17 August, 2020

PROFILE 145: "Kitten" — P-51C as flown by Tuskegee Airman, Charles McGee


Why listen to me write when you can listen, watch (and ask questions of) the man himself?!

On Wednesday, Sept 2, please join me and Old Guys and Their Airplanes when we interview General Charles McGee live.

Go here for more info: https://www.sdpb.org/OGTADebrief

In the meantime, you can see the Opener for the segment...


27 June, 2020

Profile 143 UPDATE: Hughes OH-6A Cayuse as flown by "Bruce" Huffman, Troop C, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry

Update.  Done.

And this was an especially fun project as the egg-shaped fuselage is created fascinating challenges in perspective.  I'll admit it now, this one turned out actually a bit better than I hoped but it's still not perfect. ...but unless you have a ruler and the ability to warp your eyes like a chameleon, you'll never know the difference.

But, back to the topic, it's a particular Hughes OH-6A "Loach" circa October 25, 1968.  Why that date?  Because I don't want to draw all the bullet holes that ripped its skin two days later.

A little background is in order.

Poor helo.  Headed for depot, 1968.

The pilot, Bruce Huffman, was an "Aero Scout" with the 1st Squadron of the 9th Calvary.  The 'Scout's' mission was simple enough — buzz around at very low level, find the enemy, evaluate the situation and make The Call on whether/how to engage.  Put another way, it would be as if a pest control business had a position where someone were to test if wasp nests were valid by giving them a 12" stick.

 found this goofy clipart on the web somewhere. Whoever created it may have been an OH-6 driver.
Or not.  Doesn't matter.  The principle remains true enough.

Normally, this is where I'd explain more about the story and the pilot, but in this post, I'd like to try something new.  

The COVID-19 crisis has totally discombobulated our "Old Guys and Their Airplanes" series of filmed interviews.  However, adversity creates opportunity.  In so doing, we leveraged the rage of video-conferencing technology to bring our interviews into a new dimension — live and interactive!

On May 30, 2020, Bruce allowed us to interview him in front of a large (international) audience, taking questions from the audience, too.  On one hand, it was a risky thing to do, taking a chance against technology, a (potentially) disruptive audience and even my ability to handle HIS narrative.   But on the other, Bruce was/is wholly comfortable with the idea of "risk."  Undoubtedly, his combat service has served him well, teaching him that opportunity (almost always) demands (confidently) sticking one's neck out.

So, instead of writing (Bruce is going into my upcoming book, btw), get yourself a cup of whatever and get ready to hear the man's story in the best way possible - his own words.

OGTA - DeBrief #2 

20 June, 2020

Profile 144: Boeing B-29 Superfortress as crewed by F/O Seymour Landau, 40th BG, 44th BS

Time has come today.

It's a cool song, too.  Crank it up.

Anyway, the above is my hurry-up-artwork of "Wempy's Blitzburger," a B-29A Superfortress crewed by Seymour Landau, 40th BG, 44th BS.  There's about a dozen things I'd do differently, if I had the time, but situations involving talking to WWII veterans are a frustrating mix of urgency and savoring the moments.  Emotion wants to savor, Reason taps the watch as a cruel taskmaster...

This past week, I listened to Reason and obeyed, glossing over a few production details in order to meet the nagging voice, "Get this story out, soon."

Please notice that this post has two YouTube videos that feature moments from my conversations with Seymour.  Unfortunately, on these two occasions, the only means at my mercy for recording the interview were of poor quality.  For that, I am sorry.  I blame that cruel taskmaster tapping his watch.

One more comment before I start rambling - many thanks to the folk from a Facebook page "Fans of the B-29 Superfortress" for coming through on a few crucial details in order for me to meet my timeline.

But, if you're ever interested in learning about what it takes to wage war, all-things-B-29 is a fascinating portal.  The B-29 was an ambitious, complex and expensive project that resulted in delivering the most powerful weapon ever deployed in combat, the atomic bomb.  As an interesting aside, the B-29 project was even more expensive than the legendary "Manhattan Project" that ultimately resulted in the creation of said bombs!  In today's dollars, the B-29 project cost about $43 billion dollars.

* break break*

True story - the first interview I ever published was with "Morrie" Jeppson, Bomb Electronics Officer on the B-29 that dropped the first a-bomb on Hiroshima, August 6, 1945.   Morrie died in March of 2010 — I remember him as a brilliant genius who could communicate the complexities of quantum mechanics seem as simple as making a sandwich.   I wish I spent more time with him...but at the time, I was young, dumb...

Morris Jeppson, c. September, 1945.  He said he knew (almost) immediately that the war would be over after looking out the observation window of "The Enola Gay," witnessing the boiling mushroom cloud rocketing upwards over Hiroshima.  I like to think the smile he's wearing is one of relief.
...anyways.  A few details to note.

Firstly, check out the very end of the airplane — see that long stinger?  That's a 20mm cannon.   The weapon was positioned slightly above and between two .50 caliber machine guns.  The logical assumption is that the three-gun punch would destroy any enemy that tried a 6-o'clock attack.  In the end, the Japanese (the B-29's only WWII enemy) had a very difficult time fielding fighters that could match the B-29's altitude and speed — "direct-6" attacks were not as effective as head-on or beam attacks.   To this reality, the 20mm cannon began to be removed from the vast majority of B-29s sometime in late 1944.

One of the first B-29s takes flight in 1942. 

Secondly, notice the tail art.  This marks the airplane as one of the first B-29s in combat, flying from bases in India and China against Japan.

See the scans below.  You can see how the units were distinguished using the giant tail as a billboard (it reached just about 28' into the air); notice the top line that indicates the 58th Bomb Wing (BW).  See "CBI" underneath?  That refers to the "China-Burma-India" theatre of operations and the clue that Seymour's Superfortress was one of the first in the war.

Now, look just underneath.  Notice that the 58th BW updated their tail markings when they located to the island of Tinian.  History nerds will immediately recognize that the island of Tinian was especially significant in that it was the launching base for the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan later in August of 1945.*

When the 58th moved to Tinian — leaving the CBI behind—the move was received with gratitude as living conditions greatly improved.  It's relevant to note that much of China and India at the time were considered 3rd world.  The fresh, American-made construction on the newly and dearly acquired islands was a luxury to those who knew different.

Thank you, www.cooksontributeb29.com for posting this cool reference.
Thank you, www.cooksontributeb29.com for posting this cool reference.

But, let's get to Seymour Landau.  And this thing called, "Time."

Seymour's service saw 26 combat missions.  Technically, his job was Flight Engineer — the man who managed the engines and other systems on the aircraft.   A valid argument can be made that his job was second only to the pilot's in terms of being critical to the mission as the Flight Engineer's performance related directly to fuel consumption. 

If you want a mental picture of a Flight Engineer at work, check out the picture below. 

Photo of B-29 Flight Engineer's position, donated to the National WWII Museum by WWII veteran, Dylan Utley
The USAF made a cool training film on what it took to perform an FE's job - click here

On a more abstract level, realize that fuel consumption of any aircraft is a result of a complex intersection of forces — aircraft weight (which continually changes due to fuel consumption), winds aloft, engine settings, altitude, ambient temperature, desired speed — making sure the B-29 could take off and return was a complicated job that required mental agility and discipline to an extreme degree.

Seymour and his crew, led by pilot Maj. Neil Wemple, were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for a mission on November 5, 1944 to bomb a particularly small target, a dry dock 'lock' in the port of Singapore.  It's best that you hear the story in the man's own words.

It'll take 4:36 seconds, if you have the time.

It's amazing to think of the intellectual and experiential power that the WWII generation wielded when they returned to peacetime.  Though there were indeed challenges of re-integrating back into 'normal' society**, there's no doubt that the technical, practical and managerial skills acquired during their military and civil service played a significant role in forwarding American power in the decades to follow.  

It cannot be forgotten that the Greatest Generation was minted by people in their 20s.   It makes you wonder if today's crop of 20-somethings have the same stuff as their great-grandparents.  Time will tell, I guess...

Seymour is kneeling, second from right.  Photo courtesy of the 40th BG website.
No idea how to specifically identify the rest - help me out if you know.  But, somewhere here are Neil Wemple, Richard Covey, Robert Swanson, Boleslo McIntyre, Manuel Greenberg, Glenn Price, Francis Wagner, Carl Westberg, Alect Paw and Bruce Houghton.
Anyways, back to Seymour's experience.

The man's first combat mission was flown on June 2, 1944 on mission to bomb Japanese targets in Bangkok, Thailand.  The second was over a month and a half later (a long time) on August 10, 1944 over Nagasaki*... the last two were on May 1 and May 7, 1945 to Osaka.  Over the whole of his service, including training, Seymour accumulated 1,009 flight hours.   This may seem like a lot but it's important to note that, after the war, Seymour was unable to get a job with the burgeoning airline industry on account of his inexperience!

Nevertheless, I have a number of stories that comprise Seymour's service including one that will surely make my upcoming book.  The most impactful is one about a moment where two Japanese fighters performed a head-on attack on his B-29, blowing holes into the bomber and revealing the strengths and weaknesses of character.  Interested?  Gimme time...books don't write themselves you know.


Today, Seymour Landau is 99 years old, articulate and pragmatic about his life's journey.  The only complaint he has is the frustration of having to give up tennis two years ago after suffering an ankle injury.  "Today, I use a walkuh," he states somewhat regretfully, his Brooklyn accent adding color to a black and white reality that he accepts.

Seymour on his wedding day with beloved bride "Ginnie"...and in 2017 ready for a ride in a Stearman PT-17.
Courtesy - the Landau family
I hope my interview is not over but if it ends up being so, Seymour Landau is yet another wonderful representation of The Greatest Generation.  Our conversations entailed a wide variety of topics, opinions, agreement and disagreement... it's immensely satisfying to look back on effort and think, "That was so worth my time!"

Yet, the real power in their stories is not their combat.  It's the context that comes from their age.  A few years ago, I was speaking to a group of Air Force Vietnam War pilots and had one of those lightning-bolt quotes that is so good I can't possibly claim credit for it.

"Remember when (Jack Weinberg) said don't trust anyone over 30?  I have learned I don't trust anyone under 65."

The room erupted in laughter and then applause.  I felt good.  And then not-so-good; we 'younger' generations have done a remarkable job of removing older, wiser generations out of our lives.  Today,  people to trust seem so damned hard to find...

I look forward to the day when we don't trust anyone under 90.  I probably won't see the day though.  The world's got a lot to figure out before anything like that can happen.

Until that day, why not have a listen to Seymour's life's wisdom?

It's 57 seconds long.  You have the time.

*Quirky factoid:  nearly one year to the date, the second atomic bomb would be dropped on the same city, August 9, 1945.   

**The movie, "The Best Years of Our Lives" remains one of the greatest films of all time.  It chronicles the challenges of combat veterans as they integrate back into mainstream life.  It remains jaw-droppingly awesome and you should watch it soon (if not now).  

16 June, 2020

Profile 141 FINAL: Curtiss JN-4, Kelly Field, c. 1918



Airplane finished, prints looked great, the United States Postal Service did their job and the patron family is pleased.  I can sit back and vegetate for a few minutes and congratulate myself on a job (sorta) well done.  But frankly, it's one of my best drawings, even if there are some bits of detail that I had to guess upon.

Somehow, someway, I don't think the patron really cares about time-machine accuracy at this point.  It's a piece to help he and his family recognize where they come from and where they may yet go.  Noble thought, don't you think?

Brilliant photo.  No idea who took it but whoever you (were), everyone involved gets an A+ for the day.

Have another look at the Jenny above and check the title of the print, "A story begins."   Aviation has played a formative role in the family's lore and the process began with this Jenny from Kelly Field.

It's not my place to tell much more of the story.  But, I'm reminded of something WWII ace (352nd FG, 487th FS) Alden Rigby told me years ago — "Everything is important, always."  I think we were talking 'religion' at the moment because I distinctly remember the context being how we need to think about the 'eternal' consequences of decisions in our life.

I have no idea. I haven't been to eternity. But I will say this — today, there's a family celebrating the actions of others, over 100 years ago.   

A story begins, indeed, every day, for all of us.  Always.

Ok.  Sermon-off.  Now to get to the C-123 that's been sitting on my desk.  It involves a bunch of Chinese, an Air Force General who wants to grant a few medals and the idea that, secrets eventually need to be turned into stories.


I've blurred out the personal stuff because its personal to the family.
But, isn't it cool that such things are being respected over 100 years later?  

10 May, 2020

Profile 143: Hughes OH-6A Cayuse as flown by "Bruce" Huffman, Troop C, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry

It's helicopter day again.

This one fulfills a commitment made six years ago.  Eventually, I 'get around to it,' but in this case, it's for the best that it took me so long.

But first, a few points on the Hughes OH-6A.

First, it's name, "Cayuse" is, depending upon your point-of-view, either a small horse or a tribe of Native Americans.  As the Army had a convention of naming their helicopters after Native American tribes, we’ll go with the later.  Still, “Cayuse” has pejorative connotations that wouldn’t stand today’s public relations department. Yet, those were different times, too; the OH-6 was first flown in 1963.

Billionaire eccentric Howard Hughes is reported to have supervised the project and in the process tried to rig the bidding process! More on that later but in the end, the U.S. Army bought about 1,400 of the nifty little machines.

Anyways, the purpose of the OH-6 was to provide the military with a small observational helicopter.  Note the design—shockingly easy for me to draw, it's basically an window-covered egg with a tail; whoever came up with the concept wanted maximum viewing for the pilot and crew (3 people total).

Using my sketch of an AH-1G Cobra as a comparison, the OH-6A’s small size becomes all-the-more apparent, especially considering the Cobra wasn’t all that big in the first place.

And it terms of payload/capacity, the OH-6 was really a lightweight.  Of course, the OH-6 wasn't designed to carry much more than life-support systems for eyeballs — hence it's observation mission—while the AH-1 Cobra was armed to the fangs.  This fact leads to the second point of all-things OH-6A -  it's more common name of "Loach."

Google "Loach" and you'll get the photo below.  It's an aquarium fish that spends its active time scraping its belly on the gravel trying to kick up gawd-knows-what.  It's also the representation of disturbing memories as it was an aquarium fish I simply could not kill. Not that I wanted to—I just had better things to do (like avoid responsibilities, build model airplanes, avoid responsibilities, launch model rockets, avoid responsibilities...).  In the end, the lowly loach, to me, became a symbol for persistence that difficult jobs have to be done. 

I eventually made-nice with my obligations and my loach and I prospered for many years.

The Kuhli Loach!  I had one and it would not die.
Photo: PetCentral.com
However, don't think for a second that the people who hand-out nicknames determined Loach was appropriate because it swam on the bottom and suffered fools.  Instead, the name comes from Light Observational Helicopter, a mil-spec acronym of LOH.  Go ahead, say it - El Oh Aych.  If you really work at it, you'll get "Loach" at some point.

Hold that thought.

So, a while ago, the pilot who flew the particular Loach shown on top of this post and I were having a conversation about, "What was it like to be in the Vietnam War?" As a Loach pilot, he spoke from that perspective.  He described his mission with the Aeroscouts (Scout), an Army squadron of Loaches attached to an Army division.  

His name is Bruce Huffman, btw.

"So, you observed?"

"Uh...yeahhh. We observed."

"So, you'd be hovering above..."

"No.  We'd be moving."

"How fast?  I mean, how can you observe while you're moving?"

"Thirty, forty, sixty miles per hour."

"So what was your altitude?"

"Uh...eight, ten feet sometimes?"

"So how close were you to the action?  I mean, you can't really see much flying over..."

"Oh, you see a lot."

(I thought about that - a little egg-shaped helicopter buzzing over grass, trees, hills, at sasquatch height)   It didn't make sense.

"So what can you see so close, so fast?  Two seconds and you're gone!"

Bruce laughed.  "You can see the whites of their eyes."

"And did they shoot back?"


"And you made it through."

Bruce grinned, "I guess I was hard to kill."  I thought about my own loach; before I could make the crass correlation, Bruce stated bluntly, soberly, "Not everyone was so lucky."

Now's a good time for some facts.  Know that the U.S. Army ordered 1,420-some OH-6As of which the vast majority went to Vietnam to "observe."  Of those 1420 Loaches, 960-some were destroyed.  And of those 960-some, 842 were lost to enemy action.  That's 60% of all Loaches.  

Let that sink in for a moment.  

Though obviously Bruce made it out of the war in one piece, it can’t be said for his Loach.  I’ll post the final art and full story, here some time after June 1.  But if the idea of how someone can survive, if not thrive, as a Loach pilot especially intrigues you, listen up.

If I’ve learned anything from being a history nerd it’s to experience a thing first hand.  As soon as time-travel is invented, I’m pushing myself to the front of the line and paying whatever the price.  Until then, however, the next best thing is talking to people who “were there.”

You agree, right?

Next week, May 16, "Old Guys and Their Airplanes" is adapting its brand to the world of COVID-19 via online interviews.  They’re called, “OGTA Debriefs” and allow the audience to meet highly decorated veterans, hear their stories and ask questions. 

AH-1G Cobra pilot, Pat Owen  is the first.  Last week’s tech run through was pretty cool and Pat’s insight into the world of an attack helicopter pilot is especially fascinating.  You won’t want to miss it...Click here.

However, two weeks after that, on May 30, Bruce is up next.  Though I’ll have a progress post of his Loach sometime before then, you really should make plans to partake in Bruce’s OGTA Debrief as well. 

In the meantime, meet Bruce.  He’s third from left.  Oh and he just sent me an email letting me know that his call sign is important - “Cavalier 13.”  As to why that’s important, don’t take my word for it - why not ask him yourself?

One last thing... want statistical reading on helicopter loses?  Click here
Progress on Bruce's OH-6A.  I'll be drawing it as it looked shortly before it was shot up.

08 May, 2020

Profile 142: AH-1G Cobra as flown by Pat Owen, HML-367

"Do you believe in luck?"

That question can scare the hell out of you.  Based on my experience interviewing people who have been on the crux of life and death, it's also one of the most important questions you can ask.  Of the other and... of yourself.

Have a look above - Pat Owen's Cobra from his Operation Tailwind mission on September 11, 1970 is done.  Soon, it will go to press and sometime after that, hung on a wall.  Or two.

I think it's an Ok job.  I see mistakes but there's just not enough time to get it perfect; I've got an OH-6, another F-105, a C-123, another B-29...

Sometimes I think "the stories never end."  But in reality, they will and though the people I interview faced enemies of flesh and blood, mine (as a history-nerd) is cruelly impersonal— TIME.  I can only do so much with so little.  And though I am extremely blessed to bring these stories to the world, don't rely on me.  You've got to do your part, too.

I'll be blunt.  If you've ever wondered anything about:

• American involvement in Vietnam...
• What it was like to fly in close combat...
• If anything good ever came from evil...
• What makes a good friend...
• The Bell AH-1G helicopter...
• Why the Marine callsign was "Scarface"...
• How CNN screwed up their reputation in 1998...

...you have three choices.

Choice 1:  Disregard and think about something else.

Choice 2:  Read books or watch videos

Choice 3:  Ask someone who was there.

For me?  I've done all three but I can tell you this, Choice 3 is most-often the finest. Nothing teaches "history" like a first-person view.  And, when you get enough, the patchwork of stories turn into a mosaic of reality that's irreplaceable.

On May 16, I'll be interviewing Pat Owen, live, via Zoom.  It's not free - five bucks, with money going to the Distinguished Flying Cross Society (to aid in their effort to keep their stories being told).

It's your chance to hear, first-hand, "what it was like" and all that, unedited, without a particular agenda or storyline.  To me, this is a brilliant way to learn objectively and accurately.  I hope to meet you there, too.

In the meantime, back to that question about "Luck".

What do you think?   I know that I'm going to ask Pat.  

He's pretty lucky.

Or is there more to it...?

Prepare to meet Pat Owen.

Pat Owen, c. 1970, South Vietnam.

26 April, 2020

PROFILE 142 (in progress): AH-1G "Cobra" as flown by Pat Owen, HML-367


As a side-gig, I help produce the show, "Old Guys And Their Airplanes."  In fact, it's kinda my 'elevator speech' -  "Hi!  I'm John Mollison and I interview old guys and draw their airplanes."

It's a great thing in my life as it puts me in the company of people who've actually "been there."  I emphasize this point as interacting with people who have "been there" is a rare thing.  Of course, there's no fault.  Life is fast, complicated— it's hard enough to get grocery shopping done let alone ponder...

"So.  About that Vietnam War thing.  I wonder if that ancient French dude down the street knows anything about it..."

Of course I'm being silly.  I'd (probably) never ask a French dude about the Vietnam War.  But, I'll say this — it's really great to learn history from people who've experienced it first-hand.  Don't get me started on how we do a horrible job of teaching history (in America) as I have ready-sermons on the matter that are so packed with zeal, I'd scare the hell out of a TV evangelist.

Jim and Tammy Faye Baker.  TV evangelists that made bajillion$.
Ironically, they've faded into History.  But don't worry.  They've been repla$ed.
But, back to "Old Guys and Their Airplanes" — the title is telling as in the process, I've learned that "old people" are much more interesting than young people.   Not that young people AREN'T interesting!  Of course, young people are attractive, important and passionate and all that... but old people are more...

Millennials.  Happy and diverse and excited and ready to change the world!
I'm "Generation X."  That means I'm less interesting and (somewhat) disaffected.
Generation X ironically helped popularize "The History Channel."
Yeah.  Experienced.

It's pretty cool to sit down with someone who has sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety years of life and talk about the business of existence.  Especially when that person has seen life, death and so much of the in-between.


Time to look at the graphic up-top — it's my initial pencil sketch of a Bell AH-1G "Cobra" attack helicopter.   Eventually, it will end up as a full-color representation of a very specific Cobra that partook in a momentous period of time, September 7th through the 14th, 1970.  Interestingly, it was flown by a (then) "young guy" named Pat Owen.

Today, however, Pat Owen is now an Old Guy and his story is a fascinating one in that he participated in a moment in history that would probably be just another boring battle had it not been for some people who started muddling with the facts (more on that later).   For now though, I'm fortunate to have met him (while working on another OGTA project).

Hold that that thought. A quick primer on the Bell AH-1 "Cobra" helicopter is in order.

Designed purely as an Attack aircraft, the AH-1 was an offshoot development of the Vietnam War's iconic UH-1 "Huey" or Iroquois helicopter.  In fact, the two helicopters are roughly the same size and share the same engine. The difference, however, is that the UH-1 was a jack-of-all-trades design while the AH-1 was purely built for delivering fury.  Plus, the Cobra is much cooler looking.

Found this photo here.  ©unknown but thanks for the AWESOME shot!
Seriously.  Cobras look very cool.
Nevertheless, as the UH-1s would whoop-whoop-whoop their way across Vietnam to deliver troops, recover casualties and ferry supplies, it became clear that they would need more dedicated protection.  Fixed-wing aircraft laden with bombs and guns provided great support.  But the practicalities (or impracticalities depending upon your POV) of helicopter operations soon proved that nothing could protect helicopters like another helicopter.  Hence the creation of the AH-1 Cobra.

The Cobra's two-person crew sat Piper Cub style, one in front of the other.  The Cobra commander (pilot) was in the back while the Cobra's gunner sat in the front.  Just looking at a fully armed AH-1 is an exercise in  total whoop-ass; any number of ordnance could be hung from the stubby "wings" attached to the fuselage sides (mostly rockets).  But it's the turret under the nose that defines Cobra's bite; a lead-spewing minigun and a grenade launcher was the typical kit.

Uh, yeah.  A Cobra.
And couch potatoes need not apply; that cockpit is 36" wide.
Photo courtesy, Herb Silva via Pat Owen.

You should know that the Commander and Gunner often switched places.  This practice makes sense as both stations were dual-controlled and periodically exchanging position helped each person become better at their jobs.  Can you imagine trying to work as a team when the team doesn't know how to work together?  (Insert joke about your land's politicians here).

On September 11, 1970, Pat Owen was the gunner on this particular Cobra and my progress shot on the art is below.

See the red circles?  Those mean that I need to talk to Pat about those particular spaces.  Drawing an airplane
is usually a conversation.  But check out the nose art!  More on that later.

If you're still reading (thank you, btw), you're probably thinking, "I think this story isn't going anywhere." or you're thinking, "I think I know where this story is going."   Either way, you're correct.

So please me just a bit more attention as you need to know a couple more details to truly set-up the story.  Have a look at the progress-shot above.

A.  Notice the green.  That this blog has a fair number of "modeler" readers, I can tell you that these masters of detail picked up on the shade of green right away.  It's not "Army" green.  It's "Field Green" and that color is definitely a color of the Marines.  A subtle detail, sure.  But if I'm going to attempt to get it right, I've got to get it right.  Right?

This particular Cobra was one of only 30-some that were available to the Marine Corps in 1970.  The U.S. Army, however, had a bajillion of them.  Actually the number was many hundreds.  Suffice it to state, the Marines jealously guarded their Cobras.  Interestingly, through use of extraordinary skill and clever leadership, the Marine Cobras achieved a 100% "up time" for at least one period of time.

B.  Notice the black tail.  Why was this done?  For one, it looks cool.  But I have it on pretty-good authority that it was functional, too.  Run your eyes from tail to engine and notice that the jet exhaust was pointed right at it.  The black helped hide the oily soot that blew out the pipe.  Is this true?  Until I read the policy, I'll take it with a grain of salt but it makes sense.

C. Now, notice the nose art depicting a stylized cobra head.  As the nose of HML-367 AH-1Gs was hand-painted, each is also just a little bit different.  Some had two fangs, some had four... I may have to redo it in the event that better photographic evidence of Pat's particular Sept 11 Cobra comes to light.

Probably not Pat's particular Cobra.
Photo: Herb Silva via Pat Owen
Will it be perfect?  Maybe.  Probably not though.   We're going on 50 years since then and no one told Pat that he'd better be paying close attention to his Cobra because one day, someone would be drawing it.  Yet, that's the inherent challenge of studying history.  It's a contact sport—the more we contact it, the better it's played. 

Nevertheless, I'm working to get it right.  Pat's talking to his old unit buddies, I'm talking to Pat and together, we're sorting through the details with the kind of objective humility and engaged curiosity that studying history requires.

Personally, I'm confident we're going to get the artwork dang-near perfect!

Too bad CNN didn't do that back in 1998. 
CNN - They used to use the slogan, "The Most Trusted Name In News"

What?!  Where did CNN come into this?!   Well, back in 1998 they launched an explosive expose called, "Valley of Death." This piece alleged the American military dropped sarin gas (an extremely nasty weapon) on American defectors in Laos as part of "Operation Tailwind" during September 11 through 13th, 1970.  The report aired twenty eight years after the event, too.

Yeah, you read that right — the American military was accused of dropping sarin gas to kill off American defectors in Laos.  Think about that for a moment...

(I'll wait)

I bet some questions popped into your mind.  And, if one of those questions were, "What does Tailwind have to do with the Pat's Cobra?!"   Well, Pat was there.  In fact, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on the first day's operations, flying the Cobra I'm attempting to recreate.

Of course, there's more to Pat's Cobra than controversy and drama. There always is and I'm not going to get stuck in a shrill feedback loop about CNN's past reporting practices.  But isn't it nice to know that in the face of uncertainty there's someone around with first-hand experience?  Ha!  It's a wonderful way to study History!

So, stand by.  

But in the meantime, just because "I interview old guys and draw their airplanes," doesn't mean you can't.  In case you're asking the question, "Where can I find these Old Guys who were actually there?" 

I'm working on it... 

Btw - I can't find CNN's Valley of Death broadcast.  Anywhere.  It's like...it never happened. 

04 April, 2020

Profile 141 UPDATE: Curtiss JN-4, Kelly Field, c. 1918

So. What does 3 hours look like?
See if you can tell!
The picture above is actually an animated file, showing THREE  hours of futzing with this latest commission.

Can you tell the difference? HA! Neither can I! Actually...I can. My eyes are so buggy right now, I need to bathe them in hand sanitizer to clean them out from all the mental debris of...

"Would light shine here? No. Light would shine there. No. Light wouldn't be here at all. No. Wait. Who am I? What am I doing here?" (Cue Talking Heads song, 'Once in a Lifetime')

Nevertheless, I've been working on this ridiculous canvas and dope-clothed machine for too long. I'll get back at it this evening, after my three bottles of wine and blowing the empties off the backyard fence with model rockets and potatoes.

Hardest airplane I've ever drawn.

This is crazy.  I spent 90 minutes trying to figure out if light would shine through the spoke-cover and if the spokes would glisten in the (possible) light.  But maybe you're like me and just-now realized what the hole is for - to get at the inflator nozzle!

Photo: Vladimir Yakubov, taken at the Flying Heritage Collection

And this is the tail.  My decent into Jenny Madness is in full force.  

29 March, 2020

Profile 141: Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" c.1918, Kelly Field

Ok, don't look.  Yet.

Right now, I'm sitting on finished art of an SB2C-4, F6F-5 and a B-29.

Two were reserved for an ill-fated opening of a Gallery (featuring my work) and another for return to Saipan in honor of one of her crew.  

Covid-19 ruined all of that.  And more.   Of course, there's always postponement...but the moments that were in-plan, in-progress and in-place were AWESOME for any history geek.  I really, really was looking forward to sharing the cool news with like-minded souls.

And then, this - a commission that I'd put-off for over a year.

[face-palm - shame on me for focusing so much on the needs of the present...]

Have a look at the sketch above - it's a Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" biplane.

Consider this - the airplane above is over one. hundred. years. old.   Its ancient-ness is both startling and reassuring.  Startling in that 100 years ago, the world was in a place that can't be conceived today.  No internet, no fast-food, no interstate highways, no digital media and certainly no travel within the solar system.  


100 years is a pittance in terms of how the universe works.  Think about how much life has changed since the year 2020.... and yet, things still stay the same.  

*break break*

Have a look below.  It's the second-stage of my artwork that will go to a patron who insists on providing his family opportunity to see that their genealogy of success has persisted among the decades, leveraging common traits of excellence.

I'm stuck here... at once, the patron's message resonates with me and at the same time, I'm struck by the irony of thinking...


Circumstances change, stuff we hope-for doesn't pan out...and in the end, our talent, our experience and our willingness to respond prevail.

I sure hope you all get to see the SB2C, F6F and B-29.  But in the end, will it be this ancient biplane that ends-up inspiring us most?

Stand by.

23 February, 2020

UPDATE Profile 138: Curtiss SB2C-4 Helldiver as flown by Lt. Curtis Cameron, VB-87

Well!  It's starting to actually look like something, eh?

Before the philosophizing begins, there are some details to note.

A.  The white triangle on the tail was (likely) on the airplane c. 25 July, 1945.  But, within a few weeks, the insides of the white triangle would have been painted out to form a white "V."  

Buddy Barrett Tillman let me know that the U.S. Navy made a change to how the tail feathers were painted during June of 1945.   But, don't think for a second that, as soon as the edict was decreed, the ground-crew got to work and complied.   When the USS Ticonderoga (aircraft carrier) entered into combat during the summer of 1945, their minds were focused on other, more pressing matters (like going into combat).

VB-87 SB2C Helldivers, c. Sept, 1945. This photo is commonly reproduced in VB-87 lore and has been captioned as taken when the mission was aborted after Surrender was announced.  Probably not.   It's a much better guess that it was taken during the many "POW Patrols"** over Japan in the weeks just after the Ticonderoga took up home in Tokyo Bay, Sept. 1945.

 #206 is third from front.

B. Notice the lack of weathering (i.e. chipped paint, massive exhaust/oil stains, etc.).  That's because U.S. Navy airplanes were rarely "weathered" like their Marine or Army Air Force brethren.  

Sure, the grime of battle looks cool but no self-respecting Navy crew chief would allow his bird to be anything but as-pristine-as-possible.  How do we know?  One word: salt.

WWII ace Hamilton "Mac" McWhorter clued me in years ago when I was drawing his F6F from the USS Randolph.**  I showed him a progress shot and his reply (the gracious gentleman that he was) was quick, "Our (crew chiefs polished and cleaned those airplanes non-stop.  If it was on a ship, it was kept in as pristine of condition as possible.  The salt in the air was highly corrosive!"

Now, that doesn't mean that the paint didn't fade (a bit).  Or that the metal skinning didn't distort (it did).  Or, that a scuff mark was completely removed (there were other things to worry about).  But, it does mean there were very, very few paint chips and those that happened were quickly covered.

A nice, clean Helldiver of VB-85, mid-Aug, 1945.  Notice the guy in the back.  He's wielding a camera.
Notice the ships in the background, too.  That's Task Force TF-38.

What's a Task Force?  Well, this shot of TF-38 taken the day the Helldiver shot above was taken.
Nice "synchronized swimming" but the greater message is this:  Japan picked a fight in the hopes of quick peace.  That didn't happen.  Instead, the USA hunkered down, lit the fires and forged an industrial juggernaut that was unstoppable.

C.  If you squint, really hard, you'll see a bunch of circular holes in the wing root as well as a tinge of red.  That's because this particular Helldiver was of the variant that had perforated dive flaps installed.  

Red paint was applied to the inside of the flaps to let pilots flying behind know, "this airplane is going to be flying a lot slower."   Or, conversely, it could be used to let the pilots flying behind know, "you'd better get on the radio now and let him know his flaps aren't deployed or else he's going to be making a 15,000lb hole in the ocean/ground/target."***

Have a look at the picture below to get the effect...

That's me playing with a die-cast VB-87 Helldiver that I bought as a reference for this project.
BUT...notice the map!  That's an actual cloth "mission map" that Lt. Cameron used while flying combat over southern Japan!  I'm getting it properly scanned for inclusion here (at a later date).

But, it's a bugger getting SEVENTY YEARS of wrinkles out of delicate fabric...

So anyway.

Have another look at the photo above (the one with me "flying" the Helldiver over the map).  Specifically, look at the wrinkles.   

When I saw the maps (there are more), they were stored, wadded up, in a plastic tub. Truly, my heart just about "went Alien."****  In fact, I kinda made an unfortunate dork of myself in front of the family by exclaiming something like, "What?!  That's not how you store those maps!!  OH NO!!!"

Thankfully, Curtis Cameron raised gracious people and I quickly followed their calming lead, "Relax.  We'll figure out how to get the wrinkles out."  But, it was interesting to me when Cameron's daughter, now a mom, grandmother said, "John, we just didn't know.  He was just...dad, you know?  We had no idea that he was something so much more."

Of course, the family knew of Cameron's wartime service.  And yes, the medals were known.   And yes, the 'stuff' was kept (instead of being offered up as yard-sale fodder or worse, eBay).  Yet, it was the impassioned pestering and pontification from one-history-geek who refreshed the interest in the family jewels.

"He was a man's man," the daughter explained.  "Dad had three daughters. He loved airplanes, cigars, hanging out with the boys."

"Were you close?"

"Oh he was great!  He was, you know, my DAD!  But there was this distance.  (Husband) used to talk to dad about his wartime stuff but we girls, we just didn't.  It was another world."

"What do you think of him now?"

"This is fascinating to me!  It feels like (the family) is getting puzzle pieces to fill in part of our lives that we didn't know was missing."

 "Did you ever think of your dad as a hero?"

"Oh sure.  Who doesn't?! (laughs).  But now, I see that his being a hero meant more than just to our family."


And that's the thing - "...something more than just our family."

* break break *

So, years ago, our church pastor (at the time) Rick Weber, and I were having a little talk about the challenges of parenting.  He handed me a book from Watergate-crook-turned-born-again-evangelist Chuck Colson titled, "How Now Shall We Live?"   It was a pretty-ok book.  I read it once but don't know where I put it(maybe a yard sale?)

But, I will NEVER forget what Rick said after I asked, "Why you giving me this?"

He replied, "Because what we do matters.  If not now, some day."

Huh.  And here we are, living the dream, ironing out wrinkles, resurrecting memories and getting ready to memorialize a man in a space where hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators will walk by, pause and wonder...

I don't sign up for these projects to worry about markings, missions or medals (though it's really fun).  These projects are so much more impactful as they remind me of the power, the ripple and impact every act, every life, has on another.

More's coming.

*Japan had POW camps scattered around their country.  VB-87 flew patrols over the country to try and spot these camps.  I strongly recommend you read the book, "Prisoners of the Japanese" by Gavin Daws.  Click here and be prepared for easy but unsettling reading.

**Mac's Hellcat is some of my early work.  It breaks my heart to think my skills were so lousy then but I have good reason.  Some day, if we meet over coffee/beer/whatever, I'll tell you.  But, I'm freaking honored to have known him...

Mac, circa 2004; he's signing little prints of my artwork at a gathering of WWII historians and geeks.   If you have one of these prints, please contact me as I'd like to know more about the event...
***Dive bombers had to control their speed or else the forces of physics would overcome even the most determined will to pull the airplane out of a dive.

****That gross scene in the movie Alien where the monster leaps out of the hapless dudes chest.  I'd post a picture but it still freaks me out.