29 March, 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...

26 March, 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!

06 March, 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.

05 March, 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.

01 March, 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.