Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Profile 44 - Another update to Thune's Hellcat



Another update!  Perhaps this will hold some interest while waiting for help with the markings from the USS Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum.  Once I get those, there's probably another 2, 3 hours before it's finished and I can send it off to the printer.  Can you tell the difference between this one and the one in the prior post?

However, this Hellcat promises to be one of my best yet.   And still, time will reveal that there are parts to Harold's airplane that are plane wrong. Pun intended.  But for now, I'm pleased and am hoping to be close to Malcomb Gladwell's "10,000 hour" mark. (Read Outliers).

The picture below is Hamilton McWhorter, a Navy ace of 12 aerial victories.  He's holding a hastily printed copy of my version of the Hellcat he flew from the USS Randolph in 1945.  I did it in 2002 and frankly, the practice since then has improved my skill.  To that point, last month, a Florida collector purchased the formal print and I spent a half hour making little touchups with a soft lead pencil!  The collector was pleased but I sure wish I could do Mac's plane over.

Practice may make perfect, but the time in between is corrupt.  Mac died two years ago.

There are some very cool things about this avocation and some very cruel as well.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Profile 44 - UPDATED! F6F-5 Hellcat as flown by Harold Thune


Wow!  From pencil studies to nearly finished in five days - that's a record for me.

This 'Cat is going back into the hanger until I get info on markings - hopefully in the next week or so.  Then, I'll put them in, quite like the real process when a factory-fresh Hellcat obtained her squadron marks.

Something to think about in the meantime - Harold is about 88 years old now.  In the span of his life, he's experienced economic calamity and boom, world war, travel to outer space...and four BILLION people added to earth's current occupancy.

I don't want to wax philosophical here - I do it badly anyway.  But, in 1920, the earth's estimated population was 2 billion.  Today, it's over 6 billion.  What that means to us, at least to me, is this - soon  the cumulative wisdom and energy of Harold's Generation will likely be absorbed into humanity and dissipated.  Like steam.  And it seems so...much like a waste.

Today, Harold's son - a United States Senator - is tasked with representing his state in all issues of American policy, including the profoundly far-reaching issue of Social Security for the elderly.

Politically, my views are unimportant.  But I do believe in activism and I encourage my generation to become active in the Social Security issue by doing one thing - connect with them .  Invite, engage, consult, but know that relationships with people who've already trodden our Roads Less Traveled is vital to the social fabric.

On one hand, the above airplane is just a drawing.  But on the other, it's an excuse to ask deeper questions, interpret the past and cast a clearer vision of the future.

[laughs] I'll get off the soapbox. However, it's a good time to think about this stuff, especially if Grandma/Grandpa are going to be a part of your Holiday experience. With some good luck, the next post will be Thune's finished airplane, excerpts from my interview and a few cool artifacts, too.  I hope to make it worth your time. :)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Profile 44 - F6F-5 as flown by Lt. Harold Thune


I decided to do Harold's -5 Hellcat, though still waiting for info on the markings.

The cowl is grafted onto my pencil sketch for two reasons - one, I think it looks cool to see the pencil sketch come to life this way.   Two, it shows how spot-on accurate my sketch was.  Yahoo - the blind squirrel found a nut! (laughs).

The dark blue is a wicked color, however.  In real life, it was almost black.  When working with such, there's an ever-present temptation to add excessive "weathering" details like chipped paint because of the difficulty in showing contour and texture.

I'll refrain, however, for the simple reason that Navy planes typically didn't experience the visual wear & tear more common to ground-bound Marine and Army Air Force aircraft.  I think artists and modelers tend to get a little too romantic with the hard-wear, but that's another topic. Thune's Hellcat will show a wee bit of sun-bleaching, maybe a chip or two, but for the most part, it'll represent the typical look of a hard working Navy fighter.

However, the Pratt&Whitney R2800 engine did throw a bit of greasy exhaust and my next challenge will be managing the engine's 2000hp belches of smoke and oil.

Stay tuned. :)


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Profile 44 - Grumman F6F-? as flown by Lt. Harold Thune


While waiting on some information on exactly which of Harold Thune's F6F to do, I decided to do the quick pencil study above to get into the Hellcat vibe.   This one is a "-5" model - my notes are to contrast it with the -3 variant.

Anyway, the sketch above took me, maybe, at most...three minutes.  Just look - nothing to it!  No complex curves, just straight lines and the flat face of a warehouse boxer.  But, it also occurred to me that the features that made the Hellcat easy to sketch hinted at why the airplane was a brilliant business decision for Grumman and the U.S. Navy back in 1942.

If you're an airplane geek, the Hellcat legend is fairly well known.  It had the highest victory:loss ratio of any Naval fighter plane - 19:1.  According to pilots, the F6F was gentle to fly, well armored, powerfully armed and almost as nimble as its main adversary, the lithe Mitsubishi A6M "Zero." I sat in one and was impressed with the roominess of the cockpit and good visibility in spite of the high-back fuselage.

Back to those easy-to-draw points - in mass production, straight lines mean easier assembly, less complicated jig systems and rapidity of construction.  To that point, I read that of the 12,000+ Hellcats built, 11,000 were built in the last two years of production.  Grumman must have been pumping Hellcats out like water.   By the time the assembly line shut down, the Hellcat was just under $40,000 a piece, making it the cheapest of the major American fighters in WW2.

Today, Hellcats are scarce with only a handful or so flying.  The last I heard, one of those are worth about $2-3 million dollars.

The next post should show progress on Thune's specific airplane.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Profile 44 - Harold Thune's F6F


Last month, I announced to my wife, "No more airplanes for a long while." Funny how things work because the ears of Fate must have remembered a comment I made to Steve Heffernan, a historian at the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola, FL.

Steve's a native South Dakotan and rightfully proud of his home-state's representation in Washington D.C., Senator John Thune.  He and I were standing in the Naval Air Museum's expansive, Indiana-Jones like warehouse when he pointed to a city-block long rack of cardboard boxes filled with WW2 flight records and announced, "Have you done Thune's dad's Hellcat? His flight records are up there somewhere..."

I replied, "No.  Should I?"  Steve gave me a "Duh!" look and commanded, "Yes, you should!"  Unfortunately, in the blur of the moment (I WAS in one of the Nirvana's of aviation archeology, so things were rather distracting), I forgot my promise shortly afterwards.

11 months later, a newspaper called to get some insight into the 69th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor (why they asked ME, I have no freaking idea) and the reporter asked, "Have you met Senator John Thune's dad, Harold?"

Blink!  I remembered my promise and admitted such to the reporter who promptly got me in touch with Thune's office.  One week later, I'm meeting with the Senator's aides, discussing how to get the elder's records to accurately reproduce Harold's Cat.

And so, I've begun the project of capturing the F6F flown by Lt. Harold Thune of VF-18 (Intrepid). The scan above is my pencil sketch study I made this weekend while snowbound during a camping trip. The Senator's office and I are researching the airplane that Harold flew during a fateful mission in Fall of 1944 where Harold downed 4 Japanese airplanes.

Watch this space - it promises to be a cool story, with lots of interesting details that you wouldn't normally get to see.

I guess I spoke too soon about "laying off the airplanes."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Profile 43 - "315" as flown by Lt. David Carey



Though it needs a few more highlights (to knock down the gray), this is a reasonable-enough rendering of Lt. David Carey's A-4E Skyhawk.  The one he was flying when shot down over North Vietnam, August 31, 1967.

Growing up as a little kid, I had these impressions of the Vietnam War - Charles Manson, Hippies sitting in parks, Walter Cronkite, jungles, helicopters and Richard Nixon.  Don't analyze the package - it was just my tiny brain processing the news.

And all the talk.  Vietnam bad, Vietnam good.

And this pin that my mom wore.  It read, "POWs never have a nice day" the words ringing a frowning face.  To me, at age 5, I wondered what that meant.  No Christmas?  Oatmeal all the time?  Did they sleep on rocks?  Were they beat up?

So, fast forwarding to a day when a friend of mine said that he knew a Naval Aviator who'd been shot down and survived as a POW, I wondered what his "never a nice day" experience was like.  Armed with his phone number, I called Dave, told him I drew airplanes and casually promised to draw his some day.  In answer to my question, he sent me his book, "The Ways We Choose."

That was about seven years ago.  Though I don't quite think he was pining for me to finish, Dave did wait too long for me to fulfill a promise.

I won't - I can't - summarize the book here.  It's more than a blow-by-blow recollection of the infamous Hanoi Hilton.  On top of the facts of nearly 6 years of imprisonment, Dave writes about the psychology of change and positive adaptation to negative circumstances.  Today, he counsels businesses and organizations on how to endure and grow despite their arena.

Though I remain, for now, fixated on the era of propellor-driven aircraft, this A-4E was a welcome challenge and an honor to someone who truly turned a "...never nice day" into success for himself and many, many others.

Fantastic!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

So looking forward...

Readers:  work on Dave's A4 will resume shortly!  And believe it or not, the first print is spoken for (crazy to trust in the final outcome at this stage, but that's the passion people have for this airplane for ya).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Profile 43 - "315" as flown by Lt. David Carey


Well, there it is.  The fuselage.  Sort of.

The stencils were added early to help me get a grip around the Skyhawk's subtle curves.  So too were the interior cockpit highlights.

My references - so far - are a "walk around" book on the A-4 series, a drawing done by an unknown artist and a 1/48 scale model.  And each one is frustratingly different.  Frankly, I don't know what panel line to trust.

Oh well - the tail/rudder will come next, along with masking in the wing, elevator and tailpipe assembly.

I'm still 30 days from completion...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Profile 43 - 315 as flown by Lt. David Carey

Update -

Well, so far, I've "Thrown out and started over" 3 times.  I'm barely hanging onto this version.

In case you're curious, see that tail?  It "makes" the A-4's lines.  In the pencil studies, I continually draw it too small and swept-back, like a Grumman F-11 Tiger.   The real-deal's tail is tall and wide, visually 'too-big' for the compact, stunt-plane like lines.

However, when (sometimes it seems like 'if') this one gets finished, I'm sure the point of contention will not be the airplane itself but those stencils painted all over the airplane.

So far, there are at six different ways to write "RESCUE" or "DANGER" or "WARNING" in a 1960's vintage NAVY fighter.  Some have broken letters, some don't.  Some arrows have a notch, some don't.  Some are outlined in solid black, others a broken black line.

I'm hoping Dave has a miracle photo laying around showing exactly what the intake and cockpit stencils looked like.  In the meantime, stay tuned...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Profile 43 - #315 as flown by Lt. David Carey



Up until now, I haven't had the time to really focus on Dave Carey's A-4E.  So, I'm sketching myself back into the groove, getting the feel for the airplane's fantastic lines.  Here's my latest study.  I'm not quite "there" yet.

Anyway, this is the airplane Carey was flying when he was hit by a Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) over North Vietnam, in 1967.  He ejected and began a 5 and a half year life as a Prisoner of War. 

Ironically, I spent part of yesterday with former Senator George McGovern.  Most remember him as a front-stage "anti-war" politico of the era.  Far fewer know him as a combat pilot himself, flying B-24s over Europe in WW2.

It's too bad I couldn't have talked to them both over the same table - they're both students of leadership, of history and are patriots.  Maybe some day.

But in the meantime, I look at Carey's Skyhawk with a different eye, knowing he served his nation with so much controversy back home and endured captivity under a rabid enemy.

Though #315 is a few weeks from being finished, I look forward to learning more about what makes Carey tick and representing his machine as well as I can.  As a student of history, I'm grateful for the front seat.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Profile 43 - A-4E Skyhawk BuNo. 152058 AH 315



Well, the airplane above is a departure.

Believe me, I have plenty of WW2 airplanes "to do."  However, this Vietnam-era A4 Skyhawk is compelling.

Her pilot, Dave Carey, was shot down over North Vietnam on August 31, 1967.

You'll like this story - it's one of adaptation and temperance.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Profile 42 - "02344" as flown by Jimmy Doolittle and Richard Cole


Of all the airplanes I've ever done, the one above is the most...awesome.  Not 'awesome' in the way Sean Penn in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" said it.  Certainly not awesome in that the art is brilliant - it's ok but not awesome.

The B-25B above is awesome because of the act of her crew.

You can do your own search for "Doolittle Raid," but here's the gist - on April 18, 1942, the United States military conducted the first assertive act against the Japanese by bombing that nation's mainland.  16 bombers with 5 crew apiece, took off from the carrier Hornet on a mission that, at its heart, was a public relations stunt to rile Japanese military leaders and give American press something heroic to write about.

On paper, the odds of real strategic success were ridiculous.  16 bombers were laughably puny, especially since the targets were spread out over the country.  Enemy interception by fighters and flak were to be counted upon. Lastly, landing strips in China were primitive and would have to be found in the dark.  And, much of coastal China was occupied by the Japanese.

In reality, the mission was - to use an oft-used word - suicidal

Jimmy Doolittle, the mission's leader, was a famous pilot who'd honed his expertise in the 30's flying racers.   If you know anything about pre-WW2 aviation, you'll understand why he would be called today, "an adrenalin junkie." Plus he was a scientific genius.  Jimmy seemed to enjoy risk like most people enjoy breakfast.

But later, Doolittle published his biography, "I Could Never Be So Lucky Again," a title largely driven by his survival of his -as the movie stated - 30 seconds over Tokyo.

All of the B-25s crashed en-route to their landing zones, save for one that managed to land in Russia.  Miraculously, "only" 5 crewmen died.  Three were executed by the Japanese, one died bailing out and one died in a prison camp.  A remaining three managed to make it to war-end and were liberated in August of 1945.  The rest of the Raiders trickled back to Allied lines, aided at great risk by Chinese peasants, militia and soldiers.

With loss of all of the aircraft (Russia didn't give the B-25 back), ten percent casualties and pin-prick damage to the Japanese, Doolittle believed he lead a failure - with is rather surprising consider any 30's air racer knew the value of Hype because in that regard, the Doolittle Raid was HUGE.

The Japanese military leaders were incensed beyond fury and demonstrated their character through an enraged search for the crewmen, killing possibly more than two hundred thousand* Chinese in the process. On the homefront, the pay-back for Pearl Harbor was invigoratingly sweet, helping to fuel a national unity that expressed itself in a herculean materiel machine.

See why this drab bomber is so Awesome?

And I get to meet her Co-pilot, Richard Cole, in a few weeks.

I will be in awe, no doubt.

UPDATE:  a history-geek's moment of awesomeness—A "selfie" as I drive  Doolittle Raider Dick Cole and 352nd FG ace Alden Rigby around town.  The wonderful woman in between is Dick's daughter, Cindy.  In case you're wondering why I'm sitting cross-wise, it's because I was listening in as the three talked politics.

*Anyone resting in the sophistication and civility of the 21st Century is urged to read up on the Japanese occupation of China during WW2.  Two things should become clear.  One, Japan has made light-year strides as a nation in its effort to distance herself from the insanity of its WW2 leadership.  Two, it's going to take continual effort to ensure that kind of evil won't happen again, anywhere.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Profile 42 - "02344" as flown by Jimmy Doolittle and Richard Cole

Insomnia is my friend.  Not.  Maybe.  I don't know.

Anyway, I made progress last night on Dick Cole's B-25B.  At least this far!  On my next sleepless night, this part will be 'masked off' and work begun on the fuselage.

The trick of this airplane is to catch the weathering accurately.  A beat-up, paint chipped bomber looks cool but may not be as the airplane really was.  The facts surrounding the B-25s that flew on the Doolittle Raid are such that the airplanes probably weren't all that trashed.  And when an aircraft was assigned to a Crew Chief, 9/10 were notoriously retentive about the care & feeding of their planes.

However, the 'Raider's' B-25s were used.  The 16 crews that flew on that extreme mission trained with their assigned aircraft from the beginning.  From factory to Squadron delivery, these B-25s experienced perhaps 6 months of wear & tear.  I'm working at capturing the right amount of oil stains, fading and chipping of paint...and of course the passionate service of the aircraft's ground crew.

Then again, I could just do a crumpled olive drab mangle of aluminum - every one of the Doolittle bombers were destroyed on that mission.

Stay tuned!

UPDATE:  Whoops.  Forgot the landing light and the words "ARMY" under the wing.  Bah.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Profile 42 - "02344" as flown by Jimmy Doolittle and Richard Cole



Well, I'm certainly excited about the subject of this preliminary sketch - it's the B-25B flown by Jimmy Doolittle during the April 1942 bombing raid on Japan.  The sketch itself is almost laughable - at least to people who know what a B-25 looks like.

This summer, I get to meet this airplane's co-pilot, Richard Cole and need to get the bird done & printed by then.  Being that I'm not too good at bombers, the work is being started early to ensure time for many re-dos.

It's late, I'm tired...and will post more about the "Doolittle Raid" and Lt. Cole as I post updates on the art.  But in the event that you're reading this and not quite sure about the historic scope of this bomber, please stay tuned for a story that is over-the-top exciting.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Profile 41: "OLD CROW" as flown by Bud Anderson



The relationship between pilot and crew is oft-told.  You can't read an aviator's biography or watch a History Channel presentation without the pilot saying something honorable about his crew.   Not to be crass or anything, but it's so common, the sentiments seem pat and cliched any more.

But - those sentiments are real.

I remember Bud getting choked up talking about the service of his Crew Chief, Sgt. Heino and Armorer Sgt. Zimmerman.  It was a little uncomfortable for me, because up to that point, I'd had this impression that these guys lived compartmentalized, clenched jaw lives.  Like John Wayne.  To hear devotion and unashamed reliance...that was new.

Since then, I haven't met a pilot who didn't express a substantial measure of gratitude and humility towards their support people.   Don Bryan, an ace with the 352nd, recalls thinking of his Crew, in combat, while firing his guns and blessing them for somehow imbuing "Little One III" with a magical engine.  Mac McWhorter described the way his Hellcat always seemed so perfect that he would hate to even get it dirty...honestly, I could go on and on.

Anyway, I hope when you look at my rendering of OLD CROW you see - not just the 10 victory markings on the side of the plane - but also the airplane itself, a representation of a herculean effort.  And though this may, on my part, sound cliched, I also hope your Crew (we all have one) comes to mind with the same spirit of gratitude.

Monday, March 29, 2010

PROFILE 41: "OLD CROW" update





If it weren't for insomnia, I wouldn't make any progress'tall.

More than a few eyes are on this project, so I thought to post this newest update.  I'll mask in a new wing later this week and make whatever changes/suggestions that Bud says need to be done.

But, I did get some input from my friend Jim, an armorer who worked on B model Mustangs in England during WW2.   Unfortunately, his comments had nothing to do with the art, but with the structure of the actual airplane.  Specifically, the gun mounts in the wing.

The P-51 series featured a wing design strategy that created "Laminar Flow."   Without getting too geeky, on a traditional wing, turbulence between the surface and air flow creates drag at the bulky leading edge.  Laminar Flow philosophy moves the thickest part of the wing back towards the middle, creating a smoother surface for air to flow across, reducing drag and maintaining efficient lift at various speeds.

With me?  Yeah, I'm lost too.  Just nod your head.

Anyway, this wing design made it a challenge to effectively mount the 4 .50cal Brownings within the limited space created by utilizing Laminar design theory.  So, the engineers tilted the guns, lowering the height needed but also forcing the ammo belt to make a little "up and over" into the gun breeches.

These guns would fire at about 750 rounds/minute.  Some more, some less.  But you can imagine the the importance of having an uninterrupted, even flow of bullets.  The barrels truly were 'garden hoses that sprayed lead.'  Wings level, in warm air, the guns chattered just fine.  But, in twisty, high-g combat at altitude, the ammo feeds would get fouled and stoppages would occur that couldn't be fixed until the pilot made it back home.

Jim explains how various Groups tried to solve this problem in the field.  One took the motorized feed units from B-17 waist guns and put them into the wings (at a substantial weight penalty).  But he remembers replacing feed springs, cams and actuators with items of higher tolerance.  This work resulted in a feed mechanism that was less likely to deform during high-G stresses or react to the profound cold of 20,000 ft + altitude temps.

On a personal level, this info is so much more than anecdotal.  Understand, the P-51B was a major weapon of war with a serious flaw solved by the acumen and ingenuity of individuals.  When I hear - from the source - of a man's work, in the moment, on the spot, I get inspired that my own issues can be solved with the same application.

Cool, huh?

I'll be finished with this one in about 2-4 days.  Stay tuned...


Friday, March 26, 2010

Profile 41: "OLD CROW" as flown by C.E. "Bud" Anderson


3/28/10 UPDATE:  I spent way, way too much time on lettering OLD CROW.  And it still isn't right. So, in an effort to give me some success today, I made a little mask for the nose and created a nifty reflection on the spinner by pure accident.  It's perfect!


"OLD CROW" may well be the most modeled, photographed and rendered P-51 ever.  Little wonder - her pilot, C.E. "Bud" Anderson, is a legend.   Ace, gentleman, test pilot and proud American, Bud is the kind of guy anyone can look up to...especially me.  He was the first WW2 pilot I interviewed and the experience was so rewarding, I was compelled to keep talking to others.

Anyway, given the choice, Bud suggested I do his B model before it was marked up with "invasion stripes" - the broad black & white bars used to indicate Allied aircraft during and shortly after the D-Day invasion of June  6, 1944.

There are so many better artists out there (Salute Troy White) and surely, the world doesn't need my shlock cluttering up the place.  But this particular finished piece will be used to raise money for the local chapter of Honor Flight.  On its own, my art is at best a doodle.  But with the pilot's signature, it becomes History.  The opportunity to be a part of this event is truly an honor.

But, I have a question for readers:  Should I do the drop tanks or leave them off?  On one hand, the drop tanks signify the Mustang's ability to reach far into Nazi territory, providing valuable escort for the 8th Air Force bombers.  On the other hand, the tanks would mess up the interesting lines of the P-51, specifically the fuselage scoop.

What say ya'll?  Let me know - office21@mac.com

Hurry though.  I've got two more planes to do for this event!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Profile 40 - "SNOWBALLS" as flown by Hank Snow


Last summer, I read Malcolm Gladwell's book, "Outliers." In this book, the author makes a case that success is not so much a factor of Chosen Genius but an alchemy many factors. Successful people were born at the "right time" and capitalized on opportunity to learn more about their passions and adapt. And learn and adapt. And learn and adapt.

If Gladwell ever meets Hank Snow, by his own barometer, he'll be meeting one of the most successful fighter pilots alive.

The first time I met Hank was on a hotel shuttle in Washington D.C. I'll spare you the circumstances, but what struck me most was how the guy looked like Buzz Lightyear - and he had that same bigger-than-life presence. You know the type - big handshake, booming voice, giant smile - the uncle who shows up every Super Bowl Sunday with a big pot of "special recipe something" and a dollar for all the kids. I liked him right away.

But, though Hank has the vibe of someone who's competent at something, his jovial positivity doesn't exactly holler, "I've flown 666 combat missions in three wars."

If that sentence didn't make an impact, let me put it this way - Hank flew mortal combat in 3 different conflicts - unique in systems, enemy, technology, mission and tactics. And, he not only survived, but thrived with the distinction and deep respect of his superiors and peers (see way below).

Put in work-a-day terms, it's like a Teacher excelling in a one-room, coal-heated school house, then moving to a public metro High School and finally ending teaching internet classes - and all the while winning the awards & accolades afforded to an expert.

Now, I brought up my first impressions of Hank because it bears a point - when the popular notion of a fighter pilot comes up, Hollywood has ensured the image of big, boisterous and devil-may-care. Just like Hank appears to be. But you have to know - staying alive in a high-speed, intense combat arena is not a place for the "big, boisterous and devil-may-care" temperament. Those people tried, for sure, but they usually died.

"There are old pilots and there are bold pilots but there are very very few Old Bold pilots."

Hank Snow is a living example of Gladwell's formula for success: Circumstances + passion+ continual learning + a willingness to adapt.

Now's a good time to look at the numbers behind Hank's expertise:

16 different military type aircraft from Stearman biplane to F-4 Phantom supersonic jet
1,602 combat hours in WW2, Korea and Vietnam
5, 436 non-combat hours in military aircraft
+
24 different civilian type aircraft from the Piper Cub to the Lear jet.
7,679 hours of civilian flight time
_____________________________
14,717 total hours in 40 different aircraft

There are a number of civilian pilots today who can boast a greater number of hours. But none (that I can imagine) that can boast the sheer diversity and magnitude of Hank Snow. And therein lies the answer to the question that always comes up after learning of Hank's 666 combat missions: "Wow! How'd he stay alive?!"

Not through recklessness or wild-eyed risk taking. Nor was it from circumnavigating hard work or duty. Hank simply did what he enjoyed doing, over and over and over again; staying current with technology and not resisting changes in culture or mission. In other words, Hank made a life-long science of being a fighter pilot, without prejudice or cynicism.

When I look at Hank's Korean-war Sabre, I see a man mid-stream in his experience, doing what he enjoyed doing regardless of any guarantee.

If that's not a lesson for success, I don't know what is.

*Hank's Awards & Honors

Legion of Merit
6 Distinguished Flying Crosses
Bronze Star
24 Air Medals
Air Commendation Medal
Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star
Vietnam Staff Service Medal
2 Presidential Unit Citation
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award

Oh - top to bottom: Hank in China-Burma WW2, Hank in Korea, Hank in Vietnam. Notice Hank's gray hair in the last photo.





Friday, March 5, 2010

PROFILE 40 (update) - "SNOWBALLS" as flown by Hank Snow



UPDATE - Insomnia has its benefits! Hank's Sabre is about 75% finished - all that's left is masking off the elevator, some texturing, more of those damnable stencils and DONE.

Today, I got a bit done on Hank's Sabre - specifically, the nose art.

Typically, nose art is the last to be added but in this case, I put it on right away because I got impatient. And, I had this beautiful shot of the nose art staring at me.

Now, again, I'm no great artist. There are guys out there (like you, Gunter) who make my stuff look like I made mine with elbows dunked in finger paint. But the satisfaction of working on projects like this one bring significance to my pursuit of understanding history.

Look at the photo below. It's probably the best nose art reference I've ever had to work from. Texture, color and detail - thank you, Hank (actually, I think Hank's CC took the photo). But also notice the names painted on the snow balls - they're Hank's left-behind family.

There are two responses to photos like this. One is to see tragedy and hope against the possibility that Hank won't come home to see his "Snowballs." The other is to see victory in the ideal that upholding the nation's values are worth identifying personally.

What do you see?

In the meantime, I see an F-86 that needs to be finished.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Profile 40 - "SNOWBALLS" as flown by Capt. Hank Snow


You're looking at what - I hear - is the greatest fighter airplane ever. The North American F-86 Sabre jet. Perhaps it was. Er, is. Sweet jimminy, do things with wings get any cooler than the sleek, swept look of this?!

And what a name - can't you just hear the baritone drawl of a Nawth'Caralawna crew chief sayin', "What'cha have he-yuh is a Nawth Amerkun Ef Eigtuh Seeux Sabuh JET!"

Oh man. I love it.

Anyway, Dolph Overton's "Dolph's Devil" is flying wing while I do Capt. Hank Snow's "SNOWBALLS" - the Sabre he flew in Korea. If you look really close at the photo below, Hank's Crew Chief is standing just to the right of the moniker, noted by 3 little painted snow balls, each bearing the name of family back home.

My initial sketch stinks - the proportions are all wrong; I'll have to train my brain to see the Sabre in its sleekness. Two items that I know will present special challenge - the dull aluminum sheen and the taught fit and finish. For me, getting the texture of bare metal down in 2-dimension artwork is difficult.

Stay tuned - there's a cool story to this one, too.




Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Profile 39 - B25 H S/N 43-4267


It's done - the airplane with a Sherman tank cannon in the nose. The Beast. At least that's what I call it. And it looks beastly too, with that gritty, oil-stained paint job and utilitarian markings.

Update: the accuracy of those markings are no longer in question. It was as it is.

Anyway, this is the airplane that took Wendell to the end of his tour. On April 4, 1944, he was on his way home, having flown 50 combat missions against the Japanese in Burma, China and Thailand. He left behind friends and colleagues, the smoking ruins of success and also the possibility of dying in combat.

Now, I have to be frank. These guys have seen a lot of the terminal nature of life be it "back then" or now, as the last-men-standing of their wartime units. So, I ask the question, "Do you believe in some sort of fate that's kept you around so long?"

Wendell's answer was typical. "Sure! How can you explain it otherwise?"

He went on to describe how he knew the utter uselessness of worry. The only thing he could effect was his own piloting of his airplane. Flak, fighters, bomb-blast debris - he could no more control them than the weather. With that understanding, the fear and anxiety of "Will I make it?!" evaporated. He learned how to live in the moment of Now, in the cockpit, trusting his soul to God and his mind to the "Just fantastic!" training by the Air Corps.

Of course, there were those that didn't have Wendell's ironic sense of peace. He recalls men who froze at the controls, stunned by what could happen. Of these guys, Wendell holds no judgement. Just a gratitude for an abiding faith in God that he developed as a kid. But he prefers to dwell on the positive. "I think, looking back, two thirds of (us) had a faith stronger than their fear."

My head gets balled up some times, thinking about the strange, positive inspiration that comes from such ugly things like B-25s that can disintegrate a truckload of people like *that!*...

War is inevitable. To pull something positive out of it is an act of faith.

So is getting behind the stick of a B-25 at age 90. Yes, the photo below is Wendell. And yes, that's his original flight jacket. Who would have known?

Note: The 22nd Bombardment Squadron also flew other models of the B-25 in combat. The majority of Wendell's missions were in the B-25C and D models.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Profile 39 - B-25H S/N 43-4267


Progress note 1-20-10: I'm laying a scan of the first mask on top of the initial sketch - I was WAY too thick on the fuselage and according to my references (namely a website featuring a restored B-25H) the turret should have been moved forward.

Anyway, I'm making progress.


The sketch above is pencil-work of my latest - a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber. Casual history buffs will recognize the twin-fin tail and probably recall snapping a few photos of a shiny silver example at an air show. But the real airplane nuts will recognize immediately that this example is the "H" model, probably the most heavily armed aircraft of WW2. This one's no gleaming queen but a dark witch of Hell. I get a shiver just thinking about it...

See the nose? That solid blunt shape is the H-sign and the sketched *flash!* is its signature - the bang of a 75mm cannon. The same kind found on Sherman tanks. Adding four .50 caliber "cheek" guns, four more .50's in the nose and the two .50s in the top turret equals 10 heavy machine guns to add to the maelstrom of metal. Not counting the rear and waist gunners!

Talking to 43-4267's pilot the other day, I absent-mindedly remarked, "Wow. Seeing you low on the horizon had to scare the breakfast-lunch-and-dinner out of the Japanese."

He looked at me as if I were making the understatement of the century. See - this thing didn't just attack targets. It turned them into dust.

Regardless, Wendell's "H model" has my fascination right now. Partly because of its power, partly because of the little-known arena (Burma) and partly because I get to ponder the imponderables like "Why do people wage war?" and "Is it better to force surrender or to eliminate the enemy altogether?"

Don't you love how History makes you think?

Ok, ok - I'm setting the pencil down and backing off my soapbox, nice'n easy like...

Anyway, watch this space. This beast will take shape over the next few weeks and I'll be sharing a few interesting artifacts from her pilot's service.

But in the meantime, the photo below was taken by 43-4267's tail gunner as they winged back to base, bleeding hydraulic fluid but leaving behind something for the enemy to think about.

Oh. the photo was taken March 5, 1944. The war went on for 17 more months.