23 June, 2009

Profile 34: KAY II as flown by "Sandy" Moats

"KAY II" was a last-minute request to support Colonel Len Kloeber's book, "Victory Principles - Lessons from D-Day." Len was specifically looking for an airplane that had some sort of connection to the momentous June 6 date and noted Sanford "Sandy" Moats' Kay III (Profile 8).

Profile 8 was never intended for a production-print run. In fact, the artwork was a fast lash-up for a symposium at Seattle's Museum of Flight and though the rendering worked for the presentation, it simply wasn't good enough to light up a press.

Now, I know as an aviation artist, I'm a solid grade "C" - up-close, I get a C-. From 20' away, I can pull off a C+. But I do try to be accurate with two things - nose art and markings and I knew there were a couple errors that would need to be corrected before sending the artwork to the printer. When Len's request came in, I simply couldn't find my one photographic reference of Kay III and therefore, couldn't correct what I knew was "wrong" with the version shown in this blog.

So, I offered to provide another D-Day plane. God knows there are a bunch - though the ground forces met with their own hell on the beachheads, the pilots ruled the skies over Normandy. Only two very brave Luftwaffe pilots made any kind of showing on D-Day. Len however, insisted on Moats' plane. The only other shot we had at getting a decently documented piece of art was Kay III's older sister, Kay II.

Just to be clear, Kay II and Kay III were not over the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. But her pilot was. Nevertheless, there's no doubt Sandy Moats went on practice the higher points of Leadership (he made 3 stars as a General in the Air Force). So, Len's choice of Kay II as a premium to promote his book was fitting.

ANYWAY, I had three days to bring Kay II to life and get her to the printer in order to meet Len's public appearance schedule. Sam Sox, a brilliant historian of the 352nd, was invaluable in getting the art right - notice the slight difference in blue between the two panels that hold the KAY II lettering versus the surrounding blue. Sandy was given a new plane sometime late-summer/early fall '44 and asked that the old "KAY" artwork be pulled off of his old plane and put on the new. Sam helped me get the "old blue" and the "new blue" right.

However, in the end, Moats himself ended up providing the necessary reference by giving me an invaluable help in lettering, coloring and positioning of the nose art, his own photo of the moment KAY II's panels were transfered to the new plane.

FYI - Sandy's on the far left.

06 June, 2009

Profile 33: 03 as flown by William "Bill" Creech

"03" is an A-36 Apache, the P-51 Mustang's older, quirky brother. The airplane was given the "A for Attack" appellation, partly because it was fitted with metal grates that would pop out of the wing to control descent in a dive-bombing run. It was also an okay Fighter, but her Allison engine was best at low altitude; good enough because the typical mission of an A-36 was close air support and not swirling dogfights in the stratosphere.

At first, I wanted to do the airplane William "Bill" Creech was flying the fateful day he was knocked down over Japanese-occupied Burma. But government records, pilot memories and photographic evidence were scarce. In the end, I took Bill's blunt advice, "John, just draw one that looks like it'd been ours. Regardless, I flew it."

Up until I met the Dragon Flys, I had an idea that combat aircraft were personalized, lovingly groomed, nursed when ill, mourned when lost. I remember how Bud Anderson openly showed emotion as he described how his crew cared for his famous Mustang, "Old Crow."

Yet the 528th were a world away in a different climate, culture and mission. They had a more workman, utilitarian regard for their tools. Flipping through one of the pilot's photo album, I could see why - jungle heat, rot, rain and dysentery played havoc on plane and pilot. Dingy, dinged, the planes looked like they'd been recovered by archeologists. The Ground Crew were absolutely brilliant in keeping them mechanically ready. But I soon learned Burma was no place to get affectionate about anything.

Crew & pilots alike slept in surplus burlap tents. Cobras and boot-sized centipedes crawled the rotting jungle floor. Monkeys freaked in the trees, malarial mosquitos swarmed over anything warm with blood. The squadron toilet was a log - watch for things that bite before sitting.

It seemed that elsewhere in the world*, the Winged Warriors wielded eagles while the 528th battled with buzzards. And battle, they did, flying close-air support for a group of bad-ass commandos called Merrill's Marauders.

To give you an idea how hard these planes were flown, on one day in Summer of 1944, a record 76 sorties were flown. Considering 4-5 airplanes were out-of-commission at any given time, that meant 20 airplanes flew at least 3 combat sorties a piece. Regardless of your role in the squadron, if you weren't working, you were sleeping...or on that log (everyone had dysentery).

And yet, having spent a fair amount of time with Dragon Fly luminaries, not one has grumbled about their service. Not even a hint. Ground crew are remembered with reverence, Merrill's Marauders with awe and their individual service as a chosen duty. They flew hard, fought hard and kept a soft spot for things that mattered.

I'm working on a more detailed presentation of Bill's "walk out" of the jungle - a feat of independence, confidence and courage. But until that's finished, I hope "03" serves as a totem to memorable sacrifice in a "forgotten" theater.

Oh...just so you know, the 528th received a Presidential Unit Citation for their outstanding combat record. I've held the actual document and it is beautiful.

*Joe Foss painted a pretty rough picture of flying from Guadalcanal, too. Either group of guys would have likely found the other's quarters to be equally interesting.

Photo courtesy Meyer Newell, 528th FS.

Temporary post - D-Day's unforgotten casualty

Unfortunately, I don't have an airplane ready to post today.

But I do have a picture and a story to share. The strangely tinted photo above was taken at a place called, "Bodney." Right now, it's a patch of ordinary land in East Anglia, England. But during WW2, it was the base of the 352nd Fighter Group. The building shown is all that remains of the 352nd's base - the all-important Control Tower. It's also the site of one of D-Day's earliest casualties.

As you can see, the place is rather decrepit. But on Midnight, June 6,1944, though unfinished, the tower was part of a hub of anxious activity as the men of the 352nd prepared for their huge moment - provide air cover for the invasion of Hitler's Europe.

If you have any imagination, picture this - inky darkness, the steady, urgent clump of boots, sober, low toned voices, clanks of metal...and about 1:30am, clunks of boots on aluminum wings followed by the fire-belching coughs of Merlin engines...

If we were to go back in time, and stand in that spot where I took the picture, we'd look left as 16 Mustangs of the 486th Squadron* taxi down the field to turn around for their take-off run. The sound would be hypnotic - the crackling lope of 30,000 some horsepower, trundling away, down the field. The visuals, of course, would be vague shadows and indistinct shapes save for the soft flicks of blue and white fire sparking from the exhaust.

Then, just as the seconds would tick to 2AM, engines would howl as the first four Mustangs begin their race toward the tower, galloping down the barely marked field, laden with fuel, ammo...and a sweaty pilot with very little experience in taking off in the black.

A few seconds pass as these airplanes roar closer. Your instincts tell you to get out of the way! Louder, louder, louder...we flinch and step back as the heavily burdened machines leave the ground. If we could see each other's faces, we'd be wide-eyed and breathless, perhaps even buffeted by propwash. If you were near me, you'd hear me blurt, "COOL!"

Then just as the first are airborne, another four roar towards...louder, louder, louder, we flinch again...BOOOM! A supernova of flame blinds us, a blast of heat slaps our faces, the sweet smell of aviation fuel is blown into our sinus...and those bullets, thousands of them, explode like the coughs of demons...

Come back to that photo. Notice the little overhang on the far left corner. On June 6, 2:00AM, that whole corner was ripped from the building as Lt. Robert Frascotti's P-51 smashed into the new tower, shearing the reinforced concrete into pieces, instantly killing him.

Just after I took that photo, Robert Powell, a pilot with the 328th FS, pointed out the vague distinction between the original structure and where the corner had been repaired. This "new" concrete and brickwork can just be barely made out. Powell then stated soberly, "The rest all took off by the light of his flames."

As you can imagine, the story of Frascotti's death is worthy of more words than I've provided. In fact, click here for the full story.

Nevertheless, there's an inspiring message in the ugliness of this early, perhaps first, casualty of D-Day. Today, when you go out to mow the lawn, shop, have a beer on the deck with friends, think about, talk about, if only for a second, the people who, in the words of Red James (Profile 31) "Did what they were supposed to do."

*The 352nd Fighter Group contained 3 squadrons - the 328th FS, the 486th FS and the 487th FS. Each Squadron flying 12 airplanes.