Painting stadards of Soviet warplanes 1937- June1940
by Massimo Tessitori
Updated on October 4, 2013
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In 1937, the standards of painting the Soviet military planes were modified by the gradual introduction of new paints:

It's interesting to note that in this period the undersurfaces of planes were painted silver or light grey, not light blue or blue-grey.

I-5 and previously built types

Planes built before 1937 could have continued to bear their original blue grey color undersurfaces and khaki-green uppersurfaces, or they could have been repainted with the new colors AII green and AII silver.

This I-5 had a bad landing in 1939, and its undersurfaces look to have been repainted with silver.

I-16 (type 10 to 18)

This photo of a line of I-16s of different versions, in 1939 shows the change in painting standard occurred in 1937:

the older type 5s (closer planes on the photo) were painted in khaki, blue grey ad with black cowling. Spinners and tails of these planes appear painted possibly in red.

the newer type 17s (last 3 planes of the line) show not longer black cowlings, and the AE-9 light grey on the landing gear doors and cowling (all metal-skinned parts) is clear lighter than the previous blue-grey, while wood and fabric covered parts of undersurfaces were probably AII silver or AII light grey.. The new AII green appears not different by previous color on bw photos.




this image shows different shades between the wingroot (metal-skinned, light grey) and the outer wing panels (fabric-skinned, silver or AII light grey) of typical post-1937 I-16.

The manual for maintenance for I-16 describes to use AE-9 light grey on metal undersurface parts, and AII light grey, that is very similar, on the fabric or wood-skinned parts.

Some reports from Finland and other sources suggest that some I-16 had aluminium undersurfaces: this probably was instead of AII light grey on wood and fabric-skinned parts only.



two images of a n I-16 type 5 wrecked at the war outbreak. The undersurface is well visible. The difference in shade between metal parts (as the panels close to the landinggear) and fabric and wood-skinned parts( as the wing panels and the rear fuselage) is evident, as evident is the auminium paint shining on the rear fuselage.



two images of UTI from a prewar movie. The different shade of metal panels and fabric/wood surfaces is evident, as the metallic shining of aluminium paint under the wings (reflecting the light doors of the landing gear) and rear fuselage

These rare images of uncamouflaged I-16 late type 5, perhaps of a training unit, show the livery that was more typical on I-153 and other types: metallic parts were painted with light grey AE-9, while fabric/wood parts were painted AII aluminium, or perhaps with AII light grey, with more glossy finish.

Note the stars positioning, typical of pre-war planes.


I-15 bis of 1938-39 had usually gloss AII green uppersurfaces, while the undersurfaces were painted light grey AE-9 on metallic parts, and AII aluminium on fabric-covered parts. Metallic parts included the wing and tail strut and the small panel between the upper wings

down left: the photo of a wrecked plane shows clearly that fabric-covered undersurfaces were painted silver, apart for some repaintings that seem light grey. As expected, the metal parts as the engine cowling have not a silver look.

Below: a piece of fabric from the wing of an I-15bis s/n 5275 recovered from a lake in Finland. Plane has green oversides, metal inspection hatches were painted black at least on upper wing. Underside all fabric and wooden (plywood) areas were painted with silver laquer and metal parts with light grey (cit. Kari Lumppio). The shade of green visible on the photo is more brownish than expected from AII green, and matches the khaki used before 1937, but this could be due to the ageing.

(photo: courtesy H.Valtonen)

Usually, I-15bis uppersurfaces appear painted with a uniform shade of dark gloss green. This photo is the only one putting in evidence a different shade of green between metal-skinned and fabric-skinned parts. It's unclear if this is due to a repainting, or colors has faded differently, or if on metallic parts was utilized some different type of paint (AE-7?) that had a shade undistinguishable to AII green when new.

Late production I-15s were painted in light shade overall: AE-9 light grey on metallic parts, and AII aluminium on fabric-covered parts, as their successors I-153.







The standard look for I-153 built till 1940 is: AE-9 light grey on metal-skinned parts, and AII silver on fabric-skinned parts. (photo elaboration by Konstantin Lesnikov)

On some photos, the difference between colors is not distinguishable; we can't exclude that some I-153 was painted light grey overall, while we have never seen any photo of them with silver shining on the nose.











A rare color photo of good quality of I153 during German invasion in 1941. The different shade between silver and light grey is clearly visible.



a piece of fabric from the wing of an I-153 preserved in a Finnish museum depot of Vesivehmaa (courtesy Martti Kujansuu)








A prewar image of an I-153 with skis that had a bad landing. This standard finish was sometimes mismatched for a winter livery.



Standard DI-6 (1937-39) looks to be painted with AII green fabric-skinned uppersurfaces, a darker green metal-skinned aft fuselage (AE-7?). Very few photos of operative DI-6 are available; forthemost, known photos are of prototypes with silver-red livery, or wrecks destroyed by Germans.

The undersurfaces, on this photo, doesn't look silver; it's unclear if they conform to the pre-1937 standard or were repainted with later AII light blue as standard in late 1940. Note the red stars with thin black outline and circle.


Prototype flew for the first time in summer 1939, second prototype appeared in fall 1939.
According to Maslov, prototype’s colours are described in flight testing reports as: “Protective Green” upper surfaces and SILVER undersurfaces. It's not known if this was for metal parts, but they don't look as light as on Polikarpovs.

I-28 series production did start in early 1940 at Zavod 292 in Saratov. On May 25, 1940, I-28 production was cancelled in favor of I-26 (Yak-1). Ten I-28 airframes were finished but engines were never installed on them.

(photo elaboration by Konstantin Lesnikov)


UTI-1 were usually silver overall with thinly black-outlined red stripes on nose and sides.

The red stars were of the type with thin black outlibe and black circle.


UTI-2 bear the silver-light grey livery as I-153.



U-2 built in 1937-40 should conform to these standards replacing khaki with AII green and blue-grey with silver.






this photo of 1941 shows evidence of silver undersurfaces.


Some R-10 reconaissance planes had the usual AII aluminium/AE-9 scheme.

Later, some planes were painted with AII green uppersurfaces.


SB 2M-100, 100A,103 with flat coolers




SB were all-metal skinned planes.

SB 2 M-100A have been observed on photos painted overall both with AE-8 aluminium or AE-9 light grey..

Early SB-2 M-103 (with flat engine coolers and MV-3 turret) have been observed both with silver and light grey livery.

Some SB 2M-100 and 100A could also have been painted with AE-9 light grey, as more usual for their followers, SB M-103.

Late SB M-103 with tunnel cooler was usually painted uniform light grey AE-9, or with later green/blue scheme of late 1940.


Cit. from K.Lesnikov:

February 1936 – report on tests of unpainted prototypes
October 1936 – 30 unpainted planes sent to Spain
Beginning of 1937 – Directive to paint all metal planes
1937 – first series planes painted in light gray AE-9
September 1937 – report that “paint increases weight, etc”
End of 1938 – report that “in the past year silver AE-8 replaced gray AE-9”
November 1939 – tests of SB 2M-103 No 13/221 (painted in 2 coats of gray AE-9 and polished)
May 1940 – Directive to camouflage planes in green-blue scheme
July 1940 –first series planes painted in green-blue scheme at Zavod 22
August 1940 –first series planes painted in green-blue scheme at Zavod 125

How I understand Maslov, silver SBs were in production end of 1938 and for some time in 1939 – approx 6-12 months. Even 6 months makes some 800 or more planes painted in AE-8.
Similar number of planes (approx 800 for 6 months of production) were factory painted in green-blue.
Most of the remaining 5000 planes were painted gray AE-9.

The ratio between silver and gray planes was probably: Silver : Gray = 1: 6






SB 2M-103 with tunnel coolers


Left: The standard look of SB M-103 late type with tunnel cooler was uniform light grey AE-9.

Below: two images of a wreck of SB recovered in nortern Russia. In some parts, the colrs are surprisingly well preserved. The yellowish parts are scratches showing the underlying ALG-1 primer.

DB-3 and DB-3F

The standard painting of DB-3 bombers was AE-8 aluminium overall.

Below: a piece of a Soviet bomber shot down by Finnish AA and preserved in the Finnish Museum (courtesy of Jan Vihonen). Traces of ALG-1 yellow primer are visible under the aluminium paint. (courtesy Jan Vihonen)






Camouflage and livery paints for Soviet aircraft 1937-June 1940
name of paint indicative chip match typical use notes
AII Sv.ser. (svetlo seryi) 
gloss light grey
FS-15630 ? I-16 wood and fabric skinned undersurfaces
Nitrocellulose lacquer
Specification issued around 1937 
gloss light grey

(4, 6)

Overall scheme of most SB;
I-15bis, I-153, I-16, R-10 and other types metallic parts (eventually, of the undersurfaces of types that had green uppersurfaces)
Oil enamel
Specification issued around 1937
1937-1940 exterior paint for metal 
from 1941 interior paint
overall surfaces of all TB-3 and 3F and some SB ; 
AII Al.* (aluminiovyi) 
AII aluminium

Fabric and wood-skinned surfaces of many types as I-153, UT-1, UT-2, R-10; fabric and wood-skinned undersurfaces of some types as I-15bis.

Nitrocellulose lacquer 
Specification issued around 1937
1938-1940 exterior paint for fabric 
AE-7  (zashchitnyi) 
gloss camouflage green

overall uppersurfaces of metal planes? Similar to AII green?
Oil enamel
Specification issued in 1936-37
AII (zashchitnyi) 
gloss camouflage green
AKAN 318 overall wooden, fabric (and eventually, metallic) uppersurfaces( I-15bis, I-16...)
Nitrocellulose lacquer 
Specification issued in mid 1937
In use 1938-1941


Photo of a piece of fabric painted in original AII Z (zashchitnyi, that means protective intended as low-visibility, but we call it green) compared to the equivalent color of the Akan range.

(photo of Mr. Akanihin)