Setting The iconic "Checkertail" can be seen in this painting by aviation artist Don Greer depicting aircraft flown by the 318th Fighter Squadron and its sister squadrons of the 325th Fighter Group during World War II.


Throughout military history, warriors have carried their unit colors into battle, raising them high to make an impression on their enemies. Not only have those symbols stood to represent a unit, they have served as markings that give each unit member a sense of belonging and pride.


In the initial deployments of U.S. Army Air Force to the European and African theaters in 1942 involved relatively small numbers of fighter and bomber aircraft and no system of Group identification was used. Some aircraft were identified by numbers painted on their fuselage. The fighters of the 325th Fighter Group were no different, adding a large US flag to their P-40 painted in standard camouflage and markings.

P-40 Warhawk  P-47 Thunderbolt 
P-51 Mustang  

In mid 1943, the Northwest African Air Force (NAAF) issued a request to all of its fighter and bomber groups to design and apply unit specific identification markings for their aircraft. This request by the NAAF was to provide crews with a quick means of identifying a particular bomber or fighter group during missions. Using the Checkerboard design of WWI German ace Lt. Werner Voss as inspiration John Watkins of the 318th FS and Maj. Bob Baseler of the 317th FS set out to create a similar design for the aircraft of the 325th.


Concentrating on the tails of the 325th Fighter Groups P-40s, different sizes and colors were tested, at the end the yellow and black "Checkertail" design was born. The Checker Tail would be used on all of the Groups aircraft (including Group B-26 & B-25 "Hacks" or utility aircraft) with 12" squares on P-47s, and 10" squares on P-51. 


Other than a aircraft number and a yellow spinner cap in their propellers, P-61Bs of the 318th Fighter Squadron (All Weather) wore standard markings as seen on P-61B s/n 48-8279 at Hamilton Field in 1948. 


Upon reactivation, the 318th was issued the Northrop P-61 Black Widows, other that occasional nose art and radio call numbers, the tails of the squadrons P-61s wore no unit specific markings. In 1948, the 318th moved into the North American F-82 Twin Mustang and moved to add some identity to their aircraft by adding the "Green Dragon" insignia on the outer surface of both tails of the twin-tailed fighter, some aircraft would also carry individual "nose art" on the radar pods of the F-82's.


There was little change for the tails on the next aircraft flown by the 318th and the 325th Fighter Group, the Lockheed F-94A Starfire; a Group shield replaced the Green Dragon insignia. The squadron insignia would move from the tail to both sides of the fuselage below the canopy. The only splash of color was a horizontal tail stripe denoting an airplanes assignment, yellow was the color reserved for the 318th, (red for the 317th and blue for the 319th). Later the Greenland bound F-94's completely painted their tails of their new F-94B's with bright red arctic markings. The use of these markings was intended to assist rescue crews in the search and rescue of crews and aircraft in snowy areas. A broad red stripe bordered in black would also be added to Green Dragon F-94Bs.


In 1954, the Green Dragons replaced their worn F-94's with new Northrop F-89 Scorpion, and kept the basic Arctic markings designed for F-89's assigned to northern units. Some aircraft would carry yellow wing tanks with red scallop.


The 318th insignia can be seen on the tail of this F-82 Twin Mustang , while the 325th Fighter Group insignia is displayed on the F-94 Starfire. Note the two fuselage stripes on the F-94 denoting that the aircraft is assigned to the squadrons "DO" or Director of Operations (Ops Officer)


After the 318th FIS designator replaced the 465th FIS at McChord, the unit used that opportunity to change the tail flash of their F-86s. Using the main color from the 465th markings, the 318th created a new look for their Sabres keeping the yellow background (thought to be F.S. 13538) but replacing the 456ths three red lightning bolts with two black chevrons (F.S. 17038) on a enlarged yellow tail (thought to be F.S. 13538), with black trim on the lower section. A single black chevron would also be added to the wing tanks.

456th FIS F-86 tail flash 318th FIS F-86 tail flash

With the anticipation running very high for the squadron supersonic replacement for the F-86, the 318th began looking for a new tail design that would complement the speed and their futuristic Convair F-102's. In early 1957, the 318th held a contest to find a new tail emblem for the yet to arrive F-102's, artwork from a member of the 318th, TSgt Bruce McElhaney, would be proclaimed as the winner. The design, called "Mach Wave" used elements of Chryslers "Forward Look" emblem, the signature of a campaign concerning radical redesign of the company's vehicles for the 1955 model year.  


Taken from the Bases newspaper (The Defender") the winner of the F-102 tail flash design contest TSgt Bruce McElhaney is congratulated by 318th Executive Officer Maj William A Clair. The caption reads " The 318th FIS has its first F-102A interceptors and they have re-designed and streamlined their "Mach Wave" emblem to b painted on the F-102 tails. The above photo shows Maj William A. Clair, executive officer of the 318th, presenting a check to TSgt. Bruce G McElhaney for submitting the winning design. The "Mach Wave" design is black on a field of yellow rimmed by a black circle and is patterned after the "Forward Look" emblem, of the Chrysler Corporation. The pilots and ground crew of the 318th feel that their new F-102's typify the "Forward Look" in air power and this design is ideally suited to their forthcoming operation in supersonic flight.


The Forward Look logo consisted of two overlapped chevrons, suggesting space age theme. The black (F.S. 17038) and yellow (F.S. 13538) colors of the 318th Mach Wave were the same used with the 318th F-86 tail design. The "Mach Wave" was used to personalize many items belonging to the 318th and later to the 325th Fighter Wing including flight helmets, the back of flight jackets, unit ball caps and even some of the Wings aerospace equipment. Even the T-33's got in the act, with large Mach Waves over their day-glo red tails.    


The Mach Wave design was first used exclusively by the 318th FIS at McChord. The other squadron at McChord, the 317th, used their F-86 design (a white lightning bolt on a broad red stripe) on their Deuces. After the 317th moved north to Alaska, 64th FIS moved down to join the 318th, from there forward, the Mack Wave was used by both squadrons as the official 325th FW design. Squadron insignias on the nose of the F-102 would be used to denote squadron "ownership", for a period of time; fights were denoted by various colors painted on speed brake doors.


Two pilots of the 318th FIS hold their customized helmets while admiring the units new tail flash in their "Mach Wave" flight jackets.   


In early 1960, the tails seen on the flightline at McChord were no longer those of the F-102, they were now the "Deuces" more advanced cousin, the F-106 Delta Dart. This upgrade to the Ultimate Interceptor required a new design to match the squadrons new capability - enter the "North Star" or "Compass Rose" design devised by 318th pilot 1st Lt. Gary K. Carroll who in 1971 as a Major would win a Distinguished Flying Cross while flying a forward air control mission over Southeast Asia.


The new design, eight light blue (F.S. 15200) & dark blue (F.S. 15044) contrasting legs radiating from a disc that contained the Air Defense Command shield (on the right hand side) and the 318th FIS insignia (on the left hand side). In the early years of this era, the squadron painted the F-106's entire speed brake doors in a different color to represent each flight, there is some evidence that a few aircraft wore the Green Dragon insignia on both sides of the tail for a very short period. 


After the addition of another F-106 squadron in July of 1963 (the 498th FIS from Geiger Field, WA), the 318th insignia was replaced by the 325th Fighter Wing Shield. This was the norm for the Wing's markings until the relocation of the 498th in June of 1966.


F-106 pilot 1Lt. Gary K. Carroll talks about the F-106 and the squadrons new tail design with TSgt. William F. Ramsay, Crew Chief of F-106 s/n 59-0055, a design created by Lt. Carroll.   


Towards the end of the 60's, another change was in the works for the 318ths tail flash. The colors remained the same, but the design would be reworked in to "chevron" with three legs extending from the rear. Again, the scheme would be designed around a disc with the Air Defense Command shield on the right hand side and the 318th FIS insignia on the left hand side.


One of the first F-106s assigned to the 318th FIS, s/n 59-0051 is pictured above with the units "Green Dragon" insignia within the "Compass Rose" tail flash in July 1963. In the lower picture  F-106A s/n 59-0058 displays the 325th Fighter Wing insignia in the center of the "Compass Rose" tail flash, the 325th FW insignia was worn after the 498th FIS arrived to McChord From Geiger AFB, WA. It is thought that the 318th insignia on the nose of the aircraft was only worn by aircraft participating in the William Tell Competition.


Around the same time, the 318th became the first F-106 squadron to receive the streamline 360gal supersonic wing tanks replacing the 230gal tanks. For the first time in the F-106, the wing tanks would be customized, a broad light blue / dark blue stripe with a white "318 FIS" superimposed in the center of the tank.  Later, both sets of the markings would be outlined in white.  


The first 318th FIS /325th FW tail flash (L) was worn by McChord F-106s from 1960 until the 1966 - 1967 time frame, it was replaced by the design on the right. The Air Defense Command insignia was displayed on the right side of the tail, the 318th FIS or the 325th FW insignia could be found on the left side. 


The markings of T-33's flying in ADC squadrons mimic those of their big brothers, as seen by T-33A s/n 58-0512 wearing markings similar to those of the units F-106's. In the picture below the left side of the T-33 is shown on T-33A s/n 57-0566, note the "full sized" ADC shield used on all 318th T-33s with the "Chevron" markings.


In late 1974, early 1975 an ADC wide order was in place that called for the reduction in markings of all aircraft in the command. For a period of time, some aircraft would only display the Aerospace Defense Command shield on the right hand side of the tail and the 318th FIS insignia on the left hand side of the tail. In William Tell 1974, a slight change to the 318ths wing tank markings was noticed, the colors would be switched, (dark blue on top, light blue on the bottom), and a white scallop would extend over the nose cone.


After adding a white outline to the tail and tank markings in the late 60s - early 70s (above), the squadron suffered through a period where unit markings were not displayed. After their return the squadron markings on the tanks were slightly revised (below). 


In 1975 / 1976, time sought out to freshen up the units tail flash, and they really did! The new markings for the units F-106's & T-33's, similar to a "Starburst", was in many respects a larger version of the early 60's F-106 tail flash, except larger with the eight legs radiating from the center disc,  out to the edges of the tail. The lower leg would break through the airplanes serial number (on the F-106's). No tank markings were designed - at first.


Unlike the "Compass rose" design, the standard location was kept for the tail number with the "Starburst" design.  To keep the numbers visible, a 1 inch boarder was around each number that broke through the design. The Aerospace Defense Command (L) and the 318th FIS insignia (R) can be seen high in the center of the "Starburst".


In 1975 / 1976, time sought out to freshen up the units tail flash, and they really did! The new markings for the units F-106's & T-33's, similar to a "Starburst", was in many respects a larger version of the early 60's F-106 tail flash, except larger with the eight legs radiating from the center disc, out to the edges of the tail. The lower leg would break through the airplanes serial number (on the F-106's). No tank markings were designed - at first.


A few years later F-106B s/n 59-0151 was repainted with the new "Starburst" design. The F-106 is pictured at Tyndall AFB, FL during William Tell '76. As the F-106s tails were repainted , 318th T-33s tails were repainted with the same design as seen on T-33 s/n 58-0578 in the late 70's. T-33 -578 was believed to be the first gray T-Bird serving with the 318th.


In 1976, the largest birthday party in the nation's history, the Bicentennial (200th) anniversary of the U.S. independence, was underway. To celebrate the Bicentennial, most squadrons wore the official Bicentennial "Pretzel" logo (worn on the nose of the F-106's). The U.S. Air Force also gave each squadron the ability to paint one aircraft in a special paint scheme, the for the 318th F-106A 58-0776 was selected as their official Bicentennial aircraft. Painted in its special markings, the aptly named "Freedom Bird" was dedicated during the squadrons 1975 Hughes Trophy presentation ceremony on January 24, 1976.


In 1976 the "318 rolled out "The Freedom Bird" (s/n F-106A 58-0776) to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.


In October 1, 1979, the remaining six Fighter-Interceptor Squadrons were transferred from the Aerospace Defense Command (ADCOM) to the Tactical Air Command (TAC). This change in commands prompted one noticeable change, all FIS's would replace the ADCOM & unit insignias on their tails with the TAC shield, unit insignias would eventually move to the nose of the F-106's.


In the early 80's fuel tank markings would reappear on 318th F-106's & T-33's. Using the same shades of blue as the "Starburst" maintenance crews painted a white bordered chevron or "swoosh" on both sides of the of the interchangeable tanks of the F-106. The wing tanks, chaff pods and luggage pods used on the units T-33s would receive also the 318th swoosh.


As F-106 operations wound down for the upcoming transition to the F-15 Eagle, all unit specific markings were removed the F-106's in preparation for their new assignment to their next units.


The full "Starburst" markings are displayed by F-106 s/n 57-0243 & T-33 s/n 58-2106, note the Tactical Air Command decal replacing the ADCOM and unit insignia.


Now the trademark for the squadron, the "Starburst" found a new home on the Green Dragons F-15 Eagles. In preparation for the arrival of the F-15's 318th crews painted the reworked tail, flash on the first Eagle, F-15B 76-0141, at Luke AFB before the aircraft's flight to its new home at McChord. An eagle placard, dark blue (F.S. 15044) eagle head with a light blue (F.S. 15200) crew panel would be added to round out the new design.

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The 318th "Starburst" of the F-106 (as seen on the units last F-106, s/n 59-0141) is compared with the first F-15B 76-0141, the 318ths first F-15 had a design unique the the aircraft, using a the standard s/n position, painters broke through the lower leg of the "starburst" design. The more common F-15 "Starburst" arrangement can be seen on the right (F-15A 76-0057).


The F-15s "Starburst" required a reduction in size and a relocation of the F-15s serials, except for the markings found on F-15B -141 upon its arrival at McChord. A standard F-15 serial number was used, because of this, the lower leg broke through the serial number, but it was later painted to match the other aircraft. The 318ths MXU-648 Travel pods wore a swoosh similar to the wing tanks of the F-106s & T-33s although they lacked the white outline.


F-15As s/n 76-0050 &  s/n 76-0071 in full 318th FIS "Starburst" markings carry live AIM-7 Sparrow missiles high above the clouds in Washington State.


The last major marking change occurred in 1987 with an order from higher headquarters of Tactical Air Command to align all of the commands aircraft to a uniform standard, two letter unit designators.  This order only affected only the two remaining air defense F-15 units.


After the order to remove their tail flashes from their F-15's, the "Starburst" lived on as a main component of the units tail stripe.  


In that year, the 318th FIS began to repaint the tails of their F-15's with the tail code "TC", (derived from McChord's International Air Transport Association airport code of "TCM" which stood for Tacoma), the major city near the base. The trademark "Starburst" remained in a much smaller form, contained in the center of a dark & light blue tail band on the top of the F-15's vertical stabilizers at least one aircraft (F-15B 76-0139) carried a 318th swoosh on the top of its tail. Initially the units F-15 kept their full color eagle head crew placards, later the colors were changed to black (head) and dark gray (crew panel).  


In 1988, the 318th was deep in the planning stages for a upcoming conversion to the Air Defense variant of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. On January 9, 1989, the Department of Defense announced that the 318th FIS would inactivate by the end of 1989, canceling the squadrons conversion into the F-16 ADF. Since no F-16's had been assigned to the squadron, it is thought that markings for the tails of 318th FIS F-16 were not officially designed for the aircraft.


F-15 before and after - The squadrons last flagship, F-15A 76-0111 displays the classic air defense "tail flash" and the later tactical marking design.