STRATTON ANGB, Scotia, N.Y. — The 109th Airlift Wing’s C-130 Hercules are noted for their good looks. In fact, they win top international honors.
“This is the best-looking aircraft I have ever seen,” remarked a competition judge in 2000, just before the Wing won its third of four “Best Kept Aircraft in Show” titles at the Royal International Air Tattoo in England, beating out more than 150 aircraft, from over 30 countries.
Now, adding style to looks, the Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and the Multimedia Flight here started personalizing the Wing’s aircraft with nose-art in November 2004.
They recently decorated their eighth aircraft. On aircraft #493, winner of the 2004 Concours D’Elegance, the nose-art is a duck, wearing flight cap and goggles with assisted takeoff rockets attached to its back, its face straining as the rockets propel it. On another aircraft, the Twin Towers rise behind an American flag and ghostly bald eagle.
“The Air Force allows commanders to personalize their aircraft in this way,” said Senior Master Sgt. Fredrick Bochenek, flight chief.
Bochenek took on much of the artwork, sketching the designs in his spare time. He said that the Wing’s crew chiefs, 14 in all, provided the main ideas and themes. The group reviewed a few preliminary sketches to keep the artwork simple and focused.
“You try not to get too detailed, that makes it complicated,” said Bochenek.
To bring each crew chief’s concept to finished nose-art, Bochenek started by penciling a light outline, which he filled and shaded with color. An average sketch took three to four hours to finish. The sketches were then forwarded to the Wing’s commanders for approval.
“Not everyone will know what each sketch means,” said Bochenek. He said the collection is similar in size and style, but the individual sketches are unique to each aircraft’s mission and history. The Wing’s central mission is Polar airlift in Greenland and Antarctica.
“Most [sketches] have an Antarctic theme; some have titles like ‘Extreme Altitude’ or ‘Raven Gang,’” said Bochenek, who added that six aircraft remain.
In the nose-art titled “Raven Gang,” an animated raven—the historical trademark of the 139th Air Squadron here, which received the name from it’s early ski-bird missions to Greenland—hovers above the Antarctic ice fields with skis, ski poles, tattered cap, and scarf. He has a proud yet comically anxious look to his red-eyed and gold-toothed face.
Themed nose-art has been added to the Wing’s aircraft before. In 2003, a special 9/11 nose-art was added nationwide to select Air Force aircraft and removed after a limited time. But unlike the 9/11 nose-art, the project here is a permanent personalization, much like an aircraft’s identification number or city name.
Della Pia said that adding the nose-art allows crew chiefs, who are assigned personal responsibility for aircraft upkeep and maintenance, to display pride in their planes.
“Hopefully it enhances the spirit of the Wing and its mission,” Della Pia said. He went on to say that he enjoys watching the imagination and creativity of the entire nose-art team. “It’s fun to see those using their gifts to share with the Wing.”
Once the commanders approved a finished sketch, the Multimedia Flight scanned it into an electronic document. Senior Airman Brett Bouchard, the Wing’s graphics specialist, used desktop publishing software to add borders and backgrounds and enhance as needed. Then, the finished nose-art was printed onto a large, vinyl sticker, which was applied on each C-130 Hercules’ nose, aft of the aircrew door.
“We attached the first stickers not knowing how they would react to the extreme temperatures of Antarctica,” said Bochenek, who boasted that they “held up real well,” even when exposed to temperatures as low as 50 degrees below zero.
“They are part of our aircraft’s history now,” he said.
The nose-art team hopes to complete all aircraft this summer.