The first color standard in use by the US armed forces was known as Specification No. 3-1, introduced on 28 November 1919 and including a palette of 24 colors of which only one would still be in use during World War II. The earliest standard in use by the US Army Air Corps (USAAC) before the war was Specification 14057 which dated from April 1931 and had been revised numerous times since, the latest being Specification 14057-C on 27 December 1939. An updated eight-color (later nine-color) palette was introduced shortly thereafter, in Air Corps Bulletin No. 41 dated 16 September 1940 and this would include all the main colors in use when the US Army Air Force (USAAF) replaced the USAAC in June 1941. Camouflage schemes would later be specified in the Technical Order No. 07-1-1 although in many cases these were applied in an ad hoc manner by commanders in the field. The US Navy (USN) had its own color system during the early years of World War II based around Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) Specification M-485 from 6 December 1940 which listed 6 (later 7) basic non-spectacular (matt) colors.
The need to unify color codes for the USAAF and USN (which used completely different camouflage schemes) resulted in the Army and Navy Aircraft (ANA) system, introduced on 28 September 1943. ANA Bulletin No. 157 included an initial palette of 19 mostly matt (plus a few semi-gloss) colors using a three-digit numbering system in the 600s. ANA Bulletin No. 166 added a further 15 gloss colors numbered in the 500s. A number of additional colors were later added for a total of 44. Notably, a few of these were gloss colors but were added to the 600s range. The ANA system also included numerous substitute colors for British colors, necessary in light of the large number of US aircraft provided to the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm through Lend-Lease.
On 12 January 1950, the US published Federal Specification TT-C-595 which superseded the ANA system with a four-digit numbering system. This was short-lived and just a few years later was superseded by the Federal Standard system, formally known as FED-STD-595. Each color the palette is identified by a five-digit code. The first digit refers to the sheen of the paint, these being gloss (1), semi-gloss (2), and matt (3). The second digit refers to the color, these being brown (1), red (2), yellow (3), green (4), blue (5), gray (6), all others including whites, blacks, and metallics (7), and fluorescents (8). The last three digits are unique for each color and typically go from darker to lighter. The initial palette included 358 colors although some colors only officially exist in one or two out of the three sheens. Although the hues are identical regardless of sheen, there have been some notorious exceptions such as Olive Drab whose semi-gloss version used by the US Army on tanks (FS 24087) was different from the matt version used on helicopters (FS 34087), this being an error that took decades to correct.
The Federal Standard system has gone through numerous revisions, starting with FED-STD-595A in January 1968 (437 colors), FED-STD-595B in January 1994 (611 colors), and FED-STD-595C in January 2008 (650 colors). The ANA Bulletin 157/166 continued to be updated post-war as well, until 15 October 1964 when it was discontinued in favor of FED-STD-595. On February 17th, 2017, the Federal Standard system was replaced by the Aerospace Material Specification Standard 595, or AMS-STD-595. It is largely equivalent to the Federal Standard system and most existing colors have been carried over with identical numbers.
Paint guide basics:
All colors in this page include a paint chart with matches or equivalences from 19 different model paint ranges. Paints are considered matches if they are labeled with the intended color (either uniquely on together with another color). Paints are considered equivalences if they are close to the intended color but not labeled as such. The accuracy of any paint is independent of whether it is a match or an equivalence and these are described in the text (there can be poor matches and highly accurate equivalences). The following nomenclature is used in the paint tables and is based on matches or equivalences to US Insignia Red FS 11136:
|Paint||Match or equivalence type (label)|
|MP01||Labeled to match one specific color (FS 11136)|
|MP02*||Labeled to match more than one color of same-country standards (FS 11136 / ANA 509)*|
|MP03**||Labeled to match more than one color of different-country standards (FS 11136 / BS 538)|
|MP04 (!)||Questionable accuracy of label match (doesn't look like FS 11136)|
|MP05 (?)||Questionable accuracy of label match, untested (doesn't look like FS 11136 in the bottle)|
|(MP06)||Close equivalent to FS 11136 (BS 538)|
|(MP07) (?)||Questionable equivalent to FS 11136 (Generic Gloss Red)|
US Army helicopters, like vehicles, were painted in in the ubiquitous Olive Drab. As mentioned in the introduction, there is a huge degree of confusion over the post-war shade of Olive Drab, whose predecessor was the wartime ANA 613 and (from January 1950) or the identical FS 3412 from the short-lived TT-C-595 standard. However, the introduction of Olive Drab FS 34087 on 15 October 1964 (ANA Bulletin 157e and later added to FED-STD-595A on 2 January 1968) resulted in a color that was visibly different to the colors that it superseded. It is broadly agreed that FS 34087 was a brown, although there are differing views on whether it was darker or lighter than ANA 613 (Hex translations of their respective values suggest it is darker, but only a comparison of color chips can give a conclusive answer). Furthermore, it was also browner than its semi-gloss version used on US Army vehicles, FS 24087. This was the result of an administrative mistake given that, in theory, Federal Standard colors with different first digit should vary only in their sheen. Eventually the error was picked up (decades later) and FS 34087 was eliminated completely from the FS palette, the shade being redesignated FS 34088 in FED-STD-595B. At the same time, FS 24087 was redesignated FS 24086 while FS 14087 became FS 14086.
The overall Olive Drab scheme was only interrupted by occasional anti-glare panels in Black FS 37038 as well as identifications bands (typically in the tail boom) in Insignia Yellow FS 13538. Aircraft on training duties would also have sections painted in International Orange FS 12197.
|(FS 33077)||FS 34087||FS 13538||FS 12197||FS 37038|
|Olive Drab||Olive Drab||Insignia Yellow||International Orange||Black|
|General (1945)||Overall||(ID bands)||(ID bands)||(Anti-glare)|
|General (1964)||Overall||(ID bands)||(ID bands)||(Anti-glare)|
|Gunze Mr. Color||C12||C304||C329||-||C33|
|Vallejo Model Air||71.016*||71.043||71.078**||-||71.057|
|Vallejo Model Color||70.887*||-||-||-||70.950|
|AK Interactive||AK 2204||AK 4213||-||-||AK 735|
|AK Real Colors||-||RC026||-||-||RC001|
|AMMO by Mig||A.MIG-240*||-||-||-||A.MIG-046|
|Lifecolor||-||UA 523||UA 140**||-||LC 02|
|Immortalized in the series M*A*S*H, this H-13 Sioux is painted on what is likely ANA 613 or 3412.|
|By the time of the Vietnam War, FS 34087 was the standard Olive Drab color on helicopters like the iconic UH-1 Huey, shown here in action.|
|This OH-6 prototype shows the Insignia Yellow tail bands that were common in Army helicopters.|
|A nice, clean shot of a S-53 with training markings in International Orange.|
In the early 1970s, the US Army began experimenting with infra-red reflective and chemical agent resistance coats (CARC) for its vehicles and helicopters, with the first specification appearing in 1974 (MIL-C-46168). This would eventually specify numerous CARC paints and assign them FS values even though they were intended to match laboratory samples rather than FS color chips. In 1983 it was determined that all US Army tactical vehicles (including helicopters) would be given CARC coats by Fiscal Year 1985 and this was later formalized on helicopters on 12 June 1986 (TM 55-100-345-23) with Aircraft Green FS 34031. This would later be better known as US Army Helo Drab due to its exclusive use on US Army helicopters. This is a confusing color as it can change shade in different lighting conditions, looking either as a very dark green, khaki, or gray. US Helo Drab has since been the standard color seen in all US Army helicopters, notably those that were introduced in the 1980s like the AH-64 and UH-60 which have worn this color throughout much of their service lives. An exception to this color is the CH-47 which is described below.
Despite its formal introduction in 1985-86, its use on operational US Army aircraft long preceded this, with experimental use of dark drab CARC paints appearing from the late 1970s, at least one specification from 10 August 1978 (TB 746-93-2) already allowing non-standard, low IR reflective paint schemes. Virtually all UH-60s since their introduction in 1979 have shown much darker drab colors relative to Olive Drab, which would be indicative of experimental CARC colors including the color that would eventually be matched to FS 34031.
|US Army Helo Drab|
|Gunze Mr. Color||-|
|Vallejo Model Air||-|
|Vallejo Model Color||-|
|AK Real Colors||RC229|
|AMMO by Mig||-|
|This UH-60 from 1982 shows a color remarkably similar to US Army Helo Drab, which suggests implementation (or experimentation) of CARC colors well before they were formalized.|
|US Army Helo Drab helps give the AH-64 Apache its menacing appearance.|
|Subject of innumerable loony conspiracy theories, the "black helicopters" (UH-60 Blackhawks) aren't actually black though they may very well be repainted before the impending UN/FEMA takeover.|
|Even those helicopters operating in desert conditions retain the Helo Drab color, like this CH-47 Chinook. Chinooks were later repainted in Woodland Sage.|
Like the USMC, the US Army also devised ad hoc camouflage schemes for the 1991 Gulf War, although with less variation that its Marine counterparts. The desert color used is US Army Sand FS 30277, which is slightly darker and with an olive tint compared to US Marine Sand FS 33711 which was used on USMC helicopters. Most of the time, the entire aircraft was painted sand although in many cases, there remained pieces (like troop compartment doors) that retained their original US Army Helo Drab. Nevertheless, there is confusion over whether this is the correct sand shade, with other possibilities being Dark Sand FS 33303 (used on the A-10 experimental 'Peanut' scheme) or CARC Tan FS 33446 (the basic desert color of US Army/USMC tanks). The three colors, in combat conditions, would probably be difficult to distinguish, with Dark Sand having an olive tint, and CARC Tan slightly more beige. There is noticeable variation in the colors seen on photographs.
|FS 30277||FS 33303||FS 33446|
|US Army Sand||Dark Sand||CARC Tan|
|Gunze Mr. Color||-||(CMC04)||-|
|Vallejo Model Air||71.138||-||71.122|
|Vallejo Model Color||70.988||70.821||-|
|AK Interactive||-||(AK 007)||AK 122|
|AK Real Colors||RC084||-||RC079|
|AMMO by Mig||-||(A.MIG-903)||A.MIG-025|
|Lifecolor||UA 019||(UA 249)||-|
|Gulf War US Army Sand was likely mixed in theater and may have resulted in different shades like this AH-1 and OH-58 from different units show.|
To date, all US Army helicopters use US Army Helo Drab with the notable exception of the CH-47F transport. In 2009, a US Army study concluded that a new paint was needed which would provide ideal camouflage properties in a single color for operations in various environments. The color chosen was a chemical agent resistant coat (CARC) version of FS 34201 which became known as Woodland Desert Sage. This FS color matches that used by the USAF for its SIOP scheme used on SAC bombers during the 1970s and 80s and which is generally referred to as SAC Bomber Tan. Woodland Desert Sage varies considerably in tone depending on lighting but is best described as a somewhat olive tan or khaki that can lean towards green or yellow in different photos.
|Woodland Desert Sage|
|Gunze Mr. Color||-|
|Vallejo Model Air||71.023*|
|Vallejo Model Color||-|
|AK Real Colors||-|
|AMMO by Mig||-|
|This photo shows Woodland Desert Sage closest to its actual FS color match.|
|In different lighting conditions it can look greener or, as in this case, more sand-like.|
All US helicopters have had the same interior colors during the post-war period. From the mid-1950s, cockpits were painted Dark Gull Gray FS 36321 as were interiors like troop compartments, although items such as seats as well as the floor and ceilings could be other colors. However, the requirement for night goggle compatibility from the 1970s has resulted in cockpits being painted Black FS 37038. This has since been the standard cockpit color of all helicopters, with troop compartments remaining FS 36231.
|FS 36231||FS 37038|
|Dark Gull Gray||Black|
|General (1955)||Cockpit / Troop area|
|Gunze Mr. Color||C317||C33|
|Vallejo Model Air||71.277*||71.057|
|Vallejo Model Color||70.991||70.950|
|AKAN||72064* / 62009||78005|
|AK Interactive||-||AK 735|
|AK Real Colors||RC247||RC001|
|AMMO by Mig||A.MIG-205||A.MIG-046|
|Lifecolor||UA 033||LC 02|
|This USAF H-19 from the 1950s shows the ANA 611 cockpits and interiors that were the norm until the end of the Korean War.|
|Early Hueys still featured the Dark Gull Gray cockpits common with aircraft. Later Hueys went all-black.|
|This AH-1S shows the all-black cockpits that are now the norm on all US helicopters and which are optimized for night vision.|
|Troop compartments like that on this CH-47 are painted in Dark Gull Gray although all the different equipment can be a myriad of colors.|
|FS 12197||International Orange||ID marks||ANA 506|
|FS 13538||Insignia Yellow||ID marks||ANA 508|
|FS 30277||US Army Sand||Camo (Gulf War)||-|
|FS 33303||Dark Sand||Camo (Gulf War ?)||-|
|FS 33446||CARC Tan||Camo (Gulf War ?)||-|
|FS 34031||US Army Helo Drab||Camo (Current)||-|
|FS 34087||Olive Drab||Camo (post-1956)||ANA 613 (!)|
|FS 34151||Interior Green||Interiors (pre-1953)||ANA 611|
|FS 34201||Woodland Desert Sage||Camo (CH-47F)||-|
|FS 36231||Dark Gull Gray||Interiors (post-1953)||ANA 621|
|FS 37038||Black||Cockpits (current)||ANA 604|