An Un­ex­pected Is­sue


When we started putting this is­sue to­gether, we weren’t very far into the process when I re­al­ized this was go­ing to be a dif­fer­ent kind of is­sue that touches on sub­jects we don’t of­ten dis­cuss. Right up front, I should ad­mit that one of the ar­ti­cles, “Fly­ing Jack­ets—A Leather-Bound His­tory,” is be­ing done mostly be­cause it’s a sub­ject that I dearly love. I’m think­ing you do too; other­wise, the sales of leather fly­ing jack­ets wouldn’t be as high as they are. We touched on this sub­ject in Flight Jour­nal nearly two decades ago, but this time, we’re do­ing more than talk­ing about the evo­lu­tion of the breed; we’re get­ting into the his­tory that com­bat has in­fused into some of the jack­ets we’re pic­tur­ing in the ar­ti­cle. Each of these jack­ets has lived a chap­ter of life be­ing worn by a com­bat pi­lot or crew­man with which only a few peo­ple in the world can iden­tify. The air­men some­times had the backs of their jack­ets painted with the nose art that was on their air­craft or that fea­tured some say­ing or logo that meant some­thing to them. Few of these painted jack­ets have sur­vived, and their sto­ries are some­times al­most un­be­liev­able. They are true his­tor­i­cal ar­ti­facts and ex­traor­di­nar­ily rare.

Par­al­lel­ing the tra­di­tion of paint­ing fly­ing jack­ets is the sub­ject of air­craft nose art. Putting an in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic (and of­ten risqué) im­age on the nose of a bomber or fighter was a way of set­ting a crew’s mount apart from oth­ers in their squadron or group. It gave their airplane an iden­tity, and it be­came more than a ma­chine, more than a weapon; it be­came their friend and their home. In “Brush­strokes,” Jim Busha not only delves into one of the painters who viewed fight­ers as his can­vas but also gives us the story be­hind the im­ages. Why did it say what it said? What was the thought process be­hind it? When think­ing of nose art, it helps put it in con­text if we re­mem­ber that the avi­a­tors on­board were al­most never more than 22 years old and of­ten as young as 17. They were kids at war show­ing their col­ors.

In “Burma Ban­shees,” Gré­gory Pons takes us into a com­bat the­ater that is one of the least re­ported of World War II. It is al­most for­got­ten that groups like the 90th Fighter Squadron, and their P-40s and then P-47s, fought a back­wa­ter war sel­dom vis­ited by the cor­re­spon­dents that made other the­aters so fa­mil­iar to the folks back home. It was at the ex­treme ends of sup­ply lines and still had to face a for­mi­da­ble en­emy that had been fight­ing in the area for sev­eral years. It is an in­ter­est­ing tale.

Jim Busha puts us in the cock­pit of a P-38 with ace “PJ” Dahl, and along­side him, we find out what it is like to be thrust into com­bat with lit­tle or no ex­pe­ri­ence. In 1942–43, the Pa­cific war was a lop­sided af­fair in which the en­emy had the most ex­pe­ri­ence and the most air­planes. Still, Dahl and the 475th FG—“Satan’s An­gels”—waded in and be­gan the long process of re­claim­ing the Pa­cific. In the ar­ti­cle “Run­ning with the Devil,” Dahl ex­plains in clear terms the life and death as­pects of aerial com­bat when one is a long way from home. He also gives us tremen­dous in­sight into the P-38.

In­ci­den­tally, the Gallery in this is­sue is as un­ex­pected as some of the ar­ti­cles. When was the last time you saw a photo lay­out of a Cul­ver PQ-14? A what? Take a look. It’s a hu­man­car­ry­ing drone. A what?

Any­way, turn the page and started read­ing. Some of it will sur­prise you.

Tech Sgt. Joe Har­lick, 91st BG pho­tog­ra­pher, poses with Man O War II, just one of the thou­sands of com­bat air­craft treated with nose art. (Photo cour­tesy of Stan Piet)

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