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Misunderstood...the 12th's Insignia

Updated: Oct 18, 2018

Figure 1: 12th Aero Sq Insignia Concept Art Lt. Paul Stockton Photo Album NASM-9A11573-192

Over the years, the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron’s insignia has been the subject of some confusion. The insignia in question (Figure 1) presents a bird of prey clutching an object as it flies across an orange sun. The bird is often thought to be an eagle or a hawk. The object in the bird’s talons is also often believed to be an arial bomb. Fortunately, recent research can finally lay this matter to rest.

Lt. Burdette Wright, Lt. Paul Stockton Photo Album NASM-9A11573-192

Capt. Burdette Wright, an Aerial Observer with the 12th during World War I was present when the squadron developed its insignia. He described its creation in a 1921 article published in the U.S. Air Service journal.

This is what he has to say: “when the 12th Aero Squadron…reached the point of making a decision as to the…marking to be carried on its planes, it turned to the…work they were doing at the front…at that time, the major portion of the work consisted in observation for the artillery... It was then decided…the insignia should be symbolical of this work, and the design of an eagle in flight, directing the course of an artillery shell, was chosen.” [1]

Lt Stockton was a pilot with the 12th and his personal album [2] reinforces Capt Wright’s statements. It contains several insignia concepts Stockton created for the 12th. See Figures 2 and 3. The final sketch, Figure 4 clearly presents the eagle carrying an artillery shell and matches the present day insignia quite nicely.

Figure 3: “An insignia I drew for the 12th Squadron. Not used. Too much painting” - Lt Stockton National Archives: NASM-9A11573-230

Sadly, those chosen to paint the 12th’s aircraft found it difficult to replicate Lt Stockton’s artistic skill. Capt Wright describes the result.

“Unfortunately, it was difficult from an artistic point of view to make a definite picture of this thought, and… many mistakes were made in considering …the outfit must be a bombardment squadron and…the eagle, symbolizing the plane, must be clutching in its claws an aircraft bomb.” [1] (See Figure 5.)

Lt. Paul Stockton Lt. Paul Stockton Photo Album NASM-9A11573-192

Even today you can spot this same insignia worn proudly by members of the 12th as they carry on their work in reconnaissance. One hundred years later, this eagle is still clutching an artillery shell guiding it across an orange sun and with it, a century of heritage lives on.

12th Aero Squadron Insignia panel from 12th Aircraft. Image from USAF Museum Wright Patterson AFB

USAFA Special Collections MS-5

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Works Cited


1 Wright, B. (1921, September). A Bit About the Twelfth. U.S. Air Service.

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