Jim Busha, editor of the EAA Warbirds magazine, got to talking with Chris and I when we brought in ‘Lady Satan’ to the EAA Osh Kosh airshow last year. He threatened to put together a story on ‘Lady Satan’ -which he made good on. ‘Lady Satan’ made the cover of the July issue, along with a great story. In addition, he was intrigued by the arcane art world of noseart and asked for some words on how we fell into this line of work…..
Pinups & Plane Names: The Business of Nose Art
Creating aircraft nose art wasn’t the career field my mother had envisioned for me. As a child,
I was a committed doodler, noodling fanciful figures on any surface that would take a pen, and some that wouldn’t. Upon announcing my intentions to enter the local college art program right out of high school, my mother decreed I would certainly starve with such a skillset and that I should make my money in computers instead.
She was right. About the computers, I mean. I received a BS degree in Computer Information Systems, from Cal Poly Pomona, and was quickly hired by McDonnell Douglas, programming CNC machines, creating tooling for the MD-80 program. I moved into management, overseeing documentation and graphics departments, IT functions and process improvement teams. I still doodled though. Meeting notes were interspersed with fanciful christmas card designs, and caricatures of the family dogs. My flowcharts were works of art. Employees could gauge my stress levels by the amount of white space left on briefing papers.
Nearly 20 years later, I left the aerospace/IT industry to work in a small aviation repair station, closer to family. When the repair station fell victim to the declining economy, my husband and I agreed that if there was a time for me to begin a creative career, now was it.
My husband Chris, son Paul, brother-in-law Mike, and father were all pilots, and we spent a lot of time at Cable Airport (CCB), in Upland, California. We shared a large 60 x 90ft hangar, where inside, along with the airplanes, my twin sister Terri and I set up a small studio where we could work on art projects, decorating the walls with vintage aviation-style murals. With most of our family conversations centered around aviation, its not surprising that our initial art projects stemmed from aviation themes. Chris, a truly devoted husband, gamely offered up his 1966 Mooney M20C for us to practice on. The Mooney had never been repainted in its 45+ year lifespan, and I reasoned, if we really goofed it up, it would be a good excuse to get it repainted. The artwork, a Mooney logo superimposed on a waving American flag wasn’t inspiring, but did teach us much about painting techniques.
More projects came along in the form of volunteer efforts. Yanks Museum, at Chino Airport, in Chino, CA., needed help in re-creating the artwork on their B-25J Mitchell, who’s restoration was nearing completion. We repainted the badly faded, six foot Tony-the-Tiger’ image, on both sides of the fuselage, (once the logo of Esso Oil that Kellogg Cereals tried unsuccessfully to sue for copyright infringement in the 1950s) as part of a volunteer effort, as well as several other historic aircraft in the extensive Yanks Air Museum collection (viewable at www.yanksair.com).
Terri also created ‘Late Nite Liaison’ nose art on their 1947 North American Navion, using the fast, loose style of the WWII combat zone, when crews would have only six hours or so to place a whole nose art design on the aircraft before the plane and/or crew would be sent out on another mission. It suits the Navion perfectly, with its polished aluminum Air Force paint scheme, and subsequently won the ‘People’s Choice’ award at the annual National Navion Society convention.
With a some experience, a website (www.victorygirl.com) and 1000 business cards, we officially hung out the Victory Girl shingle in 2007. Since then, we’ve done several hundred nose art pieces, for not only aircraft, but RVs, leather jackets, denim, sailboats, go-carts, automobiles, and even kegerators.
What we’ve come to enjoy the most about this unique art business, is the stories behind the nose art pieces we get to create. Sometimes the nose art itself spawns a story! A long-time pilot asked us to create a scantily clad curvaceous lady named ‘The Other Woman’ as a decal for the cowling of his Cessna 206. The meaning of the artwork was clear enough, as he admitted to spending many an hour enjoying the company of his beloved airplane, which he’d owned for 30+ years. After doing some followup on the decal installation, the pilot sheepishly asked if we could re-do the artwork, this time using his spouse’s features for the pinup’s face. His wife had been unexpectedly popping into the hangar at odd times, disturbing his naps and gin games, awaiting a glimpse of ‘the other woman’.
More often though, we’re painting on leather instead of metal. In addition to pilots personalizing their flight jackets, people use their leather jackets to honor the military service of a family member, or as the ultimate in bespoke/personalized apparel. One US Army pilot asked us create a custom leather jacket design for his wife, also a helicopter pilot, then serving in the Iraq conflict. Per his request, four custom Tarot cards were designed for Love, Justice, Death and Strength, each specific to her personality and squadron unit, and painted to her black flight jacket. It was a huge hit (with big brownie points for him!) and I can safely say there is no other jacket in the world quite like it!
Victory Girl creates nose art designs at no charge to active military units. We find that the current crop of service men and women find nose art just as morale-boosting now as it was back then, although there are far more PC (politically correct) restrictions today than in past times. We recently created nose art designs for each of the 23 F-22 Raptors at Langley AFB, Virginia. After we’d provided 23 pencil sketches, the pilots entered a raffle, with the winning ticket holders getting the opportunity to pick their nose art designs and name the artwork. Each final design was created to fit in a 3 x 7 inch space for installation inside the F-22 cockpit.
Nose art has become a family passion. On vacations we visit aviation museums and give talks on the history of aircraft nose. We’ve joined vintage fly-ins and cruise the flight lines, delighting in finding more examples of nose art. We’ve also become active members of the American Aviation Historical Society (www.aahs-online.org), as part of our efforts to research nose art pieces, and assist others in accurately re-creating historical nose art.
When we discovered that our OY-1 (02766) had combat time, we were lucky enough to identify and contact Lt. Tom Rozga in 2009, who had flown 02766 while on Iwo Jima. Tom’s son Tom Rozga Jr. sent us a black and white photo he had of young Lt. Rozga leaning against OY-1 02757, with ‘Lady Satan’ artwork. In honor of the upcoming reunion of Rozga with our OY-1, Terri painted a cowling with ‘Lady Satan’, allowing us to re-create that historic photo, 65 years later.
A few months later, after publishing photos of the reunion of Rozga with ‘Lady Satan’ to our website, I received an email from John Chlebowski, of Chicago. He informed me his uncle, George Legler Sr., had painted the artwork to the cowlings during WWII, and sent along photos from his uncle’s wartime scrapbook, showing Legler holding the painted cowlings in front of a tent barrack, surrounded by palm trees.
The ‘Lady Satan’ artwork was painted while part of the VM04 unit was on Guam, prior to arriving on Iwo Jima in February of 1945. Lt. Hull, one of the pilots of VM04 commissioned Legler, a Navy SeaBee, to paint the artwork for a fifth of Seagram’s Seven whiskey. Legler, who didn’t drink, later sold the liqueur for $35 –almost a month’s pay!
Although we have photos of OY-1 nose art on Iwo Jima, we haven’t yet found solid documentation to confirm which nose art was on 02766 during her tour of duty on Iwo Jima.
Aircraft nose art has become a passion, not only for the artwork, but for the personalities behind them. The people and the artwork of the aircraft of our aviation heritage each has a unique story, and it pleases me to know that we’re helping to preserve those stories.
(you can reach Jerri Bergen of Victory Girl at firstname.lastname@example.org).