Thursday, July 21, 2016

Profile 122: "235" as flown by The Rocketeers of the 336th TFS


I write/draw/produce for a diverse crowd.

On one hand, there are the Warriors.  They were there and whatever I share is their story.  I am merely the guy in the room with the pen and paper.*

On the other hand, there are the rest of us—those that weren't there but for whatever reason—want to learn more about what it was like.

In that "rest of us" there are a number of sub groups:  warophiles, history geeks, model airplane builders...but the sub group that means most to me are the "family."

"I came across your blog when I was looking up my dad's old..."

"Though my uncle was killed, I have always wanted to know how he..."

And "family" doesn't necessarily mean blood-relative.  It can mean anyone who's had a profound impact.

"My favorite teacher was there during the war and he challenged me to think about..."

Hmmm.  About this idea of family, I've learned that the word means different things to people.   A few years ago, I was a guest of a Vietnam War fighter squadron and sat at a table with one of the pilots and his wife.  We four had ended up arriving late and were seated half-the-restaurant away from the rest of the squadron.  I thought it was a bummer because the pilot wasn't with his buddies and I wasn't going to be able to watch the dynamics of the group.

Though the pilot received his share of across-the-room hollers and jeers, my wife and I were able to have a comparatively personal conversation.   As it was my first real "Vietnam Project" (my words), it was a pretty-great opportunity to learn about the squadron and the couple's perspective on the times.

However, I'll never forget a particular moment—looking over at the rowdy group of paunch-bellied old men and their brides, the pilot pointed with his fork and said something profound—"Those are the guys I went to war with.  They are my brothers."

And then, I remembered what the Squadron Commander had said to me on the phone a few weeks prior about the same group—"They are (my wife and my) other sons."

Hmmm.

Have a look at the pencil sketch above.  It's an F-4E Phantom flown by "The Rocketeers" of the 336th TFS, circa August of 1972.  Vietnam War buffs will immediately recognize this airplane as Linebacker bird, participating in the period of time between May and October where American air power was launched against North Vietnam's infrastructure: bridges, railways, power stations, fuel storage depots...and of course, the blizzard of anti-aircraft sites that surrounded such targets.

On one hand, it's a tool of war.  On the other, it's the story of an ex-POW, a MiG killer, ground crew...and a particular man who's name still evokes a cheer.

But in the end, this is a story of a bunch of brothers who went off to war.

Please stay tuned.

The Rocketeers circa April, 1972.
Courtesy:  Fred Sheffler
*Sometimes a camera crew, too.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Profile 116: "168" - F-105D as flown by Gene Smith, 333 TFS



Almost done!   A few more details, some cleanup...so why not just wait until it's finished?

Well, Independence Day is just a few days away and when I think about "all-things-Patriotic," I've come to think of a group of Americans that ironically suffered a dramatic loss of independence during the Vietnam War—the POWs.

Now, I know the BBQ and firecrackers are calling our names but...

Have one more look at the F-105D above.  It's the airplane Gene Smith was flying when shot down over Hanoi on October 25, 1967, beginning nearly six years as a POW.   There are a blizzard of tiny details that need to be either fixed or added but I can tell you this—it's going to be a really terrific looking Thud.

When finished—and I figure that'll be in a month or so—I will post the final art and the last of my interview with Gene.  Hopefully I'll do his story justice as the practical value of what this group can teach the rest of us is not only real but timely.

However, can you spare another nine minutes before you hit the hotdogs?

The video below contains audio that I recorded while talking with Gene.  Originally, I had no intention of using it for anything other than my own reference so I apologize for the poor quality (it's a crappy iPhone recording).  But a few conversations with other readers this past week have lead me to believe that this would be valued regardless.

Again, I'm sorry for the crummy quality but I bet it'll help you appreciate your Fourth of July in a new way.

Roll data...

Profile 120: "Stuff Dad Used to Do." F-86D Sabre as flown by "Pete" Aspinwall, 83rd FIS




This is a shorter-than-normal post as the personal story behind the airplane belongs to a family that isn't in-it for the notoriety.

Nevertheless, have a look at the F-86D Sabre above.

Historically, the D-model of the Sabre is a quirk of Cold War thinking. The jet served its days guarding America against the expected Russian aerial invasion that, of course, never happened. And when I write "Days", I am referring to the time-scale of all-things-airplane.


First accepted by the USAF in 1951, the F-86D was mustered out of service by 1956 and disappeared from Air National Guard units by 1961. Compare that to the almost FORTY YEARS of service the F-16 has provided!  In the scope of things, the Dog—nicknamed not because of doggish performance but because it distinguished the D model from the rest of the Sabre lineup—was just a blip on the aerial calendar.

However, it’s here and that means it’s worth attention.

To start, look closely at the nose. See if you can imagine part of the under-fuselage suddenly lowering to reveal a brace of twenty four 2.75" diameter Mighty Mouse rockets nestled in their launch tubes. The idea was that the pilot would fire said rockets as kind of an aerial icepick based on pilot acumen and a carefully coordinated ground-control-radar plot.  Nowadays, with internally-guided missiles, the idea is awfully clumsy. But then? It was the best solution to counter the desperate image of red-starred invaders crossing the West Coast.



The Might-Mice roar!  I can't imagine how well this weapon would have worked in aerial combat
but if we don't try stuff out, we'll never learn.
Source:  USAF
Another point of note—mash your nose against your screen and look at all those stencils! You can’t read any of them on my artwork but realize that they reflect the growing complexity of 1950s tech.    

To get your head around what that compared against the venerable WWII P-51 Mustang, though each airplane occupied similar space (size-wise) a fully loaded Dog was nearly 20,000lbs while the Pony was half that.   So where did all of that 'weight' get stuffed?  Basically into every nook and cranny and therein lies the reason for all the stenciled warnings and notices.  


Every red dot is a stencil.  But, this picture shows off the 83rd FIS color scheme nicely, including the
white tail.  Modelers take note:  The "stenciled" font for the aircraft number is not the more rounded
font of the Dogs that came straight from the factory.
Source:  The Sabre Pilots Association
Ok.  Pull your face off the screen and note the color scheme. Though this Dog is appears to be wholly clad in aluminum, the tail is actually painted white.  I've tried to make it dingy as a result of the typical level of soot and grime that belched from those early jets but the fact remains, tonally, the tail and body are very similar. 

Now, note the blue chin—not quite sure why they did it but it looks cool.  Many thanks to the Sabre Pilots Association for making me realize it wasn’t black but blue—it’s good to talk to people who were actually there and not try to rely on black and white photos!


Yes!  It's 950!  I'm jealous of anyone who ever got to see this sight as part of their job.
Source:  The brain-trust of The Sabre Pilots Association

Yet, the most poignant point of this post is the title, "Stuff Dad Used to Do."

Soon, this print will go up onto a wall at a prestigious military museum as a modest memorial to the men who did their duty in those nervous days of Duck and Cover. The artwork was commissioned by the pilot's son who, now as a single-father, realizes the burden that parents have in making sure the future is, as well as can be expected, protected.


And so, the title.  Granted, it's a personal thing that makes most sense to the sons and daughters of military pilots.

But, I think it applies to anyone who stands on the shoulders of today, looks down and realizes the ladder of life is not made of metal and stencils...but flesh and bone.

Profile 121: F-8E Crusader as flown by Steve Russ, VF-53



F8 Crusader time!  Man, I've wanted to draw one of these sharks since I was 9 years old and struggling to glue the wings on.  

Hold that thought.

For some reason, people enjoy asking questions about what I do here.

Here's a sample:  "Are you really into Military?"

Sure!  But, I'm not a wanna-be for that matter.  The simple fact is that military moments are the crux of human history.  Remove them and we're left with a perforated storyline that simply doesn't add up to much.  But when taken in-whole, the picture of the human condition becomes much, much clearer.


So, to me, "Military" is fascinating.



Gawd, I love me my electronics but building plastic models is an awesome way to learn
History, Skill, Craftsmanship, Patience, Pride...
And I think this is the one that I attempted to build as a kid.
Source: Old Model Kits
Though I wholly agree with the Give Peace a Chance ideal, it's also the equivalent of listening to kindergarteners talk about what they'd do with a hundred dollars—"I'd buy all the candy in the world!"  We jaded adults know the truth—"Kid, you wouldn't get much and afterwards you'd puke your guts out."

In other words, right now, a world without war is simply unrealistic and until the moment when such is eliminated, our goal should be to do it better.   For me, writing about the human-side in addition to the war-side is is my contribution to this endeavor; it's awfully hard to make an enemy out of people we know'n like.  And, when confronted with those people who are inherently unlikeable (i.e. Nazis, ISIS, Khmer Rouge...) it's all the more enjoyable when they get blown up.



Steve Russ, in a condition he describes as, "Younger Me."
Source:  Steve Russ


Therefore, I interview old guys and draw their airplanes and hope for the best. 

Ok, back to the airplane.


Have another look at the Crusader above.  This particular example is one attached to the USS Bon Homme Richard (pronounced Bon Ahhm Rish-ard) circa 1968.  Her some-time pilot was, in his own words, only remarkable in that he was the youngest pilot on the ship.  


Over the next posts, I'll try to describe what it was like to fly this incredible aircraft known as "The Last of the Gunfighters."   As a war story, I'll share the pilot's perspective on using the machine as a tactical bomber (kind of like putting a luggage rack on the back of a 911 Turbo).   And you'll see some mighty-awesome fresh photographs of a day-in-the-life as well.


But as a human story, well, as my kids say, "It's complicated."


And that means this is a very human story. 


"Launch aircraft!"


Wait.

No.  Don't launch...at least not quite yet.


You might think this is Steve readying to catapult off the carrier but in fact he's signaling that the F-8 was
No-Go and not mission-ready.
Source:  Michael Mihalevich, Photographer's Mate, 2nd Class and working for the U.S. Navy

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Flew West - Robert "Punchy" Powell 11/21/1920 - 6/22/2016


The package arrived in a fashion that I'd soon learn marked the sender's breed—an oft-resused envelope, repeatedly patched with clear tape.  It looked like hell. But it really didn't matter because I greedily tore the thing open to get at the juicy contents—a promised set of pictures from WWII.

I remember the day distinctly— it was a late-summer afternoon in 2001, typically upper-Plains; balmy, dry, a stiff breeze...but a timbre in the air bears a warning of the fierce cold to come.  It's as if the atmosphere is nudging, "Enjoy it now."

So I did.  Right there in the driveway, thumbing through the stack of ancient images bearing the patina of six decades.  A colleague happened to be at my house and we looked at them together.

They were images of life at a place called "Bodney, England," home of the 352nd Fighter Group during WWII.  Most of them were candid shots of pilots and crew clowning around, smoking cigarettes—glimpses of a past well-known to History geeks lucky enough to get their hands on "great-grampa's shoebox" of memories.  

This wasn't my great-grandfather's box, however.  The photos belonged to a man I'd just met over the phone, a referral from a WWII fighter pilot who knew another WWII fighter pilot that knew another...at the time it didn't matter.  I was neck-deep in the cool-factor that I was actually becoming an amateur historian (!)

I zipped through the photos, looking for extremes—maybe a wrecked airplane or cockpit shot of a victorious pilot...my associate, however, didn't move as fast and collected my cast-offs in one hand while giving the others a bit more time.  He paused over a particular picture and stated, "Uh...did you notice these ones?"  He removed four or five images from the stack in his palm and handed them back to me. 

Indeed, these pictures were different.  The paper was thicker and brittle, showing tiny cracks in the shellac-like film finish.  The photo's edge was trimmed in the old-style fashion of tiny jags and the photo quality was especially grainy, looking as if it had been developed in a cellar.  Then, I remembered that the sender, fighter pilot Robert "Punchy" Powell, had told me to keep my eye out for a set of particular images as they were special to him.  They featured Jaime Laing, a WWII POW who was part of Punchy's squadron.

Behind each of these photos were yellow sticky notes scribed with impeccable cursive handwriting.

"Geez!  You gotta read this!  These are pictures of a guy with the French Underground!"  He flicked the yellow notes with his finger and gently rubbed the photo between his finger and thumb.  "This is original stuff!  Holy Sh*t!  And he just mailed them to you?!"

"Yeah...?"

"He's crazy!  This needs to be in a museum!"

This is Jamie Laing.  The other two guys are French Maquis.

Indeed.  The photos were of Lt. Laing shortly after he'd been shot down over France in April of 1944.  The images showed Jamie, dressed (as well as possible) to look like a native Frenchman in order for the Resistance to easier sneak him out from under the noses of eager, angry Germans.  That the French Resistance would perform such services to Allied fliers was not uncommon.  That the French Resistance would allow their faces to be photographed was extremely uncommon.  However, these weren't typical Resistance fighters; they were the Maquis—guerrillas so bad-assed, they resigned to death regardless if the Krauts knew their faces or not. 

I'd remembered my conversation days prior with Punchy— "Ah'was flyin' the day Jamie was shot down.  Sad, sad day for us.   But, ah'got photos of him with the French Resistance.  Ah'want yuh'to see them as they were secreted out'a France.  It's important you know about this."

I then knew that my associate had an important point—the old man had sent something extremely valuable.  Suddenly the photos I casually clenched became delicately precious and I was instantly aware of the thread that had connected me to a secret French hedgerow so many years prior. 

My drawing of Punchy's P-51B.  Though I've improved a lot since these first pieces, it remains so steeped in meaning, I keep it displayed in my studio and is mostly likely the first one I show visitors.

Did they belong in a museum?  Probably.  But would these pictures have made the same impact viewed through a glass case or jealously guarded by a tweed-coated PhD?  I can't say.  But I do know that later that night, I called Punchy to admonish him for not sending copies or scans.  How could he trust me, an unknown person known only by postal address?!  

"You need to see them.  And ah'm not worried about their care.  Ah'trust you."

Ok—fast forward to today.  And this is were things get hard for me right now...

The man who sent me these photos died this morning.  I expected it as did so many others but it still feels like a whack to the chest with a baseball bat.  I let my dad know just a few minutes ago and he, who'd met Punchy just once, knew enough to state, "He was a great man."

Punchy Powell lived to keep the memories of his generation alive and vital.   He loved the idea of moving knowledge forward, of passing wisdom onto others for their benefit.  And he was tireless, too.  In the years that I knew him, he collected and connected people by the thousands (around the world) with an uncanny charm that made anyone with him feel like they were his sole chosen heir.  Do yourself a favor and Google "Punchy Powell."   The man was extraordinary.

It takes an extraordinary person to trust a rank-nobody with priceless things.  Punchy invited fresh acquaintences into his home to see WWII memorabilia, signed countless autographs for kids (and adults), appeared on this-that TV show...handing out the experience of his generation like candy and never asking for a nickel in return.

Today, I am one of so many people who are looking towards West Virginia, feeling the gentle push of breeze at my back as the world adjusts to fill the vacuum Punchy Powell leaves behind...

Those left behind will fill that vacuum as Punchy will never be forgotten.

He trusts us.

Blue Skies, Punchy Powell.  
Punchy and his wife Betty on Normandy Beach, April 2003.  I took this photo shortly after he described flying over the D-Day beaches on 6 June, 1944.  If you've never had the chance to talk to someone who has seen History happen, do your soul the favor and make it happen.


Note:  Punchy flew 87 combat missions and is credited with 6 aircraft destroyed (4.5 on the ground, 1.5 in the air).  Though he'd be the first to tell you that he was a "nobody" in the 352nd FG, post-war, he became the face and voice of anyone who'd ever served with the famous "Blue Nosed Bastards of Bodney."   Though my artwork of his P-51B was almost seven years old at the time, his post was among the first that went online with the inauguration of this Blog.  Click here

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Profile 118: FINISHED—"Yessir" as flown by Joe McPhail, VMF-214


The advice of an old boss has paid-off a thousand times—"Listen to people and listen hard.  Whether they're lying or telling the truth, they're telling you everything you need to know about them."

It takes practice.  It also takes a lot of energy.  Don't get me wrong—I'm not analyzing the pleasantries of the grocery store clerk as a character study!  However, when I think of the pressures required to make a diamond I wonder, what if the forces of life have the same effect on words?

Ok - hold that thought. The Corsair above would like a bit of your attention.

Firstly, have a look at the red bars on the fuselage insignia. That means the airplane is depicted post-1947.  That’s the year the bars were included to ensure standardized aircraft markings for all branches of the military services.  In this case, you're looking at a Korean War-era F4U-4B Corsair, circa 1951.

Next, have a look at the subtle, pout-like lip on the lower engine cowl.  That indicates that this Corsair is a dash-4 and arguably, the greatest piston-engined combat aircraft to ever see mass production.  We can debate this assertion later.  In the meantime, the dash-4 climbed quicker, flew faster and was stronger than the F-51.  So there.

Now, look at the “WE” on the tail.  It might look like a statement of teamwork but it's practically the squadron identifier for Marine fighter squadron VMF-214.  “214” has a terrific legacy attached to it; in WWII it was also known as The Black Sheep Squadron. Lead by the iconoclastic Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, the unit racked up a record that warranted its own TV show in the 1970s.  The authentic history is pretty interesting while the TV show is spectacularly dumb.  I recommend looking into both.


Ok, draw your attention to the rockets slung beneath the wings. See the one poking out? That's no mistake.  This dash-4 is also a “b-model subvariant" and that means that instead of the more-common gun armament of six .50 caliber machine guns (3 per wing), it was equipped with four 20mm cannon (2 per wing). Since cannon take up more room than machine guns, the second-inboard rocket mount had to be moved forward and attached to the inboard cannon barrel. 


#7 prepares to take off from the USS Sicily, circa Fall, 1950.  Note the guns/missile arrangement.
Source:  US Navy archive

But to me, the standout aspect of this airplane is the title. 

"Mornin' Joe. Got some time for a few more questions?”

“Yessir.”

"Joe, can you walk me through a typical mission in Korea?”

“Yessir…”

"Hey Joe, would you mind doing me a favor and see if you've got your…"

“Yessir.”

"Joe, is this Yessir stuff just a Texas thing?”

“Yes…huh?!”

Thankfully, the man’s got a great sense of humor as well as pride in his state.  Fortunately, he knew what I was getting at, too.

"John, when I first got to Samoa (in WWII), I was getting paid $220 month to fly fighters. And you know I would have gladly paid that to fly those airplanes! I just loved to fly. And I said so much to one of the old hands. But you know what he said to me?”

“Uh, Nosir.…”

Ok, Hold THAT  thought for a moment.

Have another look at Joe’s Corsair.   It’s the one he used to fly off the USS Sicily on 7 January, 1951 during the Korean War.   Though the conflict had been going on for barely 6 months (cease-fire wouldn’t come for two and a half more years), a lot had happened.  Pro-Communist and Pro-Democracy forces pushed-pulled with such velocity, the entire country changed hands twice during the period.  The war was also the searing flash of what would later become, “The Cold War.”


A VMF-214 F4U-4 takes off from Pusan (K-1) circa Spring, 1951.  Is that Joe?  Dunno.
Source:  No idea.  Wish I knew as it's a pretty awesome photo.

It was Joe’s first and only combat-carrier launch, too.  The rest of his 102 missions were from inland bases, first from Sasebo, Japan, then from “K-1” on the Korean mainland at Pusan. The work wasn’t glamorous, especially for a fighter pilot.  Instead of aerial elan or dramatic dogfights, the Corsairs of VMF-214 were tasked with tactical support missions that were soberingly routine.

“Ground pounding” is hard work and psychologically challenging.  It’s one thing to master the physics of flight and another to accept the capricious fate of flying against an enemy that fires back, often from sites unseen.  I imagine how I would have done in similar situations—some times, I think I’d do well.  But there are other times when I’m not so sure. In those moments, my apprehension exceeds any confidence conjured otherwise.   According to Joe, that’s way most from his era thought as well. 


Joe circa 1951.  It had to be taken between 1 and 7 Jan as after that, Joe flew his Korean War missions from either Sasebo, Japan or Pusan, Korea.  He wrote the text on the bottom for me.


This is a good time to let you in on a strange quirk of my work—when I started interviewing these guys nearly 20 years ago, I had them on a pedestal, believing them to be made of an alien stuff with herculean qualities.  In time, however—meeting ‘the family,’ going over old photo albums, talking about life-at-hand—I began to see that these old guys are indeed ordinary people, just like you, just like me, just like them...with one difference - the people who achieve a measure of greatness (ok, I’ll evoke the H word, Hero) are those who can put self aside and pursue a greater good.

How do I know?  Joe told me so.  Not directly of course.  I had to listen.

So, back to that conversation…

(laughs) 

“I’ll tell you!  He said, 'you just wait until you get a few bullets in your ass. You'll see how much you'd pay for this privilege then!’”

"So, what did you say back?”

"Nothing. But later on I understood what he was talking about. I (then) realized that I had a job I had to do. It could be hard. I could get killed. But when you’ve made the commitment, you’ve got to follow it.”

You can’t just let a statement like that go unexamined!  So, I asked, “Have you followed your commitments in your life?”

“Uh…?”

“Your commitments.  Did you keep them?”

(pause) 

Yessir.”

And thus the title of the print—as subtle of a definition of Hero as I've ever heard.

Joe McPhail today, as seen by photographer Karie Hubnik.  Sweet jiminy this woman "gets" a camera! Her website (and musings) will not disappoint.  Click here


PS - Joe McPhail flew 140 combat missions in WWII as part of the storied squadron, VMF-323 “The Death Rattlers.”  He was credited with two confirmed victories over Japanese fighters.  During the Korean War, Joe flew 102 missions and was awarded his second DFC.  After his service, Joe logged 17,000 hours as a corporate pilot, shuttling executives all over the world.  

PSS - If you're interested in owning "Yessir" signed by Joe, click here.

Joe signs prints of my artwork.
This is too cool...

Profile 120: "12" as flown by Bernice "Bee" Haydu, WASP

A few years ago, my daughter crossed swords with a WWII fighter pilot, Don Bryan.  She was just a little squirt back then but Don picked up on what my wife and I knew since day one—she’s fierce.  Suffice it to state, the double-ace and my kid became buddies.

Up until the moment Don died, he encouraged us—“(Your daughter) is living in a day where she can do anything she wants!  Your job is to help her do that!”


Don Bryan circa 1944.  He was a double-ace with the 352nd FG, ETO
Source:  U.S. Army Air Force photo
It meant something to him that our kid could become, again, “…anything she wants.”  But to my wife and I?  We never questioned it; for me, growing up with three FIERCE sisters, the idea that women were somehow “weaker” was totally alien.  In fact, I came to fear my sisters the way some people fear sharks and grizzly bears.  However, Don came from a time and place where women weren’t given the same opportunity as today.  It meant a lot to him to remind me that my daughter should not, could not be held back.  From anything.

Fast-forward a few more years and a patron asked me, “Have you ever drawn a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot) airplane?”  I said no.  “You should.  Their story is really meaningful.  They overcame a lot of obstacles; when you do one, the first print is mine, ok?”

He explained that overcoming life’s obstacles is a common theme of his work and he thought a WASP print might inspire his patients. I should mention, this person is a male psychiatrist who leads the department of an extremely prestigious medical system.


The WASP Congressional Gold Medal awarded in 2009.  Notice on the left; the pilots are shown "stepping over the line"
in a symbolic gesture.   Design?  I'd love to source the designer—it's awesome (and it shows the "difficult to fly" B-26 Marauder, too!)

Fast-forward five more years…and have a look above.  It’s a Boeing PT-17 Stearman (also known as a Kaydet) biplane as flown by WASP pilot Bernice “Bee” Haydu.  How do I know?  The actual airplane still exists*—Bee flew it in the summer of 1944 while in the 7 month WASP training program.

Much has been written about these pioneering women.  But Bee gives a terrific briefing.

"The WASP were paid by Civil Service with the promise that if this experimental group proved successful, we would be taken into the Army Air Corps. It was successful but when the bill came before Congress, it was defeated due to the fact that male cadets wanted their jobs rather than going into the Infantry. It wasn’t until 1977 that we were belatedly recognized as veterans of WWII. After graduation we were assigned either to the Ferry Command or the Training Command.  (We) were not allowed over seas.  The Ferry Command is self explanatory, (but in) the Training Command, whatever base to which you were assigned, the aircraft at that base is what you flew."



"We served at about 150 airbases all over the country and held (many) different jobs from towing targets for the anti-aircraft to practice shooting with live bullets, night flying for the beacons to practice shooting, flying gunners so they could practice from a moving aircraft, engineering test flying, utility pilots, testing prototype jets. and on and on.  We flew every aircraft manufactured for the war from the smallest to the largest, including the B29."

Approximately 25,000 women applied to be WASPs but only 1,800 or so were accepted into the program with 1,074 actually earning their wings.  Do the math—we’re talking a 2% acceptance rate…and it wasn’t for lack of skill. You have to remember that, back-then, the world was different. “Women” didn’t have the career options and open-minded future that most of us enjoy today. The WASPs were simply a formalized realization of the fact that pilots were needed, regardless of gender.
Anyway, a while ago, “The Airplane Geeks” had a woman named Sarah Rickman on their podcast. She is the editor of the WASP News (published by Texas Woman’s University) and is also the group’s Oral Historian. Remembering the words of my doc buddy, I figured I could not only make a sale but finally get to meet one of these legendary women.


Ok. If you’re at all a reader here, it should be apparent that I’m not keen on asking common questions. I like to poke and pry in an effort to figure out what the person is really like. But before I get to that, you need to know a few facts about Bee Haydu. For one, she’s 95 but you’d never know it. And that isn’t me trying to assign some sort of cute charm to a little old lady. Bright, energetic and assertive, Bee explained her life with an easy humor that made me feel like we were sharing a beer at a bar.


Bee with her flight instructor, Charles Grieder, circa 1943.  I thought this was a cool picture because she was
raising the flag.
Source:  Bee Haydu
“It was 1938, I’d just graduated from High School and was feeling sorry for myself for not going to college.  So I looked at night courses and found one on aviation!  That was the start. After the course I started taking flying lessons.  We read in the newspaper that Mrs. Sheehy would be in Newark, N.J. recruiting for the WASP.  Myself and five others were interviewed and allowed to join the class of 44-7."

I could imagine Bee trudging out to #12, wrapped in parachute straps, leather jackets, helmet and goggles, ready to make sure the silver airplane was ready for the next crop of male pilots…the image was at once appealing as well as sad; they really broke fresh ground for aviation but it was too bad that they would eventually have their wings clipped that December 20, 1944. 


Pretty cool picture of Bee circa 1944.
Source:  Bee Haydu
“So what did you do afterwards?” I asked.  

“I loved flying so I tried to get any flying job I could.  I did some freelance instructing and started a business ferrying civilian airplanes.  That lead to me getting my own Cessna dealership.”

“You had your own dealership??”

“Yes!  And I joined 8 other veterans and we started a flight school - Ruscoe Flying Service."

“Where did you get this entrepreneurial spirit?  That had to be rare for a…”

Bee explained that though she understood women were discriminated against she wasn’t affected by it, at least not enough to dull her ambition and sense of positivity.

“Back then, I did experienced some (prejudice) but more because of my faith*.  But you know, there were six women in my Bay (WASP dorm room).  All six of us came from different religions and you know, we would discuss them.  But we never got angry or belittled each other.  Instead, we had respect.  I learned that (respecting others who were different) it could be done.”

It seemed like the right time to ask what never fails to provoke an interesting response, “So how are things different than when you were growing up?”

“Probably parenting.  I see a lot of parents doing for their kids what they should be doing for themselves.  My mom raised us to do things on our own.  She gave us the gist of something but then we had to do it ourselves.  We also learned it elsewhere.  I sold Girl Scout cookies.”

“My daughter did that, too.”  I felt a wave of pride in the knowledge that my wife and I weren’t part of the modern malady of helicopter-parenting and I was looking forward to Bee’s approval.

She waited a moment and then stated matter-of-factly, “We baked our own.”

(insert disbelief—home backed Girl Scout Cookies would never fly today)


Bee (middle) on the game show, "To Tell the Truth," Nov. 9, 1977.
Source:  Bee Haydu
“Where else do you see differences?”

“Well…”  Bee paused and asked, “Do you ever get those emails where people say that you should do something?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I see it in the ones I get.  You know, they say ‘send this on’ or ‘you need to read this’ or ‘this should make you upset or something like that?”

“Yeah.  I know the kind.  I get them too.”

“Ok, good!  (Those emails) all want (the reader) to do something.  People seem to talk a lot about doing something.  But you know what?  Most people don’t do anything.  They’re telling someone ELSE to do it.  That’s not how anything gets accomplished.  Someone has to actually get out there and actually DO.”


Bee with President Obama at the signing of the proclamation for the WASPs to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.  Bee's on the far left and she's surrounded by other WASPs and current USAF pilots.
Source: USAF Public Affairs
break break

So, my daughter came home from school and in the little bit of pleasantries we exchange before she holes herself up into her room to stare at her phone, I mentioned that I was working on Bee’s airplane.

“Cool.  She sounds like someone I should know.”

“Why’s that?”—I baited her as I had a good idea of what she’d say but sometimes it’s good to get proof.  She didn’t disappoint.

“She gets stuff done and I like the inspiration.  You know this, dad…” she rolled her eyes in exasperation, readjusted her heavy book bag and disappeared down the hall.   And wouldn’t you know it, the little squirt contacted her.  And Bee replied...gawd only knows what will come of it; it's really up to our daughter to make something great out of Inspiration.  But, the past tends to repeat itself and I'm sure that somehow, someway, Bee's story will push her higher.

Nothing gets done if you don’t “Do.”

Our kid.  She's a bit older now, same determined face...and loves her heroes.
Source:  My wife and I.  
PS – Bee married Joe Haydu in 1951 who had been a Stearman Instructor in WWII.  The two owned three different Stearmans along with about 9 different other aircraft.  Bee was careful to point out that her husband, "...was a great pilot and we both continued flying until our late 70’s."

PSS - Bee wrote an interesting book on her life and the WASPs.  Click here

OH.  And if you'd like to buy a print of my artwork, signed by Bee herself, click here.

*MASSIVE thanks to Mike Porter, owner of the very Stearman that Bee flew.  It's now restored to stunning glory...but when I was looking for a shot from the specific time period, all we had was the picture below. 


Bee's Stearman circa 1944 and today (Mike won Best Stearman at Oshkosh, too).
Source:  USAAF and Mike Porter