30 July, 2023

Profile 167: A-4E Skyhawk as flown by Martin "Marty" Lenzini, VMA-211

50 years is a long time!  Or is it just a blink...?


True-story — 2023 marks the 50th Anniversary of the 'end of the Vietnam War*' for the United States.  

Remembering the Vietnam War is valid as a historic event not only because it happened, but because it shaped The United States of America in profound ways.  In fact, I assert the Vietnam War continues to affect every American.  Don't believe me?  Invite me to your Rotary Club, Kindergarten, Lunch'n Learn, Block Party... 

Or, you can start learning yourself (which is highly recommended as The Vietnam War isn't really even mentioned in schools today).

Ken Burns' documentary is certainly well produced!  But be careful.  Just like the McDonalds® doesn't define the concept of "hamburger," no one-source defines a historic event, especially what happened in Southeast Asia during the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s...  

It can't be stressed enough that that studying history is far more than mere nostalgia, entertainment or collecting "names, dates and places" information. Studying history is the stuff of Life.  And we either learn or we don't.  We evolve or something else evolves beyond us.  

Indeed, "History is Nutritious.™"

I digress.

Have a look at the top of this post — it's the progress-shot of Martin "Marty" Lenzini's A-4E Skyhawk, c. 1968**, stationed at Chu Lai, South Vietnam.  I'm calling it "30% there." 

This October, the finished piece will be unveiled at a Vietnam War 50th Anniversary "Welcome Home" event.  More on that later.  In the meantime, this post will focus more on the A-4 and set up the next TWO posts which will focus on Marty.

Marty is the first to tell anyone that his story is not unique, not worthy of a spotlight or celebration.  If you can conjure a somewhat diluted Chicago accent, imagine this:  "Jaahn, ah wuz just doin'my jawb." 

But, as an "Old Guy**" he represents something so much more — an eyewitness, a participant and the beneficiary of fifty more years of wisdom to help the rest of us put the moment to good use.

So.  Before we dive into combat, let's have some lighthearted fun.

Where's Chu Lai?  It's here (look below).  

A pretty swell map of N/S Vietnam produced by the 50th Anniversary folk this past summer.  Lots of arrows. I made my own (hint: the obvious red/white arrow goes to Chu Lai.)

Today, Chu Lai, Vietnam is a resort community and manufacturing town.  But 50+ years ago,  it was a ginormous Naval base that served Marine aviation from 1965-1970.  After that, the U.S. Army took it over until the new owners took possession in 1975.  I looked for fascinating photos of the place and found none — air bases are inherently flat, paved and the buildings are rather boring to look at. 

Need proof?  Just ask any veteran of Chu Lai from the moment. Or, look at the photo below. 

I found this official Marine Corps photo on Wikipedia.  If you squint, you can see A-4 Skyhawks.  If you're looking for something more picturesque, try here.  Time changes things, eh?

What's an A-4E Skyhawk?

Efficient, effective and cheap, the A-4E Skyhawk is one of the greatest war machines ever built.  But, "greatest" is subjective, especially when geeks start analyzing data.  WWII/Korean War/Vietnam War pilot Hank Snow answered my question, "What was the greatest airplane you ever flew?" with the brilliant answer, "Hmmm.  The one I was flying at the time!"

Unfortunately, that's not exactly helpful.  I wasn't able to jack-into Hank's brain and see for myself... though I often think of Hank, his family and his willingness to share...

I digress again.

In honor of the war's 50th, I decided to do some data analysis between the A-4 Skyhawk and the Sopwith F.1 Camel, a combat aircraft of 50 years prior.   Why the Camel?  Because. It's my blog and I can pick whatever I want.

Granted there were a blizzard of airplanes I could have chosen.  But let this be a reminder to all who want to become a History Geek — we all have our perspectives, our biases... it's up to you to learn more.



Anyway.  Click below.

Be careful drawing blanket performance conclusions about Wing Loading. But, essentially, a lower-wing loaded aircraft will be able to keep a sustained turn at a slower speed while a higher-loaded aircraft will be able to haul more, faster.
In this case, a Skyhawk vs Camel comparison tells us very little than the fact that aviation changed A LOT in 50 years.

Ok, so the A-4 Skyhawk was no Sopwith Camel when it came to twisting/turning dogfights.  Heck, while the Camel was struggling to crack 120mph, the A-4E was still hurtling down the runway!  Nevertheless, this rather silly graphic does illustrate one thing — humans have clearly demonstrated the capacity to learn from the past.  

Can you imagine a proper aeronautical engineer announcing to the dev team, "Hey y'all.  I'm thinking for this next sub-space drone that we do TWO wings and a total-loss rotary engine!"  

If you can't imagine that, find anyone (repeat) in the aviation industry, show them the imaginary quote above and take note of their response.

Next graphic!

I remember reading David Halberstam's book, "The Best and The Brightest" and learning that the Vietnam War's chief architect (and former Ford Motor Company whiz), Robert S. McNamara, believed that transacting war from an accountant's perspective would make sense.

Having worked alongside Whiz Kid Accountants (WKAs) a time or two, I decided to channel my inner Wonk and come up with the graphic below:

Gawd, I hope you're laughing.
But I'm fairly sure that there are some of us who, even for a second
thought, "OMG!  We should'a had Sopwith Camels in Vietnam!"  I'm guilty, btw.

Well.  Imagine that  — the Camel is nearly 30% more efficient, pound per dollar, in carrying ordnance!  Of course it has to be done a pound a time but geez... what a savings!

Ok.  If you've never seen the movie "Galaxy Quest" you may not get the whole gist of the clip above.  So watch the movie.  The desperation of actor Alan Rickman's voice is palpable — he speaks for every soul that ever realized that there was more to life than the vacuity of "the present."


It doesn't take long to figure out that war may benefit business, it shouldn't be waged like a business.  If you decide to learn about the Vietnam War from veterans who experienced it first-hand, they'll likely have clear opinions on this idea, too.

Sometimes the Accounting Weenies are right.  Sometimes they're not. Seek to know the difference.

Ok.  Moving on.

The prior two graphics are (though based on fact) completely silly.  Heck, war is silly (even though our species tends to like 'silly' too often).

However the one below may be actually worth thinking about.  Years ago, Dean Failor — 7x DFC recipient and pioneer in the development of  laser-guided bombs —  and I were talking about the terrible waste of resources that went into sending huge resources to WWII targets and only miss the mark.  Laser guided bombs effectively erased that problem.

One bomb, one target --------- > Boof!

Remembering our conversation, I started thinking about the people/cost/efficiency of the A-4E vs Camel comparison; which was more effective (on a people-cost) at delivering ordnance?

Clearly, the Skyhawk!  I can only imagine what the North Vietnamese Army would have thought seeing a gaggle of eighty biplanes buzzing over their heads...

Look below.

Alright, the fun is over.

It's time to get ready to meet Marty.

I met him years ago.  It was an honor.  For one, Marty is a 4x recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross (among others) and a gentleman of the old order.  Truth be known, I've had dinner in his home.  He's in my contact file.  We have mutual friends.  

So, if I call, he'll answer... and don't think for a second that I forget who I'm talking to...

A man who was there.

(deep breath)

This post had some funny bits and posted with my sense of irreverance.  But the purpose is far, far more sober and serious —  If you want to know "what was it like?" don't wait for someone else to make a documentary.

Seek, ask and listen.

The next post(s) will be what I learned when I followed my own advice.

This is Marty, c. 1968-9 in front of VMA-211's logo emblazoned on some building at Chu Lai Naval base.  I spent at least an hour drawing the lion that is leaping across the Wake Island atoll.  

*In spite of the Paris Peace Accords, combat continued in South Vietnam until the country's capitulation in 1975.  But, be advised — American combat in the arena didn't end.  I've made note to bring up the Mayaguez Incident at the appropriate time.  And then, there was Cambodia...

**The term is offered in the utmost respect and glory.  I've learned that 'young guys' tend to not know nearly as much as 'old guys.'   Sure, younger people get technology, zeitgeist... but time — like compound-interest can make you more money — can make you wiser.

And God said it.  Proverbs 8:11.  I don't argue with God.

23 July, 2023

FLOWN WEST - Paul Ehlen, History Geek

Somewhere east of Pierre, SD, looking East.

There’s a moniker growing-around that’s becoming rather popular:  History Geek. 

If the reader is tempted to think of History Geek(ishness) as an academic, intellectual pursuit of the quantifiable (i.e. names, dates, places), you’re incorrect.  Instead, those who scour history’s record with the scrupulosity of a 19th Century Counting House clerk are something altogether different than a History Geek.  

Now.  These NON-History Geek people are not bad people. In fact, they play a terrific role in providing the rest — History Geeks — with the framework, navigation points and scale to thrive on this strange blue ball.   Indeed, a History Geek is one who’s learned to not merely collect data but to then assemble it into … well… expressions of something greater.

“Greater?  Like what?”  

Well, here’s where things get challenging because the human story is far bigger than can be contained in a meme.  “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492,” tells us very little.  But when a History Geek digs in to the moment and starts to wonder, “Why?” “What were the outcomes?”  “Was the price worth the gain?”  “What would I have done in Columbus’ spot?” the rewards reveal themselves in the ways that define the best of us:  wisdom, inspiration, excellence…


Maybe what I’m trying to say is that there are people who “know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.”  And there are people who know the value of everything and the cost of (doing) nothing.

I’m a History Geek.   Probably, you are too.

So was Paul Ehlen.

I’ll be brief.  About a month ago, 27 June to be precise, Paul died in a crash of a Curtiss P-40E fighter plane. He’d just taken off from Ravalli County Airport in Western Montana when… well, the data wonks are sorting that out.  And thank gawd they are because the data is important to the Aviation community in improving the quality, safety and performance of all-things-airplanes.  And yeah, the irreparable damage to a rare airplane was palpable...

Those are facts.

But. Facts alone do not satisfy.  And they never satisfy. 

Later that day, I received a text from one of Paul’s dearest Warbird colleagues who stated it simply, “This is the most unpleasant way to lose a friend.”

Though the words appeared on a silent screen, the writer's profound pain was felt, the sound of sobs were heard.  Such is the depth and breadth of such news; it transcends the mere facts of the matter, reaching into the soul.

As a fringe-member of the “aviation community,” I knew Paul better than most but certainly not as well as others.  Indeed, Paul’s name was brilliantly known in the Warbird Aviation Community.  He’d backed the restoration of two beautiful P-51 Mustangs and made it possible for many more to be shared with the rest (like me).

I first met Paul years ago when he’d coordinated a commemorative flyover of Waldron Bridge, Fort Pierre, South Dakota. 

It was really a cool moment.  Two P-51s, a TBM, an FM-2 (Wildcat) and a straight-tail Bonanza camera plane, formed up to do a simple flyover of the community for no other reason than to salute a man who’d died doing his job, leaving behind an unsung legacy of Herculean heroism.  

The community was gobsmacked by Paul’s leadership… after all, weren’t those airplanes expensive?!  And didn’t the pilots have better things to do?  And FREE?  Certainly not FREE!  They have to want SOMEthing, right?!

Nope.  The cost of the event —  to Paul and his cadre — had been paid on 4 June, 1942.   The quantities of time, energy and money were irrelevant in comparison to the immense qualities of courage, integrity and duty that the moment represented. 

I told him I couldn’t find an appropriate way to thank him for what he’d done.   His reply was quick, firm and told with a smile...

“No thanks are needed or wanted.  I do what I do.  You do what you do.  We both are doing the same thing.”

The words of a History Geek, indeed.

Blue Skies, Paul.

And I'll keep doing the same thing, too... thank you for the inspiration. :(

Paul and his EAA Grand Champion P-51, "Sierra Sue."

22 July, 2023

Profile 167: A-4E Skyhawk as flown by Martin Lenzini, VMA-211


Long time, no post!

Certainly it's not because of a dearth of drawing — since my last full post in 2022, no fewer than NINE new aircraft have been successfully drawn (with corresponding interviews).

I will catch up.  Partly because I want to.  But mostly?  It's because I HAVE to.   And this A-4E is a brilliant symbol.

This morning, the folk behind the excellent "Cold War Conversations" podcast were charitable enough to include me in their episode list (evidently, I'll be #301).  They let me pontificate about Freeman Bruce Olmstead's undeserved 'shoot down' of his RB-47 in 1960 (and subsequent heroic representation while held in the infamous Lubyanka prison).  I drew Bruce's beautiful Boeing in 2014... click here (it's worth your trouble).

But most poignantly, podcast host Ian Sanders and I ended up riffing on the reality that 'these stories,' as told by those who've lived them, are quite literally, dying.  Of course, ALL stories (as told by those who've lived them) are dying.  No one gets out of life alive, right?

And once they're 'gone,' shmucks like me are (too often) all that's left to carry the tune.

In this particular A-4's case, her pilot, Col Martin Lenzini, is healthy, strong, smart, brilliant... and I promised him I'd draw his bird back in 20-when?! All of a sudden, I realized how I'd let the urgency of lesser-moments eclipse the more illustrious power of the past. 

"Dangit.  I gotta get Marty's story."

So, have a look at the A-4E on top.  It's a progress-shot of A-4E BuNo 151193.  It will be armed with Marty's chosen load out of "snakes and nape."  I'll be explaining more about that in the next couple of posts. 

Now, have a look at the photo below.  That's "Marty," circa 1969, Chu Lai, South Vietnam.  It too is an A-4E but with the more characteristic hump atop the fuselage.  This add-on bit may have detracted from the inherent attractiveness of the pure A-4 form but it increased its ability to survive in combat as the hump contained crucial ECM (Electronic CounterMeasure) gear.

In effect, there are two forms of E-models - humped and humpless.  (I'm glad Marty suggested 1193 as his representative Skyhawk as I think the humpless variety is just a wee bit prettier...

I digress.

Marty in front of a VMA-211 A-4E Skyhawk.

Anyways, in the event the reader is not an A-4 Skyhawk devotee, there are a few things to know:

1.  ONE A-4E Skyhawk could have stopped World War Two.  How so?   Well, in comparison to the B-17G, an an A-4 could carry twice the ordnance, had 1/8th the crew, was three times faster AND was nuke capable.  So, assuming one had a Time Machine, my statement is correct.

And the first A-4 flew in 1954, a mere nine years after WWII ended.  Progress, eh?

2.  2,900+ (of all variants) were manufactured from 1954 to 1979.  That's a twenty five year production run. 

3. The A-4 could (almost) do-it-all.  Though designed as an "attack" aircraft — meaning, tactical airstrikes, close air support, interdiction — it was also a capable fighter, level-bomber and even air-to-air tanker!

4. The A-4 was def combat proven.  History geeks know the bulk of her combat sorties were flown during the Vietnam War.  Still, Skyhawks fought under the Israeli flag in their myriad of conflicts, with the Argentinians in the Falklands Crisis and also in Kuwaiti markings during the Gulf War.  No fewer than nine nations used the A-4.

I could go on.   When asked if he had any particular affection for the airplane, Marty replied with gusto, "I loved it!"  Of course, it's not uncommon for pilots/crew to have particular affection for 'their' airplane.  But in the case of "the Scooter" (as it was nicknamed), the sentiment is that rare alchemy that happens when function + form + finesse come together to = "COOL!"

And indeed it is.  A while back, I designed a little cut-out A-4F in the markings of DFC Society Director, Charles "Chuck" Sweeney.   While flying with VA-212 Chuck was awarded three DFCs in ONE WEEK flying the A-4 in Sept of 1972.

I have a couple more.  Want one?  First come, first served.

I'm an A-4 fan boi for sure.   But what do I know? I just draw them.  Marty, on the other hand, flew them, as intended, in harms way, 350 times.  In the process, he was awarded four DFCs.  

And Marty's (as well as Chuck's, et al) DFCs weren't awarded for refilling the coffee pot while sitting on alert. 

Stay with me.  In Marty's words, "We're cleared in HOT."