04 April, 2009

Profile 29.75 - MAJ MAC Preview

The next profile, a P-47D-28 flown by a member of the 36th Fighter Group is not quite finished. The sketches shown were done on our kitchen bar with one of my kids' colored pencils. They're all I want to show right now.

In fact, tomorrow, I'm going to be going over a draft with the airplane's pilot. He hasn't seen a complete picture - artwork or photograph - of his old mount for sixty four years. The last time he was in a P-47 was when one rocketed out from under his tumbling body, belching black smoke and flames. But more about that later this month.

My reason for this post is to share a little bit of the behind-the-scenes efforts behind my artwork. Currently, I'm figuring at least 20 people all over the world have been helping identify the specific markings and colorations of this particular airplane. Wow! Their work and understanding of "getting it right" is humbling. Yet, the effort is essential. Once this particular plane graces the Internet, a historical record will be created. As time passes, my tolerance for mistakes is decreasing because I'm continually learning the wisdom of "measure twice, cut once."

Realize that Group Commanders were under a tacit order to keep cameras away from their planes for security reasons. Of course, the gagillion books, movies and websites on WW2 aviation are loud testimony to the fact that the order wasn't enforced that well. But, the CO of the 36th did his best - compared to many 8th and 9th AF units, the 36th FG exists only in text. As fortunate as I am to call on excellent, reputable historians, only seven photos of 36th FG/23rd FS P-47D's have been available to me for reference!

Every Group, Squadron had their own little quirks of markings. Yellow might have been fresh and bright on one plane, dingy and chipped on another. Some squadron letters might have that military "stencil" effect, others might not. Serial numbers may show all seven digits or just six...photos are essential for accuracy.

However, undoubtedly the greatest challenge is interpreting black and white photographs for color illustration. For example, the photo below is the best shot the pilot has of his mount. Does it show a red and yellow nose? A black nose and gray-painted cowl panels? Black and yellow? Five different "official" sources showing five different color combinations don't help. Yet, the plane must fly off the press sooner or later. Stop back in a few weeks to see where we landed.

In case you're wondering why the pilot just doesn't 'remember' the details, the question is valid, but the answer isn't as simple as it may seem. The age of these pilots isn't so much a factor - please know, I've been interviewing these guys for years and to this day, they're still sharper than many of my buddies. (No offense). Their memories of the past are astounding and can be backed up with journals, log books...the problem is that these pilots looked at their aircraft as mere tools. They had no idea they'd be quizzed a lifetime later!