07 October, 2020

PROFILE 146: F9F-5 Panther of VF-781 c. late 1952


Don’t tell anyone but the word “Hero” is on life-support.

In fact, I wonder if it’s dead. 

So, SHHH!  If word gets out, things could get really ugly.

break break *

Have a look above.  It’s my opening pencil sketch of a Grumman F9F-5 Panther circa November, 1952.  History and Aviation Geeks have already figured out what I’m working on but for now, I’ll keep it quiet.

Let me digress for a sec.

When I was a little kid, the movie, “The Bridges at Toko Ri” showed up on late-night cable and, being an Aviation Geek, I sat with slack-jawed attention at the beautiful object on the screen.  Grace Kelly?  Noooo.  I’m talking about the freaking Panther!   Beautiful women are a dime-a-dozen* but Panthers?!  The good folk at Grumman only made 1,300-some of the things and today, there’s only about 23 left (and only one flying).

Grace Kelly vs Grumman Panther
"Who'd you rather?"

The Panther is cheaper, prettier and timeless.  "Vote: Panther."
Crazy?  Maybe I'm just spoiled because I married a beautiful woman and can only go up from here.

Since then, I’ve watched that movie maybe… twenty times?  And every time, the fantasy gets a little more intimate; right now, I can close my eyes and work my hands around the cockpit like a Panther master…

Still and Movie Poster from The Bridges at Toko-Ri
The Still-scene bugs me because the flight path of the airplanes in the "Rear Projection"
doesn't match up with the orientation of the cockpit.  In real life, in (about) one-second, there'd be
a nasty mid-air.  Which would be awful because Panthers are so gorgeous (have I established that well enough?)

Bottom line:  I am convinced the Grumman F9F Panther is one fine-lookin' aircraft. But looks aren’t everything as the F9F kinda sucked against it’s primary competitor, the Russian MiG-15.  Ok, “sucked” is a little strong.  Generally speaking, the F9F was a perfectly serviceable combat machine but all-things-being equal, the MiG-15 had it beat.

Don't believe me?  Wait until the next post.  You'll see. But, the Panther wins hands-down in the beauty department, in comparison, the MiG-15 is just a barrel-shaped pig.

"Russian" Grace Kelly vs. MiG-15
"Who'd you rather?"

Well...uh...hmmm.  Hmmm.  Hmmm and more Hmmm.
Ok.  Vote: MiG.  But then I'd sell it and figure out a way to get a Panther.

* break break *

A couple weeks ago, I got to stream an interview of Tuskegee Airman, General Charles McGeeThe Distinguished Flying Cross Society hooked me up; the moment was a smash hit in that viewership spanned the globe and cracked the five-figure ceiling.  I'd report the number but by the time this post is done, it'd have increased.  So, let's just say A LOT of people watched and continue to do so.

You can watch for yourself.  In fact, you should (click here).  For a man who...

...grew up in the Great Depression.

...lived in a single-parent family.

...experienced excruciating racial segregation.

...went to war three times...

...for a man who experienced so much, McGee remains remarkably unaffected.  At least, he's not so affected he has to get emotional or preachy about it.  Getting to know the man over this past Summer has been, for me, a practicum on what it takes to succeed in life.  Again, watch the interview.  You'll get clear insight into the mindset of someone who has lived long and prospered (he's 100 years old, still drives and works modern video-tech as if it were an F-4 Phantom).

McGee is also a thinker with a strategic mindset. As a point of fact, McGee insisted on making the focus of my interview be the qualities that make anyone versus those factors that might hold someone back.  "Everyone has difficulties.  Let's talk about success," he told me.

Nevertheless, the worldwide audience was humbled, inspired and motivated to be better humans.  Pretty cool, eh?

Anyway, back to the word "Hero."

Today, everyone is a "Hero."  All one has to do is do something someone else doesn't want to do and you're a Hero.  Show up for work on time?  You're a Hero.  Fulfill a contract as agreed-upon?  You're a Hero.  Do a job no one else wants to do?  You're a Hero.  Restrain yourself?  You're a Hero...

You get the drift.  

And, if you're doing something that you feel is heroic and you're not getting the recognition you think you deserve?  Complain, have a fit, throw rock, start a fire, kill someone... somewhere, somehow, you'll become a Hero.

It's too bad.  A great word has been mutated, watered-down and mass-produced to the point where it's nothing more than a pretty picture.  And pictures do NOT tell the whole story.  One has to look deeper, think, consider, compare...

One more bit of context so the direction of this story is clear.

Postman wrote thought-provoking books.  I don't always agree with him but forced conformity is almost always a bad thing.  Civil disagreement and objective compromise never (really) hurt anyone.

Educator, techno-hater and media critic Neil Postman wrote a book that criticized contemporary society's passion for superficiality.  He believed that doing so renders an object or idea's true value to the point where it becomes worthless.**  

If you're interested in this idea, check out the bookl "Amusing Ourselves to Death."  It's kinda dry and doesn't have any pretty pictures.  And certainly, no airplanes!   But it does establish that our society's bend towards cheapening people, systems or things didn't arise with the invention of the Smart Phone, election of (insert hated politico here) or need for recognition (i.e. being a "Hero.")


“How people think about time and space, and about things and processes, will be greatly influenced by the grammatical features of their language.”  - 

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business


Just in case the point isn't being made, I'll be blunt: if we want to become/remain a society of greatness where the human condition is built-up and improved, we need to keep certain things sacred.  Like the word "Hero."  Words, titles... they're powerful things but only when backed up by the reality of the matter.

The artwork below is my progress shot of a Grumman F9F Panther.  I'm drawing it as it flew during a moment in time — a heroic moment in time; one that will remind what the word is supposed to mean.

Progress c. 9-14-20.
This is all screwed up.  But I'll make it better.  Perfect?  Never.  Better?  Yes.  Heroic?  Don't even...

*I married one!  She's a saint.  Sorta.  She DOES have heroic attributes (she puts up with me).  But that doesn't make her a hero.  Crazy, maybe...

**To this end, I'm well-aware that my goofy graphics on ugly Russian women, beautiful American women and aircraft are hypocritical; irony totally intended.  I'm also aware that if Postman were alive today, he'd point to this blog as evidence of the kind of dreck common on the internet.  More irony (which is especially ironic).