Thunderbolt I and II uniquely marked D-Day 50th – the first heritage flight?
Hard to fathom now that it was twenty years ago today, April 26, 1994, that I participated in one of both the earliest and most uniquely memorable photo shoots of my career. In the spring of '94, I was still months from finalizing the sale of the imprinted sportswear company I founded in 1981 in Columbus, Ohio, a key step in the transition to being a fulltime aviation artist, journalist and photographer. However, as a “hobby,” I had spent several years building up a client base for my hand-painted flight jackets that included many prominent midwest warbird owner/operators. One of those was Louisville-based Charles Osborn, whose Vintage Fighters collection included the P-51D "Hurry Home Honey" and P-47D "Big Ass Bird II," a Corsair, T-33 and assorted projects (eventually including a second P-51D).
With the aid of Vintage Fighters staff led by personal assistant Andrea Lampen and chief pilot Brad Hood, Charles had been hosting annual warbird air shows at his home airport at Clark County, Indiana. Those Labor Day weekend shows, always highlighting both WWII events and participants, remain legendary to this day despite ceasing after 1996. I was fortunate to have been an official show photographer, as well having been commissioned by Charles to paint three A-2 jackets depicting identically both his Mustang and Jug together in flight.
It was probably late 1993 when Andrea called to share that Charles and Brad submitted a proposal to the Air Force to uniquely mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994. How about painting an A-10 Thunderbolt II (aka Warthog) in the distinctive D-Day stripes similar to those on Charles' P-47 Thunderbolt, and get them in the air for a photo shoot? Even better, stage them over the Air Force Museum? My instant response was to request that I be included, when and if such an event came to pass, even if to just shoot the aircraft on and from the ground. Meanwhile, the DOD response to Charles' proposal was along the lines of "no, wait, maybe, not my call, stand by."
At the time, Flight Journal Magazine and my first gig as one of its original contributing editors was two years off, and the internet was not yet at net stage. To date, my writing and photos had been published in EAA Warbird Magazine and InFlightUSA, neither being paying gigs. Further, my air-to-air photography missions could be counted on one hand, albeit from a T-6, B-24, B-17 and "Hurry Home Honey." Limited as that experience may seem, most incredible of all is my camera "rig" was hardly that - the 35mm Pentax K1000 I first bought in college. It did not have an automatic bone in its now charmingly antique all-metal body. But it took pictures.
Thus, as time marched on, I continued to run my printing operation while getting the occasional update from Louisville, always along the lines of "no word from the Air Force, yet."
Then, sometime in early April, 1994, Andrea called with some great news. An A-10 based out of Grissom AFB, Indiana, had been painted with stripes and the mission was a Go. If circumstances held, I'd get a call soon - they simply could not yet nail down an exact date, but it would stage out of Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton just as soon as all pertinent issues were settled (read: lawyers). I'd be welcomed to tag along and shoot as part of the official ground staff. Outstanding. Keep me posted.