Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Canadian chopper crews revive nose-art tradition in Afghanistan

It is a lost art form for Canada's air force, a splash of colour and personality on the sun-bleached landscape from an institution better known for its subdued hues and camouflage. The military tradition of nose art painted on combat aircraft has been resurrected by the ground crews who service Canada's recently acquired CH-47D Chinook and CH-146 Griffon helicopters at Kandahar Airfield. Adorning aircraft with personalized paint dates back to the First World War, but the form of expression had, until recently, all but disappeared from the Canadian Forces. That's partly because Canada has flown relatively few combat missions since the 1940s, said Col. Christopher Coates, the officer commanding the country's air detachment in Kandahar. The heady days of the Second World War were also a less bureaucratic time, when there were fewer regulations, he added. "We have regulations that are sometimes associated with safety of flight," Coates said. "We wouldn't want glare coming off part of the aircraft in the pilot's eyes, for example, or blocking off some of the designations that need to be on the aircraft." The maintainers and air-brush Rembrandts who prowl the airfield tarmac were eager to give each of the Chinooks their own personality, but some of the air wing officers feared politically sensitive Ottawa might object. Coates said special approval to paint the aircraft wasn't required, but the air wing was required to fill out paperwork to notify the Department of National Defence. The ability to personalize the aircraft is an important morale booster for the pilots and ground crews, he added. When it arrived, at least one of the former U.S. Army choppers had already been personalized, and Sgt. Bob Patten of Kingston, Ont., said refinishers who work under him were eager to Canadianize it. The Chinook, a military workhorse, bore the image of a skeleton; the Canadians added a hockey stick and helmet, plus the familiar rink-rat shorthand for the two-minute penalty that results from using one's stick to detain an opponent: "Two for Hooking." "Everyone in the Chinook world is known as "hookers," because they sling big loads," Patten explained. "We embellished it." Another one of the choppers carries the words "Jacked Up" as part of a stylized Jack Daniels whiskey logo - a reference to a military euphemism for being bawled out by a superior officer. The images are modest and unobtrusive, located on the right hand side of the aircraft beside the door gunner and harmlessly away from both the pilot's field of vision and the aircraft's identification numbers. The personalities of each air crew play a key role in determining the most appropriate designs, Patten added. Nose art emerged with the German and eventually the U.S. air force during the First World War as a way to tell friend from foe during the dizzying dogfights above the Western Front. But many aficionados say it was during the Second World War that the paintings evolved into a true art form. Although officially prohibited, the noses of U.S. military aircraft were liberally adorned with pin-up paintings, cartoon characters and rolling-dice logos. The Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force were not as prolific with the paint as their American cousins, although many Canadian and British images existed.


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