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.

31 January, 2020

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


A couple things to note:

A.  The color.  It'll change.  But technically it is supposed to be "Glossy Sea Blue FS 15042."

But that's a moment in time, human-factor of the 'guy' mixing the paint, sun, salt, scuffs... life is like that, eh?   Getting the color right is no different than walking into McDonalds, looking up at the fantastic photo of a Big Mac®, ordering one, opening the box and then thinking...why does this look like it was played with by first-graders?

B.  The "Turtledeck."

For the unenlightened, the SB2C Helldiver had an interesting feature for the tailgunner—part of the fuselage, right next to the tail, would fold-down (kind of like an accordion)  and lower to allow the gunner room to move his twin .30s around.

Many photos of Helldivers in flight show the rear sliding canopy open but the Turtledeck in the 'up' position.  Trust me, this was NOT a combat-friendly configuration.  Have a look at the photo below.

Photo:  U.S. Naval Archives

You wouldn't want to go into combat with the turtledeck "up."   For one, the twin .30s did not have an interrupter system.  Rear-gunners were wholly and completely able to shoot the tail off their mounts at any time, no problem.  Putting one's mind into the headspace of a rear-gunner in a WWII dive-bomber, it's easy to think, "Geez.  That poor gunner had a lot of trust in the pilot!"

Well, that poor pilot had a lot of trust in the rear gunner, too.

Now, have a look at the photo below.  The turtledeck is lowered allowing MUCH more room two swing the guns around to protect the airplane.

Photo:  U.S. Naval Archives

But practically, I got to film from the back of the Commemorative Air Force's 'diver' while filming "South Dakota Warrior," about Battle of Midway hero, John Waldron.

Here's a still from a bit of video I took...

If I were an IJN fighter pilot and knew the plight of the Helldiver's rear gunner, I'd definitely attack from the rear, slightly tail-low.  They were helpless.  ©Me.
The white lines SORTA represent the space covered up by the Turtledeck area.   It doesn't seem like a lot but practically, it is.  I figure that lowering the turtledeck gave the rear gunner another 40% more room to fire guns.

Now, have a look at the video I shot, below.

So, I've decided to draw Curtis Cameron's "Beast" with the turtledeck lowered, ready for action.  It's going to be a little more ugly—if that can be done—but truth be told, I'm looking forward to drawing all the little details like the guns, rails and "lighten-ing holes."

AND...just got word today that it looks like the public unveiling is set for Friday, April 17, 2020.   More to come!

19 January, 2020

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

Bleh. It's ugly.

But, I didn't take the gig because I thought Helldivers were beautiful airplanes.

Actually, Helldivers don't even have (many) beautiful stories.

Practically, the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver is a tale of what happens when zeal, desperation and hubris collide.  Come to think of it, the story of this airplane could make a great semester course for an MBA program.  Need + Opportunity + Practicality added up to = a big, fat pig that probably shouldn't have happened.

In the end, however, it all worked out, pretty well.  A few years ago, I talked to a Marine test-pilot who had to certify rehabbed combat-worn Helldivers for future combat duty and he said, "Well, it wasn't a (completely) terrible airplane.  I'm alive, right?!"

Claude Hone (VMF-216) Marine F4U Corsair pilot who got stuck with testing Curtiss SB2C Helldivers c.July 1945 that had been rehabbed after hard combat duty.


Still, this isn't a story about Helldivers as much as it is about the people that flew them.

Right now, I've got a treasure box of artifacts and documentation that will accompany progress of this art. Be prepared to be blown away by some of this stuff; I will use this blog as a way to show you what I get to experience while drawing these historic aircraft.  Believe me, it's humbling to know you - the reader - want to see/feel/hear what I get to experience...

Hmmm x 2.

Anyways, the artwork will be publicly unveiled on April 18 this year and I'll put the finished piece up in this blog sometime after that.

In the meantime, let's start this off by going back in time to July 23, 1945.  The date-stamp is important because it's two days(?) before Lt. Curtis Cameron flew the mission that would fate him to be awarded the Navy Cross.

But, the date is also important because, Cameron's ship — the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) was poised and ready to draw blood on 'the Japs.'  There's more to this story...and I'll brief you later.  But for now,   please click the graphic below to take you to the complete, official ship's newsletter, dated same.

Read the whole thing - CLICK HERE.
It's the real deal, it came from the family that commissioned this drawing. I scanned it myself and felt the time-worn paper in my own hands.  It's all here - even the politically incorrect stuff.

However, I hope you read it.  Again, it's a time-capsule of sorts and interesting in that regard alone.  But maybe you're like me and, while thumbing through the pictures and words, you find that life during the Greatest Generation's winning moments weren't so different than today.

More to come. :)

04 January, 2020

Now live!

The Old Guys and Their Airplanes episode, "The Mettle Behind the Merit" is now live, along with a (pretty cool!) Educator's Kit.

The film and kit are free and viewable/downloadable on the Distinguished Flying Cross Society's website - click here.

Though I was fortunate to have spent a bit of time with Steve, I still feel like there simply wasn't enough time to really get to know him.  My 2013 post (and rendering of his Spitfire) is here.

In the meantime, I hope you find the episode and Ed. kit as cool as I do. :)