And On The Way To The Forum…….

Stopping off at Randolph AFB, the first revelation was the consistent 100-degree summer temperature, which was something of a shock to the system for anyone straight from England. The second was the unexpected architectural elegance of the place, with its tree-lined avenues and red-roofed hacienda-style buildings organized in a unique layout centred around the shining white "Taj Mahal", which is basically an unusually-configured water tower!

I was on an Air Force Art Program visit, and was scheduled for a bit of flying with the 560th FTS Cheetahs. It was fascinating for me to be able to walk around and examine the new AT-38C. I have previously painted the T-38A Talon on a number of occasions, and have come to appreciate its clean and elegant lines. The clearly area-ruled fuselage configuration betrays its vintage, but it is still the world’s only supersonic trainer, and continues to serve in air forces around the world. And after more than four decades is still the USAF’s standard advanced jet trainer. It was at Randolph Field that the first Talon unit became operational in 1961. The recent upgrade which is the AT-38C is most evident in the larger, redesigned air intakes and jet pipes signifying uprated engines; otherwise it is still recognizably the original airframe. Also noticeable are the pilot's new HUD, and a new large blade aerial on its underside. As expected the performance of the aircraft is noticeably livelier than that of the British Aerospace Hawk trainer I have previously flown in. Again, I took the g's in my stride, and can attest that it has one of the fastest snap rolls of any jet. One item they appear not to have upgraded is the temperature control in the rear cockpit....I was wilting and soaked in sweat towards the end of the flight.


The theme I chose for the AFAPO painting was Operation Homecoming , and the central role played by the Cheetahs some 30 years ago in rehabilitating the flying careers of 191 returning Vietnam ex-POWs. The memory of those "Freedom Flyers" is celebrated with evident pride in the Freedom Hall set up in the squadron. The AFAPO had a hands-off approach here, so no to-and-fro with sketchs for clients this time. The artist has a free hand, and it was straight into the canvas. The only bit of awkwardness was the background in the painting...all the photos I had snapped from the air were from the wrong side of the airbase for the aspect I wanted! Back home in my studio, I had to mentally reverse the scenes for the painting, with the help of a base touring map we had been given on arrival....transposing buildings around the image of the Taj Mahal on the canvas. Otherwise it was all pretty straight forward. I am grateful for the follow-up help via the internet from "my" pilot, Ops Officer Lt Col David Green, who provided not only encouragement but nice clear jpegs of T38 anatomy for details I had missed with my own camera.


                                      Operation Homecoming: Home with Honor


The finished painting made it to Washington DC in time for the Air Force Art Presentation at Bolling AFB in October, but this artist was sadly forced to cancel his attendance at the last moment because of pressure of immediate work! One down, two to go for the AFAPO.......

Ronald Wong
November 2006