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 created fascinating challenges in perspective.  I'll admit it now, this one turned out a bit better than I hoped but it's still not perfect...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, this illustration is of 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?