) From the ends of the vertical lines, draw the bottom horizontal lines back to the circle.


Around the entire figure, draw an outline whose width is equal to 1/8 R. If the marking is the postwar type, which includes the red stripe inside the white bar sections, the width of the stripe is equal to ⅙ R, and it is centered on the white bar. Note that the red stripe is slightly wider than the blue outline.

Skyraiders with correct post-WW II markings with the red stripe.

Color Specs

After learning how the U.S. aircraft insignia should look, it is also important to get the colors right. The FS (Federal Standard) 595a color reference guide identifies the colors to use as follows:

  • Insignia Blue: 35044 if matte and 15044 if glossy
  • Insignia Red: World War II: 30109; pre- and postwar: 31136 if matte and 11136 if glossy
  • Insignia White: 37875 if matte and 17875 if glossy

Special note: During World War II, Insignia White was often applied as a mix of 13 parts white to one part black. This was due to straight white being too bright and conflicting with the need for camouflage.

Obviously, the bars here are too long.

This is how it should be on a Grumman Cougar.

Examples of Wrong Markings


Note that the correct figure is not symmetrical about the horizontal centerline (see Step 4). This is the most common error and probably accounts for most of the mistakes because it is wrongly assumed that the figure is symmetrical.


Bars do not touch the star but, instead, follow the overall outline. Other mistakes can include an outline that’s too thick or, more often, too thin (or worse: varying the width!) as well as variations in the length of the bars. As indicated earlier, there are a host of ways to goof up the star and bar but only one way to have it right.


It’s easy to correct a mismarked model simply by putting a correct marking over an incorrect one. This might not be worth the trouble for a foamie, but it will help your score on a competition-scale entry. One interesting side note to this discussion is that the International Plastic Modellers’ Society (the plastic-kit modelers’ organization) never got it wrong. We surely can’t let plastic modelers outshine us!


Updated: August 5, 2016 — 1:48 PM
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Add a Comment
  1. Getting the shape of the star and bars is bad but nothing compares to getting it on the wrong wing. Remember, one insignia on the upper surface of the LEFT wing and one insignia on the lower surface of the RIGHT wing in (almost) all cases. The only exception to this rule that I have seen are some rare P-47s with stars and bars on BOTH lower wing surfaces. I’m assuming that these planes were being used in a ground attack role and the pilots were concerned about friendly fire. I’ve also seen a disturbing number of national insignia applied upside down on model airplanes. Remember, one point of the star UP when placed on the fuselage and one point of the star FORWARD when placed on the wing. I can’t remember ever seeing this screwed up on a full scale aircraft.

  2. This is one of my biggest lifetime pet peeves. R/C model manufacturers are bad, but Hollywood is worse. In the ARFs, the new Durafly P-40N is the worst offender. Thank you for insignia info, Dave. What is your latest project? I enjoyed seeing your Stukas in the Battle of Britain a few weeks ago.

  3. Just a quick question. If the outline width is 1/8R and the postwar red stripe is 1/8R, how can the red stripe be “slightly wider than the blue outline.”? Otherwise a fascinating article.

  4. Jack,

    It’s hard to see in the text, but the red bar is 1/6th of “R”.

  5. What are the dimensions or angles of the star?

    1. Mark,

      Just draw straight lines connecting the points of the star and you will get the shoulders.


  6. The points of the star are equidistant from ea other therefore they radiate from its center 72 degrees (360/5). Another way to arrive at this distance between the start points is R x 1.175 (using the radius of the blue circle as “R”)

    The diameter of the blue circle varied widely with official designations pertaining to the aircraft type being nomenclatured, so research will have be done here depending on what plane you are modeling

  7. Mark,

    In order to draw the star, you need a drafting compass (or actually dividers). Open the dividers to a spacing about 20% more than the size of the radius. Then, starting at the top of the star, “walk” the dividers around the circle until you get back to the starting point. If you had set them precisely, the dividers should end up exactly at the starting point. If the ending point went past the starting point (the top of the star), close the dividers about one-fifth of the excess distance and try again. If the ending point was short of the starting point, open the dividers about one-fifth of the shortfall distance and repeat. Just continue to repeat this process until you get the starting points and ending points to line up. When they do, then (without disturbing the setting on the dividers), step the dividers around the circle and mark each point. Then you can go ahead and connect the points across the circle to generate the star figure. It will probably take more time for you to read this than to get your star marked out.

  8. Thank you for this article, It is amazing how many modelers who make such beautiful models and get this one thing wrong.

  9. Here you can print the desired insignia –

    This is a java applet and requires java, along with a printer if printing

    I wrote this because I was Inspired by an article in Model Airplane News, December 2015, page 44

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