01 June, 2017

PROFILE 126: IN PROGRESS - A6M2-21 Zero flown by...who?!


Just so you know, 'this' all starts with the scratch of graphite on paper.  The picture above is my pencil-work of a Mitsubishi A6M2-21 "Zero-sen" fighter aircraft, circa June, 1942.

Hold that thought.

The picture below is a cheesy auto-generated image from my t-shirt retailer, "Redbubble."  Click here if you want to know more.  But regardless, look past the nameless model's sultry awesomeness and focus on the message...

"WHEN AN OLD MAN DIES, A LIBRARY BURNS"

Want one?  Click here.

It's a phrase that I first-heard from a Vietnam War veteran who offered it up as a rationale as to why he wrote his memoirs.  Since then, it's become a brand-statement of sorts, telegraphing the motivation that drives me to "interview old guys and draw their airplanes." A Generation is only as good as the education they've received...and the lives of Old Men and Old Women are indeed "Libraries" that can provide the necessary knowledge and wisdom to build the future.

But, like any physical Library, the Library of one's life is useless unless its volumes are (metaphorically speaking), "checked-out."

So, back to the Zero.

Me, drawing, "filmed" for your amusement.  All-told, this one took me about 5 minutes.  I also used my 1/72 scale Corgi® die-cast Zero display model as a reference.  And as a tax deduction, too. 

Zero's are easy to draw.  In fact, if we ever meet, challenge me to sketch one; I guarantee you'll have a respectable rendering in less than sixty seconds!   But this particular specimen has been an exercise in hardship as the markings are impossible to verify.  Specifically, I'm trying to figure out an A6M2-21 that would have absolutely attacked VT-8* as it zeroed-in on the Japanese fleet on 4 June, 1942.

This means...

A. What carrier?  Why?  Because the fuselage stripes changed depending upon which IJN carrier the squadron was assigned.

B. What status was the pilot?  Why?  Because the stripes on the tail corresponded with the pilot's status as flight leader, squadron leader...**

C. What was the aircraft number?  Why?  Because "this" is ultimately the identifier of a specific airplane's moment in history.

And, more specific to the moment...

D.  What specific Zero pilots flew CAP (Combat Air Patrol) over the IJN fleet?  Why?  Because four IJN carriers had planes in the air on 4 June, 1942.  Some went to attack Midway Atoll, some were CAP and some where still on the carriers.

E.  Which Zero CAP pilots were flying at the time VT-8 made its run on the carriers?  Why?  Well, this helps me narrow it down all-the-more.

Typically, these kinds of questions aren't that difficult to figure out. Militaries tend to keep decent records and being war and all, the eyewitnesses tend to be plentiful and engaged.  Of course, there's room for dispute—after all, we're dealing with the enemy (right?). But, in this particular case, the definitive answers to my questions are impossible to answer as the eyewitnesses are dead and any physical evidence is lying on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

Hmmm.  I do have this though...

This is the only substantive bit of flight ops for IJN Zeros on 4 June, 1942.
Dan King, author of the book "The Last Zero Fighter" translated it for me and it brought some
fascinating information to light.  I'll share what he discovered in the next post.
Graphic courtesy of Alvaro César Lino

Anyway, 75 years later, it sometimes seems that the only people who care about these things are  history-nerd-types who, at times, are willing to resurrect the war itself with arguments over one detail or another. Yet, if you're going to start WWII all-over-again (this time over a beer instead of a battlefield), 4 June, 1942 is a terrific place to start.   Why?  Because it's all-about The Battle of Midway (BoM).  As a refresher, BoM was the turning-point of the Pacific Theater in WWII.

For those that don't quite have a grasp on what it means to be a "turning point,"think about it this way:  if the BoM would have not happened as it did, WWII would have been prolonged.***




It doesn't look like much but it reflects about 25 hours of fussing around and in the end?  I'm starting over.

And, when wars are prolonged, the toll rises, costs increase and the pain continues.  Playing, "What if?", what if WWII would have gone on another day?  Another month?  Another year?  You—especially if you've got Pacific G.I. in your family line, might not even be here!

"Real life" Historians hate this game of "What if?"  So, to honor the "real life historians" that suffer through this blog, I'll stop.  At least for a month or two.  But nevertheless, you won't find a time in history so chock-full of miracle moments, mystifying circumstances, ridiculous leadership, heroic action and teachable treasures like The Battle of Midway.

Now, back to figuring out how to rebuild the long-burned-out library of at least one old man who's last chapter of life still speaks volumes today...

Same model, different shirt.
Want one?  Click here.

*I'm referring to the TBD-1 Devastators of the USS Hornet's VT-8.  True History Geeks will know that VT-8 was actually deployed in two elements with the second flying TBFs from the island base on Midway Atoll.

**This bit of information is potentially useless as maybe a Leader's particular airplane would be undergoing maintenance and another aircraft actually flown during the telling sortie.

***Ok.  Got me.  We don't know for certain if an alternate history of the BoM would have prolonged WWII.  But it's a pretty good guess.  And even if the lengthening were just one more day, isn't that extra day significant enough?  Ha!  The Red Herrings are schooling madly but at the very least, it makes you think, eh?

Reprise: Requiem for the Unsung; John DeBerg "hitched a ride" West...



Who do you want to make your hamburger?

Who do you want to fix your car?

Who do you want to remove your appendix?

Who do you want to write your Business Insurance policy?

I know who— the best one at the job.

There is nothing—nothing—more attractive than being excellent.

A couple years ago, I drew "Mary Pat," a B-17F assigned to the 385th BG.  At the beginning, the project was rather novel as I wasn't drawing it for any of the Flight Crew but for the Crew Chief; in essence, the airplane's chief mechanic.

John DeBerg never physically flew combat on the Mary Pat.  However, he undoubtedly participated in every one of the aircraft's 59 missions over Germany; 59 flawless missions over Germany.

Here—have a read of what the U.S. Army Air Force wrote about John's work:


=****=

CITATION FOR BRONZE STAR MEDAL

JOHN R. DEBERG, 17037566, Master Sergeant, Army Air Forces, United States Army.

For meritorious achievement in the connection with military operations against the enemy from 17 July 1943 to 25 August 1944.  Through Sergeant DeBerg's proficient service, performed under many adverse conditions, his aircraft completed fifty-nine (59) consecutive operational missions against the enemy without having to return because of mechanical difficulty or failure.

This enlisted man, by courageously and wholeheartedly devoting his skill to a vital task, has made a noteworthy contribution to the successful record in combat established by his group..The initiative, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty displayed by Sergeant DeBerg reflect highest credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United Sates.
_____________


Put another way, DeBerg's service is the equivalent to...

...never screwing up the hamburger.

...never having the car break down.

...never botching the surgery. 

...never leaving a customer exposed.

And, just to be clear, DeBerg's work wasn't during the comparatively "easy" missions of late 1944/45, when Hitler's broken bones were justly pulverized.  Instead, John's birds flew the toughest—the ones where scared flight crew learned their trade, enemy flak and fighters were at their fiercest and manufacturers like Boeing were scrambling to improve their machines based on the urgent lessons learned from continuous combat.

So, now that there's some context here, did you whisper, "Wow..." under your breath?

So did I.

I like how John signed this print of Mary Pat at work.
Photo: The DeBerg family
Anecdote—having coffee with John, he produced a little hand-held gizmo and placed it on the table as a physical representation of his days.  It's called a "Disk Speed Indicator" and was used to measure anything that relied on precise rotary motion, be it the gyroscopes in a bombsite to the crackling rumble of an idling aircraft engine.

"I got to the point where I could hear what an engine was doing," he said, tapping the device.  "But I used this to check anyway.  We had to do it right, you know?"

What struck me was the man's sincerity.  He stated his concern as if he were still sweating out the return of 'his' airplane, knowing that if the flak and fighters didn't hurt the crew, sloppy workmanship would just as easily.

It's days like this that I feel so lucky in circumstance and inspired to be a better human.

And it's days like this that I wish would be more common.

But they aren't.  But they should, you know?

Anyway, last year, on 28 October, John DeBerg died.  However, it was only a few days ago that I found out; where had the time gone that I would have missed such news for six months?!  Did I miss an email?  A voice mail?!  (sigh) Regardless, the detail was lost on me.  Ugh.

In the end, the man was 98 years old and left behind a legacy of impeccable workmanship to machine, community, family and friend alike...

...and a welcome inspiration for the future.

And if you're interested in that kind of inspiration, Click.

John DeBerg's  Disk Speed Indicator and Bronze Star.
The chunk in the middle is a piece of German "flak" that did it's damnedest to  take Mary Pat out of the war.


PROFILE 127: IN-PROGRESS - AC-130A flown by "...the rest of the guys."


Bah!  I couldn't find it!  I just spent nearly an hour looking for what is—at least to my wingnutty mind—one of the greatest Saturday Night Live sketches of all time.

It aired on 21 January, 1978.  I was but a punk—a model-airplane building, patriotic punk—that stayed up late and watched TV.  So, when actress Jane Curtin actually evoked the hallowed name of "B-52," I snapped-to!

Here's the gist - SNL had a skit called "What if?" and it was centered around a ridiculous (but totally awesome) question regarding changing history.  In this sketch, the question was, "What if Napoleon had a B-52 at the Battle of Waterloo?"

This is all I could find of the "What if Napoleon had a B-52 at the Battle of Waterloo?" skit!
Dan Akroyd is the B-52 pilot with the silver helmet, John Belushi is Napoleon and Loraine Newman is Napoleon's wife, Josephine.
©NBC or something like that.  No idea who to credit. :(

Of course, imagination went wild; What if the Brits had a Vulcan during the Battle of Britain?  What if Patton had an A-10 in North Africa?  What if the Marines had F-18s at Chosin Reservoir?

And recently, on this eve of the 73rd Anniversary of D-Day, I wonder...What if Eisenhower had an AC-130A in 1944?

Have a look at the opening-sketch of an AC-130A.  It's being done as a Thank You to a guy who, for now, doesn't want any attention...and I'll get to that, later.

So, moving forward...

For those of you who don't understand all-things-AC-130, recognize this:  the airplane is a flying battleship.  First flown in combat in 1968 during the Vietnam War as a tool to halt traffic on the "Ho Chi Minh Trail,"  (actually more of a system than a single trail), the aircraft set a new standard of what could be expected from "air support."

Of course, the airframe is the iconic C-130 Hercules cargo plane that virtually every human being on earth has seen.  Since 1954, over 2,500 of the hulking heavy-lifters have been built, serving in just about any capacity, any where, in over seventy different variants.

Here's a really cool photo that I found.  It's the LC-130.  No idea what "L" means but for now, let's say it stands for LOOK'IT THIS!

LC-130 on snow/ice.  How cool is this?!
Photo: USAF
But the adaptation to "A" (for Attack) turns the workhorse "Hercules" into fire-breathing beast from the Dark Dimension.  This version is nicknamed "Spectre" but in terms of names, I think it's just a little understated.

Why?

Well...let me count the ways.  In one second, a typical AC-130A can spew 200 rounds of 7.62mm bullets (2 x 100 rounds/second), 84 rounds of 20mm shells (2 x 42 shells/second) and (about 2) rounds of 40mm shells (2 x 5 shells/second).  That's almost 300 rounds in the time you can say "Found'ya."

And that's for just the A-model.  Starting with the AC-130E, the aircraft have been equipped with 105mm howitzer cannons and the current model, (The AC-130W) is also equipped with a battery of missiles.  Though this may seem like ridiculous over-kill (pun intended), it's really rather reassuring because the USAF can target with incredible (and ironic) life-saving efficiency.

Watch the video below and then imagine my "What if?" scenario for D-Day.  I figure three, maybe four AC-130s would have effectively ended WWII in Europe in...maybe a day.


Ok.

So, I'm at this party.  It's a hot southern summer night, I've experienced my first "Mullet Fry," (delicious!), the patio is a loud cackle of drawled conversation...great time...and someone nudges me and whispers, "John, y'all need to meet that gah,' nodding towards a shortish, blonde-haired fellow in a flowered print and baggy shorts.  'He flew AC-130s and I think he got a DFC in Panama."

"Panama?"

"Yeah.  C'mon. I'll intruh-doos ya."

Two hours later, I'm in the party-shirted warrior's living room, looking at his wall full of memorabilia that read like a book of post-Vietnam military history.  I was blown away by just how little of it I'd heard about, too.

"Panama?!"

"Sure,you can tell the DFC story," he stated.  "But it's not my story.  It's ours.  It's about all of us."  He pointed to a picture of a very specific AC-130A and the listing of its crew.  "And every one of us gets a print, okay?"

"Yes'sir." (of course!)

Unfortunately, I don't think I'll get everyone to weigh in—it's hard to wrangle 14 people into a coherent conversation.  But I think I've got enough to tell a story you've never heard before and yeah, there's a big "What if...?" attached to it, too.

This is as far as I've gotten for now.  There's an extremely awesome logo I've got to paint on this beast's fuselage
that will take some serious practice. 

PS - This guy died recently.  He plays a pretty prominent "behind the scenes" roll in this whole story.


31 May, 2017

Profile 128: IN-PROGRESS MiG-19 of the 925th FR (pilot named in a month or so)


Behold!  My opening sketch of the MiG-19!

Well...actually, it's a Shenyang J-6—the Chinese-built version of the mostly-forgotten, mostly-troubled Russian combat jet.  Surely, it was the Communist Bloc's first bona-fide (i.e. level-flight) supersonic fighter.   But the original Russian design was also hampered by the problems that come from rushing technology into practice.  As a result (so they tell me), ruined pilot's days with alarming frequency.

It was the 'little things' that marred the airplane's reputation— such as locating the fuel tanks between the hot engines, lack of a dual-seat trainer version and a flight-envelope made of (metaphorical) Kleenex.

Anyway, here's a joke.

Two Russian "Ministers"* are standing at an air base, inspecting their collective work when suddenly, a thundering CRACK! shatters the frozen air...

"Comrade! Did you hear the glorious and revolutionary sonic boom?!"

"Perhaps!  But I think we should order another MiG-19 just in case!"

Aurora Model's plastic MiG-19 model circa 1955.  It doesn't look much like the real MiG-19 but Aurora didn't have Google back then, either.  Photo source: unknown
You can do your own research into the MiG-19/Shenyang J-6's problems but for this post's purposes, they're not that terribly important.  To be fair, the Chinese engineers also worked out many of the MiG's bugs, making the J-6 a more serviceable machine. What is important, however, is that this particular jet will be one of the 54-ish J-6's that the North Vietnamese purchased from China in 1968.

To put things in context, both the American and North Vietnamese Air Forces were working out strategies and tactics that had been hard-learned in the previous years. The NVAF's decision to acquire the J-6 reflected the fact that the MiG-17 was simply too-slow and didn't have the tech to effectively carry the latest Russian air-to-air missiles.  In other words, the MiG-19 was seen as a logical upgrade.

In the end, however, the J-6's tactical advantages filled a need that didn't materialize.   When aerial combat got low and slow, the MiG-17 was still the better gun fighter and when things got hot and fast, the North Vietnamese's more advanced MiG-21s were in their sweet spot (and STILL remained maneuverable!)   So, only one Fighter Regiment—the 925th—was equipped with the J-6 and placed at the airfield of Yen Bai, north north-west of Ha Noi.

This is an SR-71 photo of Yen Bai airfield circa 1968.  It was released by the Freedom of Information deal
in 2009 but obviously, no one in the department was informed that slapping a photo on a photocopier is a pretty lame way of sharing (normally) high-res pictures.
Ok.  Readers of this blog know my shtick—with very few exceptions, I only draw aircraft of pilots who are alive and willing to be quizzed.  So, guess how easy it is (these days) to find pilots who flew MiG-19s/J-6s in combat... uh, NOT.

But, I found one.

However, until I'm more comfortable with the language barrier, source materials and relationships, I think it's best to ask questions that don't require fact-finding and data-wonking.  For now, I'll stick with the "subjective" and ask questions about what it was like to fly this quirky jet against the USAF and USN.

These kind of illustrations are technically accurate but practically useless.  Still,  for 'spot in time,'
and extremely specific conditions/circumstances, it's useful.  Sorta.

In other words, stay-tuned, this is just starting.

Oh.  One more thing.  This particular piece is being done for an aviation museum's future Vietnam War exhibit.   If you know of a similar venue that may benefit from having a pilot-signed print to display, let me know, asap.  There will be a modest cost and I'd prefer it accompany my MiG-17 and MiG-21 pilot-signed art.  However, the finished work will be a rare curio into the life of a former enemy and certainly add a bit of novelty to a Vietnam War display.

Oh!  And what is there to know about this ex-NVAF pilot?

Good question!  All in good time...(patience, grasshopper).

Besides. I have a lot more work just getting the basics of his airplane down...

Thanks to Dr. Toperczer István (highly published author on all-things-North-Vietnamese-Air-Force) for the help in figuring out which references to trust.  He's already pointed out a few mistakes in prior work (ugh!) and this one will be my most accurate NVAF MiG to-date.

*In 1946, the Russian masters decided to eliminate the word Commissar and replace it with Minister. I think they should have stayed with Commissar as Minister sounds too Lutheran to me (and Lutheran evokes troubling memories of pot-luck dinners with carrot/lime-jello and sun-baked potato salad).

27 May, 2017

11 March, 2017

Profile 125: Boeing LGM-30G Minuteman III as "flown" by the Missileers


Imagine this —you're at your local Air Show, chill'n in the sun, watching the planes when the announcer shouts...

"AND COMING IN FROM AIRSHOW LEFT, THE BOEING EL GEE EM THIRTY GEE... MINUTEMAaaAAN MISSILE!!"

(insert sound effect of 40 tons of hellfire rushing past at 17,000mph)

If your hair wasn't singed, ears shattered or senses utterly shaken out of your mind (probably all three), it'd be the most amazing Air Show act EVER.

Minuteman III Missile fly-by at an imaginary Air Show, your town, USA.
(this would be soooo cool if wouldn't probably start our hair on fire...)

Bummer, though. It ain't gonna happen.  Ever.

Bear with me for a few moments and have a look at the top drawing.  It's as close as you'll EVER get to such a beast. In fact,  (I've been told) it's the most accurate rendering of the currently deployed ICBM.

Kinda mysterious, eh?  I mean, throw the portent of nuclear armageddon into any drawing and the hushed whistles and wide-eyes happen spontaneously.

However, there's something about this missile that is far more crucial—it's the people that make it work.  And by 'work' I mean make sure that this brain-stopping piece of weaponry is safe and ready:  The Missileers of the U.S. Air Force.

Take a deep breath because this is where "stuff" gets real.

(deep breath)

In 1945, the nuclear genie was let out of the bottle and there's no way it can ever be put back inside.  Ever.  And don't even think about indicting the United States as some sort of atomic Dark Lord  because "we" were simply first in a big race to pop the top.

We all want to believe that the world is ready to drop their fists, pick axes, pistols, bombs and nukes for a group-hug but for now, it simply isn't realistic.  Humanity is evolving forward and one day, "we'll get there."   But here, now, today, next year...we remain a vicious species with an extraordinary capacity to ruin each other.

Yet, one weapon has (ironically) done more to keep global peace than any other and you can thank the Missileers for that.

(still with me?)

Good.  There's more to come.

OGTA #10 - The Greatest Weapon Ever Used TRAILER from John Mollison on Vimeo.

08 March, 2017

Profile 116: "Prevailing Force" as flown by Gene Smith, 333 TFS

Behold Gene Smith's F-105!

If you need a refresher on Gene's story, click here, then here.  This post, however, will mark this particular project's conclusion and a satisfying one at that.  Though there are a few details in Gene's "Thud," that aren't perfect,  I hope you're (at least) as pleased as I am.

Break break

One question I get asked regards how I come up with the artwork "Titles."   For many years, I chose the reasonably logical method of titling based on the aircraft's name or serial number.  But, when I noticed that patrons and public alike were more interested in the story, I started thinking...

For the most part, I'm getting the hang of it—the titles are pretty self-explanatory of the story behind the plane.  Yet, I think the title of Gene's, "Prevailing Force" needs a little further description.

But, before I get into that, you should read this last posting from my year+ interview with the man.  This particular conversation  started with my question...
 

Thought I'd throw this in - it's a study I did last year and represents my persistent imaginary afternoon of scorching my initials into the hard-pack South Dakota prairie with my F-105's afterburner. 


"So, what was it like on the day you left prison?"

"Well, it was 0600.  March 12 (1973)...and they gave us our go-home clothes.   They'd been nursing us back to health (since the end of December, 1972) and (the clothes) were made for each of us. Tailored.  Blue pants, light gray shirt, a jacket and Red Cross stuff."

"Red Cross packages?  I thought you didn't get Red Cross..."

"No we didn't.  This was first time!"

"What can you recall about your mood that morning?"

"No emotion.  (But) we were excited, believe me!  But (did not show any) emotion.  John Flynn* told us to keep our cool and we did.  Then, about 0900..."

"Wait. Three hours went by?!"

"Yes!  That's a long time, isn't it?  And then, four, five buses came up and they walked us out.  It was the first time in five years that we went outside (prison) without a blind fold."

"What was the mood on the bus like?"

"Quiet!  We kept our cool!   We crossed the Red River and as soon as we did, we pulled over to the side, got out and they offered us beer and cookies.  Bud Day** was with us and he said, 'Get fucked!' (to the North Vietnamese) and so we just stood there."

Now, I have to hand it to the NV, they were masters of propaganda. Can you imagine what it would have looked like for the news media to have reported, "After being released, American POWs were treated to beer and cookies..."?  Add this story to the list of reasons Bud Day** is a great American role model.
A US DoD photo of POWs in line at Gia Lam Airport.  Notice the bus; the day our local School District has to start painting camo on them like the NV did, we're doomed.

Anyway, back to the story.

"Whoa!  Then what happened?"

"We got back in the bus and they drove on to Gia Lam (Air base).  We got out, lined up and prepared to board.  The C-141 that was waiting for us had its engines running.  I was two, three guys ahead of (John) McCain.  When they called my name, I walked up, saluted (the American receiving officer) and headed for the airplane."


"Sounds rather unspectacular."

"Yes it was. But that was good!"  Bear in mind, by 1973, both sides were simply ready to get "it" over with and move on.


This is the C-141 I drew as part of ex-POW Charlie Plumb's story, "There. And Back".


Gene continued, "(Once we'd all boarded), we turned fast and when we got airborne there was a cheer.  But I tell ya' it wasn't until the pilot announced, 'Feet wet!' that the cheer really happened.   Then...,' Gene paused for a moment, swallowed and stated with bold emphasis, 'we got free."

As a film producer, the poetry of that particular moment snapped to mind; ending the interview on the word "Free" would have been the perfect time to fade to the flag flapping, national anthem and impassioned reading of some great quote of our forefathers.  Cheesey?  Yes.  But here?  Totally appropriate.


For the life of me, I can't source this photo!  But I assume DoD.
Anyway, it's color and shows the new clothes the V gave the POWs before release.
Any idea who the people are?  Email me.

But Gene wasn't ready to stop talking.

Indeed, he spent the rest of the morning, describing the moments, days and months of re-engaging into American life.  For example, he learned that he no longer had a living father as the man died nearly three years prior.   Gene also had to be driven everywhere as his drivers license had (massively) expired.  He also took particular pleasure in describing how his wife had managed to save $25,000 on the Air Force's faithful continuation of his pilot's wages.

"She saved that much?!  Wow.  She's a keeper."



"She was a remarkable woman.***  I came back to a waiting wife and great kids.  Not every (POW) could say that.  But I can and for that, I am so very (pauses) very...grateful."


"Burst of Joy" - Pulitzer Prize photo by Slava Veder
This photo's story has been told a million times and I hope it never stops.
I also hope it never happens again but people being people, I suspect it will.
If I ever get to interview Col Stirm, I will not bring this up.

I wish I had that last sentence about Gene's return to 'home life' recorded because the printed/written word does not do it justice; it meant so much more in Gene's baritone southern drawl, deliberate pause and inflective emphasis.   Regardless, I was immediately struck by how, forty some years later, he remained humbled by his wife's (and others) positive influence.

Technically, I admire Gene's ability to master the complicated task of flying an F-105.  So too his bravery in participating in the most dangerous missions**** of the Vietnam War.  I'm also awed by his endurance of nearly six years of wretched captivity.   I should also mention Gene adapted to peace-time life just fine as the successful Director of the Golden Triangle Airport (GTR) for twenty years.

But there's something especially cool about meeting someone who's achieved so much who keeps a sense of humility.

So, back to the title, "Prevailing Force."

The word "Force" comes from the USAF term used to describe the collective aerial team tasked with the mission.  On October 25, 1967, Gene was the unfortunate one within the Force that targeted Hanoi's Paul Douhmer Bridge.   However, the word "Prevailing" came from realizing the balance of character that persists today, perhaps in spite of, such a difficult time.

I hope this piece inspires others to do the same.

Me, Gene and Chuck; I'm especially grateful for Chuck's introducing me to Gene as without his help, it wouldn't have happened.  Thank you, Chuck!
* John Flynn.  Click here.

**Bud Day.  You'll want to, click here, too.

***Rae Smith passed away just before Christmas, 2003.  Gene has since remarried and happily so.

****A special nod of awe goes to the MISTY pilots.  I hope to do this story justice, shortly.

02 February, 2017

Godspeed... F/L John Wilkinson, 41Sq





These things never happen conveniently—planning for another project, details, decisions amidst the whir of daily life, this morning, I found out about F/L Wilkinson's death while scrolling through emails on my phone.

For those that don't know who John* is, click here and then click here.

The first link is to our "short" on John and the second is my blog post.

But, back to the moment when my finger paused on the screen, "John passed away this morning..." it all seems fitting because this great and humble man's story might have otherwise gone unheralded had the opportunity been passed over in favor of the more urgent (details, decisions).

The title of our film, "The Gentleman Next Door" was a nod to the idea that amazing, real history is all around us.  The gateway to the knowledge and wisdom afforded by History often requires no more work than ringing a doorbell and investing a little time.

From all of OGTA... "Thank you, John.  Godspeed, tally-ho and yes, we'd like some tea!"

And for the rest, in John's own words...

"As the sun was setting, we circled over the Baltic coast and cruised inland at about 25,000 feet. Approaching the town of Schwerin we spotted about 30 aircraft at low level and headed down toward them. Then something curious happened. We saw explosions around the airfield and town, so two of our number assumed that they were RAF Typhoons attacking the area and climbed back up to our cruising altitude and headed home. But Tony and I continued on down to further investigate.

As we got low enough to positively identify the aircraft we realized they were Focke-Wulf FW-190 fighters. We assumed, incredibly, that they had spotted us and were dropping their loads in preparation for a fight. Diving down from our cruising altitude, we had built up some excess speed. I picked out the highest FW-190 flying quite slowly, so I had to lose speed rapidly using my propeller in fine pitch as a brake and fish tailing as hard as I could to avoid overshooting him and becoming a target for him. I was very close to him when I opened fire, without a thought for the round object under his belly. But I soon found out as I fired with cannons and fifty-caliber machine guns.

The round thing was a bomb and there was an almighty explosion. I ducked down for maximum protection from my bulletproof windshield and large engine. Although the outside air was very cold, I could feel the fiery heat on my neck between my collar and leather helmet. I could see flaming fuel and wreckage engulfing my Spitfire. It was time to take stock of the condition of my aircraft. I was still flying and attempted to gain more defensive altitude, but I was obviously very badly damaged. So I called for a homing to take the most direct route back to base. The radio-direction-finding personnel were on the ball and got it to me immediately just before the Germans, who were listening in, jammed the radio.

My propeller was damaged because the vibration was almost enough to pull the engine out. I climbed using as much power as I dared to and I was wallowing, telling me that my tail was badly damaged also. Since I had about 100 miles to travel, my biggest concern, beside the possibility of being picked off by an FW-190, was the huge radiator under each wing. If either one of them was holed and leaked my glycol and oil, I would not make it home. I watched the temperature and oil pressure gauges very closely and to my relief, the needles remained at their normal settings.

Before getting too low on approach to the airfield I tested my flaps and undercarriage. Both were still functioning. So with the crash crew standing by I came in fast in order to retain control until my wheels were safely on the ground.

After climbing out of the cockpit, it was then discovered that one blade of my propeller had been split off long ways. Paint was burned off the wings, and the fuselage and part of the controlling surfaces of the tail were missing, plus various holes and dents in wings and fuselage.

But most remarkable of all was that nothing entered the huge radiator and oil cooler air scoops under each wing, even though the narrow cowling edges of the scoops were riddled with holes. Make no mistake: The hand of the Lord was indeed upon me."


*John will always be an "is" and not a "was."  The later is only applied to people who serve the world no longer and John, through his story, his Christian faith and the positive impact he left on so many others insure this immortality.