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)