A comment below the question Did von Braun have “a thing” for fins? Why did Saturn I block 2 get fins because it's a “von Braun” rocket? suggests that Wernher von Braun had the "Saturn V painted as the V2". This is more than a little surprising considering the nature of the V2 program.

Is this just space-lore or is there some substance to the story?

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    $\begingroup$ I can't find the reference at the moment, but I believe the reason for the alternating black and white is so that you can easily visually track the rotation rate of the rocket. $\endgroup$
    – Ingolifs
    Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ Related: space.stackexchange.com/questions/6352/… $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ Related: space.stackexchange.com/q/25314/195 $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ What exactly does "painted as the V2" mean? Questions on SE sites must stand on their own - they cannot rely on links for critical information. Voting to close as unclear - if you want to know what an individual meant by their statement, ask that person. And if the only similarity turns out to be the use of encoder-like roll markings, that's pretty silly, almost all rockets use those in the testing stage. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ The title of your question does not match the comment from which it was taken. "Did Wernher von Braun really have a “Saturn V painted as the V2”?" vs "von Braun btw also had Saturn V painted as the V2.". Your title implies that von Braun had 1 special Saturn V painted to replicate the V2, whereas the actual comment states that Saturn V (collectively) were painted like V2s. $\endgroup$
    – Glen Yates
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 17:47

3 Answers 3


The early prototypes of the A4/V2 were painted in the familiar black-and-white roll pattern scheme. This scheme was designed to aid in tracking the rocket after launch. This pattern made it easy to observe any variation or roll of the rocket. The exact pattern was changed many times, and as with the rest of the rocket, the pattern was examined and altered if warranted.

Camouflage colors were introduced to the A4/V2 during the middle of 1943. At the beginning, three different schemes were designated to be tested;

enter image description here

From www.v2rocket.com

But the Saturn V was a very different rocket, three instead of one stage and very huge. The height of a V-2 was 14 m, much shorter than the third stage of Saturn V alone with 18.8 m.

Visual and film camera observation was used too, so a black-and-white roll pattern scheme was used. But only a small lower and upper part of each stage was colored with black and white stripes and the large parts in white only to reduce heating by sunlight.

enter image description here

Image from www.bernd-leitenberger.de.

A similar coloring scheme was used for the Mercury-Redstone Launch Vehicle and the Gemini-Titan II rocket.

But von Braun was not the only one German rocket scientist working on both V-2 and Saturn V. There were hundreds of scientists working on both rockets, so the design of the color pattern could be done by somebody else. See Operation Paperclip.


This type of marking was not unique to either the V-2 or the Saturn V. Test versions of rockets have often had black and white markings to help engineers analyze their flight characteristics. As mentioned in this answer this was true also of the prototype V-2 rockets. While many people associate the V-2 with the checkerboard pattern typically seen in photos, operational V-2 rockets had a completely different paint scheme. As mentioned in the Wikipedia article about the V-2:

During tests the rocket was painted in a characteristic black-and-white chessboard pattern, which aided in determining if the rocket was spinning around its longitudinal axis .... The painting of the operational V-2s was mostly a ragged-edged pattern with several variations .... at the end of the war a plain olive green rocket was also used.

Production V2
Operational V-2s (National Museum of the United States Air Force, both photos)

In 1945 as WWII neared its end, Wernher von Braun and several other German scientists surrendered to the Americans. After the war was over they provided assistance in the U.S. rocket program, with both von Braun and Kurt Debus reaching high level positions. After test launching several captured V-2s in New Mexico, an improved U.S. version was created, the PGM Redstone which had tracking markings, but not the same markings as the V-2.

PGM-11 Redstone
PGM-11 Redstone first launch August 20, 1953 (U.S. Army)

Redstone rockets with similar tracking markings were flown over the next several years for scientific and nuclear test launches. However the Army tactical versions were painted solid colors.

Army Redstone
Army Redstone missile 1960 (Wikimedia Commons)

A nearly identical situation existed in Russia after WWII, as Sergei Korolev and his team built a Russian copy of the V-2 named the R-1. Sometimes referred to as P-1, R is a transliteration of the Russian “P” in paketa (raketa, or rocket). Notably the Soviet (i.e. non-von Braun) R-1 also had black and white markings.

Soviet R-1 1946 (S.P.Korolev RSC Energia, via Wayback Machine)

The Soviets then designed an improved version, the R-2.

Soviet R-2 (Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, via Wikimedia Commons)

The British painted their test V-2s in the original checkered paint scheme when they cobbled together what was essentially leftover V-2 parts after the war, during Operation Backfire.

Operation Backfire
Operation Backfire V-2 launch (Science Museum UK, via Wikimedia Commons)

I didn’t find any photos of R-7 family test rockets for Sputnik, Vostok, and Soyuz with these type of markings, presumably the side boosters provided roll tracking capability. A similar situation existed with the Space Shuttle which also did not have tracking markings since the wings and side boosters made it possible to track roll. As a side note the three British Concorde prototypes, which were developed in the same general era as the Saturn V, had various checkerboard markings on their fuselage.

Concorde development aircraft G-BDDG

In the late 1950's it wasn’t just the Army Redstone program working towards orbital flight, there was also the Navy Vanguard program (which Wernher von Braun had nothing to do with), which also had black and white markings for tracking.

Vanguard carrying Vanguard 1, 1958 (NASA)

For geopolitical reasons Vanguard was initially given the task to put America’s first satellite into orbit instead of the Army Redstone. However after the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957 this task was shifted to von Braun’s Juno Redstone derivative, which launched Explorer 1 in January 1958, with the Juno having similar tracking markings as Redstone.

Juno I
Juno I carrying Explorer 1, 1958 (NASA)

Vanguard did however put the second U.S. satellite Vanguard 1 into orbit in March 1958.

As mentioned in the other answer, Mercury-Redstone had black and white tracking markings

Mercury-Redstone 3
Mercury-Redstone 3 carrying Alan Shepard, May 1961 (NASA)

as did the (non-Wernher von Braun) Titan II

Gemini-Titan II carrying Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon, September 1966 (NASA)

The other crew-rated Saturn rocket, the Saturn IB, made the final flight in the Saturn program in 1975, five years after Werner von Braun had left the Saturn program for an administrative role in NASA.

Saturn_IB carrying Tom Stafford, Vance Brand, and Deke Slayton, July 1975 (NASA)

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    $\begingroup$ Tl;dr: yes or no? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 31, 2023 at 0:30
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble - I think a yes or no answer would be mostly opinion since it's nearly impossible to prove a negative. Unless or until someone has information about von Braun's involvement in the Saturn V painting decision, other than presumably giving the final approval. Or knows what he was thinking. To someone looking only at Saturn V and early V2 the paint schemes might seem similar, which is likely how the question originated, so I provided additional evidence and photos expanding on the first answer, demonstrating that the markings on the Saturn V was not unusual for rockets of that era. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 31, 2023 at 1:32

Yes. The paint patterns are black white checkered because this helped the Germans monitor rocket roll during take off. The harsh contrast and checker color is easier to see with naked eye and it shows amount of twist in a way that can be measured.

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    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 6:09
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