22 July, 2011

Profile 56 - "?????" as flown by Ken Dahlberg

Busy week, it's Friday and I've got a little time...and a pencil.  Hence the Study of the P-47 above. It's a 'Bolt from the 353rd Fighter Squadron of the 354th Fighter Group.

A few years ago, I was a guest to a demonstration of low-level flying, featuring a P-47.  We were at a place called "Bodney" in East Anglia, England; our hosts were pilots, crew and staff of the 352nd Fighter Group. My vantage point was one that wouldn't have flown here in the States.  The P-47 came down low and the action was not 'out there' over Airshow Center but 'right here', over our heads!

'You know how jets seem to approach in silence?  The P-47 was similar - I vaguely recall her engine's mid-timbre rumble bouncing around in our little tree-lined field...then VwwwwMMMMPHH!  We ducked, a quick slap of wind and the Jug slingshot into the opposite horizon as if attached to the sun by a rubber band.

Of course, I thought about what it must have been like to have been a German soldier who's life is marked by retreat, looking up and seeing...

Profile 55 - "Little Horse" as flown by a damn good friend

Presenting Little Horse - not as she fought in WW2 but as she rides today.  

Just to be clear to readers - this is not the airplane Ken Dahlberg flew in WW2.  It's close, but not...perfect. Lot's of little details aren't quite right - and that's no biggie considering "D-5" Mustangs aren't exactly found on street corners these days.  

Instead, it represents one that was restored and flown by an aviation enthusiast a few years ago.  Though I've never stated that my art was ever 100% historically perfect*, this Little Horse will be my only exception to the principle of "Old guys and their airplanes."

Hear me out.  Over the years, I've been so fortunate to get to know men of great accomplishment and character that I can't possibly express my gratitude.  Many of the pilots in this blog have been more than gracious with their time - they've become the grandparents I never had...and our families have become interconnected.

It's huge.

And mostly?  The  fun, fellowship and guidance I've received has changed how I view aging and the role of the elderly in life.   60's activist Jerry Rubin is reported to have made the quote, "Don't trust anyone over 30."  Hell. I've learned not to trust anyone under 80!

(I know one WW2 pilot that probably just blew his martini through his nose laughing).

Now...this Little Horse has nothing to do with Ken Dahlberg, the 354th FG or even WW2.  It's solely a gift for a guy as a thank you for years of business support and loyal friendship.   And the guy just happens to be the man who restored, flew - then sold, the Little Horse as shown above.

The patron and I met for coffee to talk over the project and I asked him why he would want the restored version and not the historically significant one. "This one is significant.  I knew Little Horse meant a lot to him.  He's meant a lot to me and my family."  

Facts and data are one side of History.  The other side are the improbable connections and relationships we collect.  Together, they make up reality.

And...it looks like we might end up getting Ken involved ANYWAY!

Stay tuned.

*True story.  I had a pilot and independent experts bless a plane I did years ago only to have a long-lost photo pop up (years later) to reveal that the nose art wasn't exactly as shown.  Every time the presses start up or I hit "post" for my website, I hold my breath just a little bit...

19 July, 2011

Profile 55 - "Little Horse as flown by Ken Dahlberg (sort of)

The nose!  And a fine nose at that.

Did you ever read that story, "The Blind Men and the Elephant"?    In case you haven't, a number of blind men stumble across an elephant.  One finds the trunk, another finds the tail, another a leg, another...and they all attempt to describe what they've found.  One says, "It's a snake!" Another exclaims, "It's a tree!" "It's a rock!"  You get it.

Though they're experiencing the same thing, it's also clear they're not.

History is like that, too.  To understand what history is saying, you must step back, feel around in the dark for another perspective, step back, do it again and again...  Eventually a truer picture emerges.  But the perceptions are never complete. 

I hate that.  I want to know.

When Little Horse came around, the commissioner was passionate; his energy for the project was surprising even for a WW2 warbird enthusiast.  "This will be great!" he enthused.  "And you shouldn't have any trouble with references because there's a lot on the internet!"

Well, two minutes into the research and I knew "we" had a problem.  Those internet photos were of the modern restoration. Gorgeous, immaculate.  But it wasn't Little Horse.

Why not?  To me, the real Little Horse that Dahlberg flew was actually assigned to another pilot.  And she was a D-5 version that didn't have a tail strake, unlike the modern-day copy.  And the horse?  Likely red.  Not black.  And...

I felt like one of those nerdy buzzkills who show up and ruin the conversation by interrupting with a, "Well, actually the real Mustang..."

Please know - I don't use the word 'real' without a tinge of terror.  Stop in my office some time and I'll show you a print that was blessed by the pilot and independent experts only to be revealed to be in err when a previously unknown photo popped up years later.  (laughs)  Granted, the world would be a much better place if this was the worst of our problems, eh?

Anyway, I explained the complication - "Which Little Horse do you want?  The real one or the...other 'real' one?"

That's when I learned that this wasn't a typical Commission.  In fact, it had very little to do with Ken Dahlberg, the 354th Fighter Group, WW2 or even Little Horse.

Stay tuned.

18 July, 2011

Profile 55 - "Little Horse" as flown by Ken Dahlberg (sort of)

You'll have to "google" Ken Dahlberg for yourself.  He's too big for this little outpost.  Suffice it to state, years ago, Joe Foss gave me his phone number and I called him.  He answered.  We talked - great guy.  THEN...I found out who he was outside of being a WW2 fighter ace.  That was about ten years ago.  I'm ashamed that I didn't follow up - Joe's death and life's circumstances got in the way.   "Little Horse" was put out to pasture in my mental corral of, "old guys and airplanes that I really should try to get done one day."

Fortune, however, is impatient. "Little Horse," one of Ken's WW2 mounts, is now on the fast-track.

The pencil study above is an  attempt to get my head around the challenge.  See, there are two Little Horses.  One is restored and hangared, awaiting her next steeplechase in the sky. She is new and perfect.  The other is long-gone and buried in time, awaiting no one.  She is a gray memory of war.

Which one to do?

Watch this space.

The black Sharpie™/ pencil sketch below is my Study of the horse that graced Little Horse's tail.   I'm rather proud - it's pure luck that it didn't turn out looking more like a jellyfish.  I simply can't draw animals.  Before I began this project, I believed, "Little Horse" was going to be "Big Hours."  But I caught the vibe on the first try - like I should have done ten years ago with my call to Ken.

16 July, 2011

Profile 54 - "105" as flown by the SDANG

There's a bitter-sweet tinge to this bird.  At once, it's an F-16; arguably the definitive dogfighting jet.  At the same time, it's...well...probably the definitive dogfighting jet.  In other words, the F-16 may be the apex of the breed.

A conversation I had last week will explain my opinion better.  An aviation enthusiast asked me, "So.  In the future, are you going to start drawing Predator Drones and Control Trucks?"  We had a good laugh.  But he may be right.  Technology has advanced to the point where we don't need butts in cockpits any more.  Instead, we may end up with butts in comfy chairs and faces illuminated by monitor screens, controlling the 'action' from thousands of miles away.

First flown in 1973, 4,500-some F-16s have since been built and they're still in force; obviously the SDANG is flying them today.  With nearly 40 years of flight, it may be tempting to think of the Falcon as 'old.'  Yet, think about this fact - the F-16 remains a first-line fighter.  It's not so much 'that old' as it is 'that good'.

I remember, as a little kid, getting my monthly (I think it was Airpower magazine) rag and seeing the prototype YF-16 in Bicentennial colors.   The grainy color spread was promptly taped onto my wall.  Even now, when I see F-16s in the air, I open the sunroof of my car to hear the crackle of her engine and get another glimpse of the familiar shape arcing overhead.

Back to me as a kid; there was nothing I wanted to do more than fly fighters.  Unfortunately, I also remember the December day when I learned that Genetics had a hand in Fate - an optometrist slid coke-bottles over my nose.  He whistled, "No Air Force for you!"  What?!  "Can't have eyes like that in a fighter plane!"  Bastard.

Today, I wonder if technology is giving its version of coke-bottle glasses to Fighter design.  Putting the expense of cutting-edge technology AND a highly trained pilot in the air is becoming prohibitive on all levels - money, time, energy...and people we love more than life itself.

To this paradigm, I have to call this progress "good."  One fruit of my time with combat veterans is this - any boyhood glamorization of war is dead gone.  I've held those dreaded WW2 Telegrams, "We regret to inform you..."  I remember WW2 pilot Robert "Punchy" Powell pointing to a place at his Bodney, UK airfield, "That's where Frascotti was killed."  Or when Ray Mitchell said, "I remember when Preddy was killed..."

Or when...ad nauseum.  Remotely piloted Drones?  Damn good idea.  I look forward to the day when a battlefield is littered with circuit boards and batteries.  Especially knowing that two of my kids are eyeing cockpits.

But you know what?

I still have that F-16 poster.  Can't throw it away.


Next up - another P-51!

14 July, 2011

Profile 53 - "236" as flown by the SDANG

Recently, an A-7 came up for sale in the civilian market.  And I missed it.

It's just as well as I don't think I could have flown it smoothly with only one arm and leg.   But I would have tried.  Yes, indeed, I would have tried.

Though the airplane bore the name "Corsair II" in honor of her great uncle, the F4U Corsair, the nickname the A-7 took in practice was "SLUF."   Short for, Short Little Ugly...Feller.   Yet, I distinctly remember seeing A-7s in service and to me, there was nothing ugly about them. The thick-set, high-winged machine was an unmistakable shape that said, "I'm in for the fight."  Of all the SDANG jets, the A-7 is my favorite.

In practice, the A-7 was not a fast aircraft.  In fact, the most widely used versions were subsonic.  As a dogfighter, it didn't particularly excel either.  Though maneuverable enough, her high-wing is designed to bring the airplane the stability necessary for weaponry.  In this role, SLUF did her job admirably.  With 8 hardpoints (6 under the wings, 2 on the fuselage) the little beast could shoulder over seven tons of weaponry into the air.  Iron bombs, laser-guided weaponry, air-to-air missiles and even nukes.  

For the SDANG, the F-16 replaced the A-7.  That had to be a strange moment for the pilots - to go from thick & muddy to sleek & clean.  As a role-airplane, there's no doubt the F-16 is a leap ahead.  Yet for me, the prospect of sitting out there in front, with a burner in the back...like I wrote in the intro, if another comes up for sale, I'll be the happy guy hobbling on the ramp in crutches.

You know what's next...

13 July, 2011

Profile 52 - "754" as flown by the SDANG

"Gawd what a miserable airplane!" he cried.  "Those brakes were so bad, they had boards of nail strips to stop the things!"

I'll leave his name out, but the quote above came from an FAA Controller buddy who, in the course of decades of experience, has an opinion on nearly every airplane that's taken to the sky since 1950.  F-100s were based at a field he Controlled during the mid-60s.  Clearly, he saw one-too-many F-100s roll off the runway and made his judgement.

Airplanes "do that" to people - they give rise to such emotion and logic, dichotomies often result.  "Best airplane the Air Force every had.  Worst piece of crap ever forced on our armed services."

"I love flying.  I hate flying."

Not having flown the F-100, nor having any reasonable prospect EVER TO fly the F-100, I'm left with my own dichotomy. And, I think the F-100 is simply awesome.  Not necessarily just because of the airplane itself but also because of what the airplane represents.

As a machine, it was the first American jet to fly supersonic in level flight.  It represents achievement.  As a warrior, it was the first American jet to fly combat in Vietnam.  It represents work.  As a tool, it served the armed Air Forces of many nations and obviously the highly, highly, highly respected South Dakota Air National Guard.  The F-100 represents success.

I looked forward to doing the F-100 because it posed a particular challenge.  See the exposed metal underneath the tail?  That's an area that became so hot, the camouflage paint burnt off, leaving distinct scorch marks of heat-distressed metal.  To me, this made The Hun* seem to say, "I'm here to get something done.  Get me ready and let's go!"

There's a purposefulness to the Super Sabre that is particularly appealing to me.  Grit.  Sweat.  Effort.  Risk.  Reward.

For the South Dakota Air National Guard, their reward was especially so - having "inherited" one of their F-100s from the famed USAF aerobatic team, "The Thunderbirds," the SDANG returned her to T-bird colors upon retirement in 1977.  Today, the South Dakota Hun resides at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB today.

Brakes?!  Who needs brakes when you're designed to GO!!

(Photo:  SDANG F-100D being escorted to Wright-Pat by next-gen T-38 Thunderbirds, circa 1977, courtesy South Dakota Air National Guard via Lt. Colonel Christopherson).

08 July, 2011

Profile 51 - "61114" as flown by the SDANG

NOTE:  I'm taking a short break from WW2 planes to focus on a special Commission to do the aircraft of the South Dakota Air National Guard.  I hope you enjoy this diversion.

At the risk of being smashed under the weight of my own irony, "the internet" is a middling place for research.  The cut-and-paste tendencies of fact-gathering can quickly distort reality.  The study of history, especially military history, is no exception.  Try this sometime - pour a tall glass of your favorite libation and Google "Hitler's Spacecraft."  But be careful - you'll never get that time back...

But, when I started research into the F-102, I started with the web (duh) and was surprised to find so much negative about the airplane.  Fortunately, having three older sisters made me value skepticism. In other words, I don't believe everything I read, see, hear... (thanks, girls).

So, regarding the Delta Dagger, I figured it'd be best to ask someone who actually FLEW the airplane.

A couple nights ago, I called up my buddy Col. Bill Creech and asked him about his time in the F-102.  Bill's a qualified guy.  He flew A-36s and P-51s in WW2, then F-100s in Vietnam.  He's flown pretty much anything that the Air Force had up to the end of green camo paint jobs.  Including "The Deuce" of course.

He described how he'd orient new pilots in the two-seat version called a TF-102.  At about 15K, he'd pull the nose up and throttle back to where the airplane would be mushing through the air at around 85kts.  In case you're needing a reference, 85 knots is Cessna 150 speed.

Anyway, Bill articulated how the F-102 would be near vertical but completely steady and within the pilot's control, "...a sweet dream!" he enthused.  "Of course, we were sinking around three thousand a minute, but she was as smooth as ever. A little push of nose and we'd be on our way again.  What an airplane!"

Bill went on to explain the why's of the Deuce's remarkable maneuverability and flight control - the giant delta (triangle) wing provided wing-loading that was more like an early war WW2 prop fighter than a 60's supersonic interceptor.

In case you don't know what "wingloading" is, it's essentially the weight the wing carries per square foot*. Think about two hikers - one has a heavy backpack, the other none.  Which one will be more agile?   Here's some context:

                        Airplane                                  Wingloading
                        Sopwith Camel (WW1)            6lbs/square foot
                        Mitsubishi Zero (WW2)          23lbs/square foot
                        P-51 Mustang (WW2)             40lbs/square foot
                        Mig-15 (Korea)                       50lbs/square foot
                        F-100 Super Saber ('nam)       70lbs/square foot
                        Boeing 747                            130lbs/square foot

                        F-102 ('nam)                           32lbs/square foot

Suffice it to state, the F-102 could be jinked around like a housefly.  And these numbers become all the more remarkable when considering the thing is nearly 70feet long and could have a dirty-weight of nearly 30,000lbs!

In the SDANG series, the Delta Dagger is the big awkward kid at the school dance, but certainly deserves a deeper look past any hand-me-down criticism.  Of all the planes, I've learned the most about The Deuce and am happy to have new-found respect towards her designers, crew and pilots. 

However, the state-of-the art changed when the SDANG hangared their 102s in 1970.  Stand by - The Hun is in the pattern!

Fortunately in my research, I was able to spend some time up-close and personal with a real F-102.  I went through my photos and thought you might like this shot showing the radically sharp-edged canopy.

*Recognizing that the topic of wingloading is a completely different issue and entails complexities far beyond my skip-the-surface analogy, let's keep the discussion on The Deuce for now and pick up the aerodynamic engineering over Christmas break. 

07 July, 2011

Profile 50 - "11419" as flown by the SDANG

NOTE:  I'm taking a short break from WW2 planes to focus on a special Commission to do the aircraft of the South Dakota Air National Guard.  I hope you enjoy this diversion.

As a little kid, I have a distinct memory of the F-89 Scorpion.  I remember being utterly disappointed by it.

Page flip, P-80 Shooting Star.  Cool name, cool looking plane.  Page flip, F-84 Thunderjet.  Cool name, sorta cool looking airplane but with bombs. Cool!  Page flip, F-86 Sabre.  Holy of Holy - the crown jewel of all-things-jet fighter. I WANT ONE!!

Then the page flip, F-89 Scorpion.  Thud.  Not even the cool name could help this thing get past its Japanese sci-fi model-airplane aesthetic.  From the 1930's passenger-plane tail to the dunce-cap nose, this airplane wasn't designed by lovers of airplanes - it was designed by a committee of retirees and first-year engineers!  I sooo wanted this thing to have a red star painted on it instead of our star-n-bar.

I turned the page.  F-100.  Now we're truly cool again.  See how the mind of a ten year old boy is?

And today, my mind was no different.  Of the seven South Dakota Air National Guard airplanes I needed to do, I started with the F-89 to get it out of the way.  Poor old bird.  Even today, she gets no respect.

Yet, like her F-94 cousin, the Scorpion was the product of an era - a transition of technology, of tactics, of strategy, of culture.  In Northrop and the Air Force's defense, the F-89 represented a challenge as difficult - if not MORE difficult - than today's stratospheric technology of Stealth and Remote Piloting - just what would World War Three look like?!

Working on this big beast's lines, it was easy to visualize the F-89's paired crew, huffing rubber-scented oxygen, knifing through the thin air of 50,000 feet, sweating out the miles between it and the formation of Tupolev Tu-4s as they crossed the Mid-Canada Line...

If - and the "if" is rather horrifying to think about - WW3 would have made it to the USA circa 1959, the F-89 would probably have been remembered as a savior rather than the big clunky thing.

And I would have probably saved the Scorpion for last.

Oh - eagle-eyed readers will notice the subtle differences in markings behind the photo and my artwork.  My artwork represents 11419's an earlier paint job.

06 July, 2011

Profile 49 - "01010" as flown by the SDANG

NOTE:  I'm taking a short break from WW2 planes to focus on a special Commission to do the aircraft of the South Dakota Air National Guard.  I hope you enjoy this diversion.

Aside from being a rather ugly airplane, the F-94C "Starfire" represents - at least to me - the raging optimism that pervaded the 1950s.

The idea behind the F-94C was that radar would guide the jet behind the marauding Commie bombers and fire off a batch (24 or 48) of smallish* missiles into the attacking bomber stream.   These are unguided missiles, by the way.  Spray, and pray.  Like a kid with a mouthful of watermelon seeds.

In reality, the concept was never tried in combat.  Thankfully so because the airplane was obviously designed to fight World War Three.  But in practice, the flash from the launch blinded the pilot and the instant plume of smoke had a tendency to cause the jet engine to flame out.

Today, the idea of a fighter plane getting close enough to spew supersonic baseball-bats into a formation of Ruskis is kind of ridiculous. However, AT THE TIME, the decision wasn't so silly.  The Red Threat was real - Russia was franchising Communism at a furious rate and post-WW2 economies were willing to try anything that seemed to make cents.  If you're bored, look up Curtis LeMay - he's a fascinating leader that seemed to have been minted for the moment.

From the vantage point of today - in 21st Century America - I take-away the confidence, courage and hubris of a nation unafraid to try and champion new ideas to meet perceived threats.  I imagine the pilots of the South Dakota Air National Guard, scrambling into their cockpits, spooling up their ancient engines, taking way-to-much runway to take off and climbing to the deep blue.

There's something about that vision that stirs the emotion of patriotism and power.  Had I been alive back then, and the Nuke sirens wailing, I know I would have stood up from my Duck & Cover and watched the silver birds climb into the sky...  "Hell yeah!"

And therein lies the wisdom of studying history - it forces us to think as we were not as we are.  And of course, Today will become the Past soon enough.

*They were called "Mighty Mouse" missiles.  Cool name, eh?  Here's a photo of 01010 in flight.