Friday, September 11, 2009

Profile 36: PREVIEW "YO-YO" as flown by Sen. George McGovern

10/6 Update: Almost done...

As a lark, I sketched this little aerial combat scene - no clouds, but a single German Bf.109 G-6/R6 arcing in on a desperate attempt to stop the inevitable...

I prefer interviewing fighter pilot & crew, hence the very name of this blog. But sometimes, opportunities pose themselves that simply make personal preference seem silly.

Buddies Greg and Jim have cleared the way for me to spend time with Senator George McGovern. He's a riot! So far, we've talked mostly "History," but I'm here to draw his airplane. Well, actually, an airplane that he flew. YO-YO was technically assigned to a different crew, but crew often shared airplanes. George's logbook shows he was Pilot-in-Command of YO-YO in combat. Also, YO-YO was well photographed, providing me with excellent documentation. So, we go with what we know.

George was a B-24 pilot and flew with the 741st Bomber Squadron of the 455th Bomber Group out of Italy in WW2. When I finish this piece, I'll post what I hope to be a suitably interesting story here. Until then, the following anecdote will have to suffice.

Fighters, of course, are the Glamorous Ones of the air war. Man, machine, duels to the death, that sort of thing. Bombers, on the other hand, were the lumbering trucks in a freezing skyway, hauling loads of explosive iron, their crews captive to the will of whatever fates rolled that day.

Most people are acquainted with the movie stereotype of the bomber pilot clenching his teeth, yelling to "Stay off the radio!" and to "Stay in formation!" while the airplane bounces from the heat blast of flak and the amputations caused by slashing enemy fighters.

If you're like me, you've thought, "Those guys were either jar-headed or immensely brave.

The fact was, the bomber crews of WW2 were beyond brave. They were highly trained, experts who's act of service were, in no uncertain terms, heroic. If you ever get to one of the American Cemeteries scattered around the world - the ones with the rows and rows of perfect-white crosses - notice the casualty lists. Over 25% of the Army casualties in WW2 were Air Force. Of that number, the majority were bomber crew.

Bomber pilots from other nations didn't fare any better - I shudder to think of what the casualty rate of Japanese bomber pilots must have been. I'd guess 70%. (Note to self: remember to ask Barrett Tillman).

I can understand the life of a fighter pilot - commanding ones own fate. But the bombers, on their droning straight-line path, plodding through a wickedly random, lethal gauntlet, seem, well, cruel. Wasteful. Foolish.

Well, more on that later.

In the meantime, I'm learning all-things-B-24J. This will be an interesting task because the Liberator (the B-24's nickname) I get to draw is mostly natural aluminum. I've not come even CLOSE to achieving what I think is an acceptable aluminum finish. Maybe I'll make progress here? The other difficulty behind the B-24 is that it was essentially a flying box; the sides were huge slabs of metal and rivets, absorbing the regular irregular patterns of warps, stress and dimples of combat flight.

Wish me luck.