Saturday, April 24, 2010
This is what was left of Kenny Frost's P-38. Sixty years later we are squatting in the burn area where they found his body. The Earth is still scorched from the fire (you can tell by the lack of grasses growing in that area.
The Dry lake bed is seen in the distance. It is hard to see but there are flags posted denoting the various pieces and fragments that still exist from the airplane. We checked the serieal number on some parts to identify and confirm the wreck site.
This location had many unused tracers, and 50. cal bullets laying on the desert sand, but I discovered partially buried, right at my feet, one item that confirmed the last resting place of Kenny Frost. There it was, Kenny's "D" ring; parachute buckle. It had laid there in that same location for all these years, undisturbed.
My guess is when they unstrapped his body from what was left of the cockpit the buckle stayed there with his smoldering parachute. I called out to the Base historian who entered the coordinates into his GPS and confirmed that from now on this site was protected landscape. It is a State Historic Site!.
I wanted so much to take that belt buckle, but left it there to honor future generations who may, (but it's doubtful), visit the site.
This ends my saga of Kenny Frost and his plane, the "Batlin' Bet".
But I would still look for occasions to show off my flight jacket and tell the story.
Friday, April 23, 2010
So, whatever happened to the 24 year old Fighter-Jock/Artist/Warrior Hero named Kenny Frost?
After flying his 50 combat missions in the European Theater, Kenny came back to the United States for his required six months stateside service. After spending six months stateside he could then be eligible to fly in the Pacific Theater against the Japanese.
During his stateside service he was stationed at Dagget Army Air Force Base out in the Desert near Barstow. His job was to fly as an instructor in P-38's; teaching other pilots the art of firing rockets in their bombing/strafing runs.
On Sept. 17, 1945, one month after the end of WWII, Kenny was instructing four other pilots in the firing of rockets out on a dry lake bed near Ft. Irwin. While the four students flew in a pattern above the range, at an elevation of 6500 feet, Kenny winged over and flew a dry run at a target airplane on the edge of the dry lake bed.
Now, usually when rockets are fired at a target on the ground the pilot's job is to pull up from his decent so he doesn't get plastered by the explosion. He doesn't get a chance to see the rockets hit. One day Kenny was overheard saying he was determined to, "see the rockets hit" by firing the rockets, then diving below their trajectory, and pulling up behind and underneath, so he could see them hit the target.
On his first dry run, he dove from 6500 feet, dry fired, dropped down lower than normal and pulled out, but at an incredibly low altitude, at a high rate of speed; so low that the range master immediately radioed Kenny and chewed him out, saying he was to," never, ever try that again!"
However, as fate would have it, one of the four students flying and observing in the pattern had their microphone stuck in the "open" position, and Kenny never got the warning from the range master. Kenny, after his first dry run began his ascent up to the pattern altitude again. According to the Range Master at 3600 feet Kenny winged over and proceeded on his second dry run.
The Range Master knew immediately Kenny was a goner and rushed out to scramble the emergency vehicles. Kenny proceeded on his dry run but misjudged his speed and altitude. At a high rate of speed, Kenny attempted to pull out of his dive, but stalled his P-38 and "Mushed" it in. It was a high speed stall. As he stalled, one wing tip hit the desert floor and the plane cartwheeled, (or ground looped), and burst into flames. Wreckage was scattered over a mile.
With the help of AAIR (Aviation Accident Investigation Research) I made contact with the Colonel in charge of Ft. Irwin Military Base. I made arrangements to come out to the base to find the crash site, along with historian Steve Blake, AAIR, and the Ft. Irwin Base Historian, to go out to the dry lake bed to find the crash site. On the day we arrived for the archaeological dig, the Base Colonel granted us an escort of Humvees. He also came along for the ride.
We took a ride out to the area where we thought the crash had taken place. Via the use of satellite imagery, and four black and white photos (which were taken at the crash site the afternoon of the crash), we could see the desert landscape had hardly changed at all from what it looked like over sixty years ago.
We located the area where the target plane sat, and then spread out and walked in a southerly direction. We were on the verge of finding something that had been lost and forgotten over 60 years.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Well, this Flight Jacket definitely became my second skin. I made sure I wore it whenever it was chilly enough, and it even graced the cover of the Montecito Journal once when I had a solo plein-air nocturne exhibition at Montecito Frame and Gallery.
This was a picture that was taken of me in my studio when I had a painting accepted into the California Art Club Gold Medal Exhibition. I am wearing the Russian Infantryman's Hat which I've worn for years now; nationally and internationally, while painting my plein-air nocturnes. (My estranged in-laws brought it back from the former U.S.S.R.).
You can get a glimpse of the front of my jacket with the "San Michelle" Bell given to my Mom by Kenny Frost. He collected it while on R&R in Corsica. The pilots use to hang them (as I had done) from their lapel, for good luck.
The painting behind me is from my 1999 Master's Thesis, at C.S.U.N., called, "Sleeping Metrolink". I will approach it as an urban nocturne later on.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Even though Kenny's Flight Jacket didn't have an American Flag on it, I'd seen enough authentic flight jackets that did have one, so, using the same de-glazing medium and leather paints as I had used on the Nose Art; I stripped away the color of the leather and finish down to the hide.
I then drew in a flag with a thin black sharpie pen, and added 2-3 coats of leather paint to the stars and bars. I mixed my colors to be more muted in tone, thus they would look more "period like". Then came the antique toning and weatherproofing.
When I finished it, it really had a nice patina and hand made look.
I am fond of this Faux Flag!
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Here are a couple of views of my flight jacket with, "Batlin' Bet' nose art painted on the back. One can see the various lighting conditions will translate differently on film. The bottom two photos show the artwork fresh off the easel. The upper photo shows I have worn it a bit as the paint is starting to crack in a few places. This is a good thing.
So, now that I have my jacket finished, and I am honoring my Mom and Kenny Frost. It's time to wear it out. The only way to get a, "50 mission crush", is to wear it like it is a second skin. Wear it as often as I can.
I am a walking story! Since it's creation I have worn it to Europe twice, and turned a few heads of historians and members of the WWII generation. It all works to plant seeds, jog memories, and spark the imagination.
It has also been an attractor to others who have had relatives involved in WWII. I have received commissions to paint images of nose art that was on the aircraft of their relatives, on their own A-2 flight jackets.
It is a great way to pay homage to, and stay in contact with relatives, some who have already made the passage into the great beyond. Their spirit comes back into form.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Steve Blake, the Historian for the 96th Fighter Group came across this photo of Kenny, taken as he was getting ready to fly on a mission. One can see the nose art up close, and see the values of the paint, some of the details on the two pistols, her eyes, shinny hair, etc. The painted circle behind her (I presume it was the sun) is not visible.
I can see the petticoat, and a wee bit of cleavage. I had what I needed to start.
I put my jacket on a manikin torso. I sketched the image first on regular paper, then placed it on my jacket with sheets of carbon paper underneath. I drew over the image imprinting the contours on to the jacket.
The Next step was to use deg lazing fluid and remove the dye and finish on the jacket, down to the raw horse hide. I then redrew the image in pen, and painted the "Batlin' Bet" Nose art using Tandy Leather Acrylics. I toned the paint with a tan coat which gave it a mellow antique look. When it was finished, I used a waterproofing sealer to protect the paint for as long as possible.
I'm sure it was in vain as the artwork on the original jackets were probably painted with cheap paint, and didn't last very long. But I was creating an heirloom and I wanted it to last a few more generations; to inspire the imagination, and to tell the story of a warrior and his accomplishments.
The painting process took about a week.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
I bought my flight jacket from Eastman Leather Co. in England. They used the original blueprints and patterns of all WWII Flight jackets. As was Kenny's Jacket, I purchased a limited edition A-2, made of Horse hide.
I ordered reproductions of the patches to be sewn on the jacket as well. When the jacket arrived it was beautiful, however, as was the original, it was lacking the 'Batlin' Bet' nose art on the back.
I was allowed to make copies of one of the photos of Kenny, that were in Hal Frost's photo album, this helped me to configure the drawing as accurately as possible.
I had my reference material to draw from; and now to apply the painting to the jacket.
In this photo, it appears Kenny has just finished painting the nose art. What colors did he use? I had to contact various surviving members of the 96th Fighter Squadron to learn the nose, and spinners were painted red, and each of the vertical stabilizers were painted yellow. It was pretty much a guessing game as to the colors Kenny used so I had to rely on my awareness of value, and intuition, to make the call on the color of her dress, top, and sun behind her.
The caricature though was still a challenge to make out; what was he trying to say? What was going on with her eyes? I needed more information.