31 March, 2011

Profile 46 - More of Satan's Chille'n (update)

My call for help in capturing the half-naked pinup girl painted on Satan's Chille'n was as expected - so, thank you to those who helped with the "research."  (ha ha).  But suffice it to state, until we have a Time Machine, I'm confident enough that this B-17's nose art is going to be accurate.   Shown is my progress as of 10:32pm this evening.

I'm now giving the countdown for about 2 weeks.   One more progress post after this and I hope to have it finished!  

Did you watch the video of Dick - Satan's Chille'n's bombardier - describe a particularly interesting bomb-run?  If not, scroll down.

However, I thought you might like to see what Dick looked like back in 1944 when he was undoubtedly one of the best bombardiers in the 8th Air Force.  At least good enough to fly as lead bombardier in 15 of his 30 combat missions.

This is a good time for a bit of explanation.  Just because a young man sat in the nose and had his finger on "the button," it didn't mean he was a "Bombardier."  The term describes a Role more than a Function.
Bombardiers were men who had the gift of control over their Norden branded bomb sites, the ability to fly the bomber during the last twenty or so miles to the target and of course, put the pickle in the pickle barrel.  From 20,000+ feet.

These Bombardiers were the men who aimed for the Squadron.  The rest of the men in the noses of their respective B-17s watched the Lead Plane and waited until they saw the stack of death fall away, then punch their own buttons. These 'rest of the men' were called "Toggliers."

The reason?  For one, there weren't enough Norden bomb sites to equip EVERY bomber in combat. Plus, these bomb sites were considered a Top Secret weapon.  Bombardiers were commanded to shoot the eyepiece out of their Norden in the event they were to crash land - or even bail out - in case the device would end up in the hands of the enemy.

But also, the Army Air Force had spent a terrific amount of time analyzing bomb blast patterns and concluded that the best results were obtained with one man leading, the others following.  In short, the Bombardier was the guy, the master that signaled the Squadron to drop their terrifying load onto the target.  

I asked Dick why he thought he was such a good Bombardier and he replied, "I gave that task my all!  I wanted to!"  

One thing I've learned from talking with old guys, is this - a vital ingredient to success is Passion.  Today, Dick still gets animated describing how he would mentally prepare to lead the Squadron on the run, even when not flying.  To Dick, success isn't so much about Luck or Skill as it is Desire.

Anyway, back to that picture of Dick circa'44 - he's the second from the left.  When I see him, I see the same nervous energy, the same restless motion that I know today. He still walks faster than a few teenagers I know and last week, he let me know that his car will top 100mph, "easy!"

More to come...

20 March, 2011

Profile 46 - Satan's Chillen update

Regarding the picture above - on the left is my wretched pencil-work of the nose art of Satan's Chille'n.  The boxing "bomber-dude" didn't appear on the airplane - it's actually the 613th Bomb Squadron mascot - I just scribbled it for something to do.

On the right, however,  is a 401st BG photo of what the art really-might-have looked like.  No photo of the specific B-17 is known to exist; only this nearly-70 year old photo of someone's flight-jacket, which may or may not have been anything like what it actually looked on the bomber*.

The struggle for capturing the correct nose art for "Satan's Chillen" continues - I'm lost in the 21st Century haze of fading memories, lack of documentation and imagination.  This sucks because I understand that each post establishes itself into the digital record.

So, to the folks of 2050, I'm doing the best I can.  Sometimes I have to punt.  So, I'm moving forward on "Satan's Chillen'" knowing that no photograph of the actual bird is known to exist and likely will never come to light.

In the meantime, Satan's Chillen's bombardier has a story to tell.  In this time of bombing Libya, bear in mind that back in WW2, there were no "Cruise Missiles" or single-pilot jets guided by a team of digital genius.  Nope.  WW2 was low-tech, guys in windows, looking over the precipice of a bombsight with a finger on a mechanical switch.

I hope you listen to the bombardier tell (in the words of my kid), "A funny story." - click below:

*Dick said the jacket art was "very close" to what actually appeared on his B-17G.  But without a photograph, we just. Can't. Tell. For. Sure.

08 March, 2011

Profile 46 - "Satan's Chillen"

I couldn't bear the previous paltry sketch, so I fleshed out the study a bit tonight. These little pencil sketches are important to me because they help train my mind for the airplane's proportions.

Bombers have never been my 'thing.'  Temperament-wise, I can't imagine the idea of riding along in what is essentially a military bus, stuck to my office. Sitting or standing for a 3, 4, 5, 6 hour mission is hard to fathom, don't you think?

There's an interesting analog between a WW2 bomber and many people's work environment - their cubicle, their office, is their position.  Pilot, bombardier, gunner, navigator...CEO, Director, Sales, Marketing...  More than once, I've thought about this while driving the family in the mini-van; the grocery store is the target, the kids are the gunners (usually shooting each other) and my wife, the navigator and bombardier.

"We forgot the milk!  Back to Target!" (ha ha)

Amused?  I am.  Until I remember just how thin the aluminum skin on a B-17 was.  And I remember the recollections of those who remember seeing the telltale flickers of the wing and nose guns mounted on the German fighters.  And how holes would suddenly appear in the airplane as flak and cannon fire sliced out chunks the bomber's flesh.  Or crew's.

Maybe that's how some people feel about their offices these days - wondering if a layoff or firing is going to happen.

Maybe I'm being too philosophical.  But, as Satan's Chillen comes to life here, expect more as I share the story of her particularly successful bombardier as he describes his, well -  job - in a way you've never heard before.

That's him - far left, kneeling, first row.

Crew photo courtesy 401st Bombardment Group Association

Profile 46 - "Satan's Chillen"

The study sketch above is of a B-17G that flew with the 401st Bomb Group based at Deenethorpe, Northhamptonshire, England.  Specifically, the bomber belonged to the 613th Squadron.  But, if you're really, really into the details, her serial number was 43-37706 and was accepted into the U.S. Army Air Force inventory on May 13, 1944.

Today, all that's left of this bomber resides in the minds of her two surviving air crew, pilot Lt. William Mannix and bombardier, "Dick" Rostrom.

The closest I've gotten to the bomber's pilot was a scratchy phone call to Mannix's wife - her husband was not feeling well and she didn't want to wake him.  Life got haywire for me and...I've lost his phone number.  Damnit.  I have no idea if he's even alive right now.

But, I know Dick pretty well.  He and I have talked alot, traveled a bit... if you'd like to know more, stay tuned.  "Satan's Chillen" is about to crank -