Why is the American Flag Backwards on Plane Tails?

Depends on which side of the tailplane you look at, doesn’t it?

My guess: The US flag should always be flown with the canton (the blue bit with the white stars) nearest the hoist. Conventionally, when an image of the flag is printed on a page, the hoist is assumed to be on the left. However when an image of the flag is displayed on an airplane, the hoist is conventionally assumed to be forward of the flag rather than aft of it (as indeed it would be, if there were a real flagpole and a real flag , and the plane were moving forwards). Hence the canton is always towards the front of the plane.

Yes, you have the right answer. The flag when painted on the starboard (right) side of an airplane is backward to simulate the direction a real flag would fly if it were there.

So that it looks right in your rear-view mirror ? :smiley:

Congratulations - you may have created the shortest response time for the correct answer ever. Not many correctly answer their own question in the OP.

The canton is always to the “front” of a vehicle.


This is the second time in a week this board has done this to me. UDS didn’t make the OP…I did. Unfortunately the board listed my post without actually including the post. Although this has seemingly already been answered my OP is below FWIW.

As you can see in this picture of a C-130 the American Flag is backwards. This always seems to be the case when the flag is displayed on the right side of the plane.

What is the purpose of this? It would seem to me that it isn’t a particularly useful way for other pilots to identify which side of the plane they are looking at. One would suppose that another pilot would spot the much larger tail itself before they could make out any identifying marks and once you know where the tail is I’d think it’d be pretty clear to whomever is looking which side of the plane they are approaching from.

Assuming those flags are decals and not painted on I really hope the answer isn’t to the effect of the manufacturer putting glue on only one side of the decal. However, I guess it wouldn’t be totally surprising that such a cock-up occurred and then became a part of military tradition. Do all the other world’s airplanes do the same thing or is this a uniquely US phenomenon?

Yep - for proper flag ettiqutte, the flag is always flown with the star field in the upper left, except on airliners, to simulate it’s natural position if it were blowing in the wind.

Whoever outlines such flag manners, says so. I looked it up after 9-11 and all the flag hype and lost the link.

I’ve seen it properly displayed on airliners, too (those times I’ve noticed, anyway…) Seems the fire department in my town didn’t look real hard for their decals - the flag is flying “stars-to-the-rear” on the right side of the trucks. It doesn’t look good that way.

Why is the flag sometimes backwards on the side of airplanes, buses, and military uniforms?

The flag decals have the union (the blue area with the stars) on the side closer to the front of the plane. On the plane’s left, the decal shows the flag with the union at the left, as usual. On the plane’s right side, the union is on the right. This is done so that the flag looks as if it is blowing in the wind created by the forward movement of the ship or airplane. You can see this on cars and trucks as well. Click to see pictures of the flag decals on Air Force 1. There are two separate flag patches in the Army inventory: the normal U.S. flag replica that is worn on the left sleeve, and what is referred to as the “reversed field” flag patch, which is worn on the right sleeve.


Uh … There is no such thing as a “backwards” flag. A flag is a two-sided object. Unless the design is symmetrical with regard to a central vertical axis, then a flag has two orientations, depending on which side you approach it from.

The flag painted on an airplane is a representation of an actual flag flying from a posted fixed on a moving airplane. If you approach the plane from the starboard side, then the canton is on the right.

Hanging up a flag on a wall inside is a different issue and there are published rules regarding its orientation.

You have to remember, however, that these rules are unofficial with respect to the general public. In the United States, the flag belongs to the people, and that, in combination with the First Amendement, means there can be no absolute legal authority that can dictate to any individual how he or she must display, handle, or treat a flag.

It’s a free country.


Indeed, the flag DOES belong to the people. It’s our responsibility to treat her with respect. There ARE concrete rules concerning the display, disuse and disposal of the flag, and they are codified in the US Flag Code, which is a law passed by Congress. There are no PENALTIES involved, but there are guidelines and it is the law. A terrific summary can be found here:


And this explains it better than I just did:

“Generally: Federal flag code provisions are not to be accorded full weight of statutory proscription but are an expression of custom and usage which is designed for, and should be used by civilian authorities, including school districts.”

from this site:


Well, it is a law in the sense that it is encoded in something called the U.S. Flag Code. However, if you look at the text itself, it basically says that it is not a statute. That’s pretty good evidence that it is not “the law.”

“Law” can have many meanings, but, in general, in the United States, there are three kinds of law – statutes (legislation adopted by a legislature and signed by an executive), black-letter law (law made by judges in deciding cases), and regulatory law (regulations written by regulatory agencies under the authority of statutory law). All three kinds of law can be enforced against an individual in court, either in a civil or criminal action.

It seems to me that the language of the U.S. Flag Code implies that it can’t be enforced against an individual in court. There is good reason for this, of course. If the Flag Code contained provisions granting the state the power to enforce it, then it would be immediately found to be unconstitutional. All this, to me, is strong evidence that it is not, in fact, “the law,” but, instead a set of guidelines.

As for our “responsibilities” with respect to the flag – speak for yourself. I own several flags and I display them more or less in line with the Flag Code, but I do so because I want to do so, not do so because I think it is my “responsibility” to do so.

A flag is a symbol that can have quite a large number of meanings ascribed to it – the people of the country, the government of a country, particular officials or agencies, the armed forces, the policy of the government, the nation in general, the “spirit” of the nation, the history of the nation, actions abroad by citizens (such as large businesses), etc.

Treatment of It is up to an individual to decide for himself or herself what meaning to ascribe to it and the appropriate treatment to follow. The attitude towards the flag and its due treatment might change from day-to-day for any one person.

Furthermore, it is entirely possible for an individual to be in complete accordance with the Flag Code’s authors with regard to the attitude and intent towards the flag, but to disagree with their ideas on what should be considered proper or respectful handling or display.

As Americans, we get to make our own minds up about such things; we aren’t obligated to defer to the expertise of some self-appointed authority on expression, be it Congress or whoever else. (Congress isn’t self-appointed for its constitutional duties, but, when it comes to a matter regarding individual expression, it’s definitely exceeding its proper authority, and the Supreme Court has let it know so on a number of occasions.)

Whatever your own feelings about the importance of the flag, its meaning, and its due treatment, what I said remains true – there can be no absolute legal authority that can dictate to any individual how he or she must display, handle, or treat a flag.

Well…not yet anyway. Especially in the wake of 9/11 I wonder if a Flag Amendment would have even more support {{{shudder}}}.

If you support a Flag Amendment then this site may be of interest: Citizens Flag Alliance

For those like acsenray (presumably given the earlier posts) who would oppose such an amendment follow this link: Oppose the Flag Desecration Amendment!

Well, the OP’s been answered but I just wanted to follow up on my hijack to a hijack…

  • acscenray -

Thank you for your thoughtful and reasoned reply. I concur with your assessment wholeheartedly. I thought you were a -tad- broad in your initial statement and I didn’t know if you KNEW there was a flag code. Obviously, you did. I just wanted to put up a link and show that there WERE “rules” about displaying the flag.

I think we are both in agreement about the facts, we’re just phrasing them differently.

AND… I should have qualified my statement about our ‘responsibility’ to Old Glory. IF ONE VIEWS THE FLAG with respect as the symbol of our nation and wants to play along, it is generally deemed proper to heed the established guidelines for the display thereof. If you want to use it to wash your Corolla, no one’s going to come by and toss you in the slammer. If you want to get on the 6 o’clock news, whip out your zippo and fire away.

My post was to clarify, not to challenge. Just wanted to chime in that I have no quarrel with you or your views.

2nd hijack: I really want one of those “don’t tread on me” snake flags for my house. I believe it’s proper to display any flag that was ever officially flown over the 50 nifty. That one says it all.

If you really want one, you can get one. I believe there are a number of flag companies, including the Alamo Flag Co., that sell historical flags.