Barksdale Airman’s dream girl at RED FLAG – Alaska

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey S. Walston
  • RED FLAG – Alaska 06-2 Public Affairs
If you had the opportunity to immortalize the love of your life, would you take it?

Tech. Sgt. Robert Slansky, crew chief for the 917th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Barksdale AFB, La., who deployed here with his unit and the 93rd Bomb Squadron for RED FLAG – Alaska 06-2, did.

It is of course a historical fact that images of beautiful and famous women have adorned the noses of many a military plane since the beginning of World War II. “She” was a visual reminder to Airmen that represented what they were fighting for. Although their numbers have dropped drastically in recent years, nose art still exists today.

So when the call went out across the 917th Reserve Wing for nose-art designs to put on one of their B-52 Stratofortresses, it wasn’t just Sergeant Slansky who answered the call.

“Everyone wanted nose art that meant something,” said Tech. Sgt Bruce Gay, 917th AMS crew chief. “But, it was said that females couldn’t be on it unless it had a historical significance.”

Sergeant Slansky, who has had a fascination with aircraft for most of his life, was determined to get the Vargas girl style of artwork from the ‘40s and ‘50s he’d seen in Esquire Magazine onto the nose of 1029, “his” plane. Not only did he plan to design art that would be fit for approval, he also wanted his wife Lee’s face on the artwork.

“I really thought she’d get a kick out of it because she loves planes,” Sergeant Slansky said. “I wanted to combine the ideas of the old ‘Sack Time Girl’ with a ‘SAC’ (Strategic Air Command) time theme from the past.”

But, while Sergeant Slansky was working on the surprise for his wife, he was unaware that she was working on her own design with the assistance of her step-father Buck Riggs, curator, 8th Air Force Museum at Barksdale AFB.

“I’m a huge fan of nose art from World War II and the SAC era,” said Lee Slansky. “I’m a SAC baby. My daddy was in the Air Force.”

When all was said and done, both designs came together, and Mr. Riggs used a computer to superimpose Lee’s face on a big sticker in a three-foot, square pattern required for nose art on a B-52.

Of course, they had to get rid of some things from the original artwork and show a little less leg, said Sergeant Slansky. Then they sent it up the chain of command. It made it all the way to Brig. Gen. Jack Ihle, 917th Reserve Wing commander at the time, and he approved it.

“We got the big sticker done and on the plane just before 9-11,” said Sergeant Slansky. “It was on the plane in the background when President Bush landed at Barksdale on 9-11. I think it made it into a press picture.”

After the B-52 served a tour in Operation Enduring Freedom, Sergeant Gay helped turn the sticker art into full-fledged, painted nose art.

“She (1029) flew into Afghanistan with the sticker, but it was fading pretty bad. So I scored it up and painted the design over again just before Iraq,” Sergeant Gay said. “When “she” got back from depot after Iraq, I started painting the design over. It was taking a long time because we were working on fuel cells and I couldn’t paint.”

During its lengthy refinishing process, some began linking the plane’s poor performance to the slow progression of the painting, as if both had taken on a life of their own.

“The plane flew badly while it was being painted, and Lee told me ‘She’ll be happy and ready to go and fly good once the artwork is done.’ I finished up just before arriving in Alaska.” Sergeant Gay said. “And that plane has flown every day and every mission she’s been called to, morning and night, since arriving (here).”

While it’s true that 1029 keeps flying here at RED FLAG – Alaska 06-2, “she” has had some problems, according to the maintenance crew. But they’ve kept “her” in the air, kept “her” doing what “she” was designed to do – to fly.

Is it the crew, or the art that keeps 1029 going? Is it the pride of the crew in their jobs or 1029’s pride of “her” distinctive recognition? One may never know.

But, what is known is that 1029 has been the work horse for the 917th Reserve Wing and its 93rd Bomb Squadron so far. And every time 1029 takes to flight there is one thing that is never questioned; Lee Slansky is going along for the ride.

“I take it as a compliment. I figure it’s for the fellas,” Lee said. “It’s a huge compliment. It should be for all women.” (Courtesy of Pacific Air Forces)