clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


A commercial pilot is said to have broadcast catcalls to a female Utah Air National Guard pilot after he saw her taxiing down the runway in a military jet whose nose sported a painting of Marilyn Monroe and the slogan "Ready to Respond."

But such attention is not likely now that Marilyn has been covered by artwork of a falling rock climber that carries the slogan "Loggin' Air Time."And another of the Salt Lake-based fleet of KC-135 aerial refueling tankers used to sport nose titled "Work'n Girl" that featured a shapely carhop at the side of a 1948 Ford.

The car remains, but the carhop is gone. Instead, a mechanic is seen working underneath the car while dreaming of flying.

Why the difference?

In an age where flight crews are no longer a "men only" club and the mention of words like "Tailhook Scandal" makes the brass bristle, the Air Force's new Air Mobility Command now mandates that nose art be "gender neutral."

"Nose art will reflect a theme of civic/community pride, be distinctive, symbolic and designed and maintained to the highest quality standards," the policy reads - a marked departure from Strategic Air Command regulation 66-2 that endured through the era of pin-up art that embellished the nose of many military aircraft.

"During World War II they put on just about anything," said Chief Master Sgt. Larry Widerburg, production superintendent with the Guard's 191st Aircraft Generation Unit.

Women depicted in the nose art back through the decades were often dressed such that they left little to the imagination. Imagination seems to be the operative word in designing nose art now that the busty beauties are gone.

One of the Utah Air Guard's tankers sports a cartoon alligator holding the tanker's refueling boom. The slogan reads "Gator Ade." Another sports a skunk with the slogan "Pumpi Le' Fuel." The "Spirit of America" has artwork of a space shuttle passing over the Wright brothers' first plane.

Only two of the Utah Air Guard's fleet of 10 refueling tankers had to be modified to meet the newest gender-neutral requirements. But others have been changed for less controversial reasons.

In 1988, the Guard named each of its tankers after a Utah city to enhance the Guard's reputation with various communities. But the Strategic Air Command later ordered the names and city emblems off, said Stephen L. Bird, aircraft maintenance manager for the 191st.

Bird said the Utah Guard began putting nose art on its tankers about five years ago. The first piece features a flying dragon and is called the "Flying Lizard."

All of the nose art, old and new, is painted by Tech. Sgt. Gerald Trimble, whose job as an aircraft painter took on an enjoyable new dimension when he started working with the nose art. "It sure beats shooting green and gray all the time," he said.

Trimble's job customizing military hardware runs in the family. But he didn't know that until his grandmother told him recently that his father, who died 23 years ago, painted cartoons on battleship smokestacks while in the navy some 40 years ago.

Trimble painted Marilyn, repainted Marilyn, and then painted over Marilyn. He painted the carhop and then redesigned the art in its current display.

But changes in the nose art didn't come all at once with the year-old policy on gender.

Before that, Maj. Denise Schofield, a tanker navigator who has been with the Guard for 19 years, said her commanding officer asked her opinion about the paintings of Marilyn Monroe and the carhop. Schofield, who goes out of her way to keep gender issues out of her job, said she didn't mind the art - except for details in Marilyn's bust line and the bare buns showing from underneath the carhop's short skirt. "I just don't think they need the little extras," she said.

The order to paint underwear on the car hop still hangs on a clipboard above Trimble's desk.

Marilyn's French-cut swimming suit wasn't true to the period either, she pointed out.

In the spirit of fairness, Schofield suggested labeling one of the refueling tankers with Hans and Franz - Arnold Schwarzenegger clones from Saturday Night Live known for their one-liner: "We're going to pump you up."

Marilyn's demise was foreshadowed during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. "The planes that went to Saudi that had women on them - we had to paint them over," Widerburg said. But the covering was temporary.

Marilyn was restored on the plane's return until the policy change, which instructs that nose art will not be permitted "on any aircraft flying missions into the southwest Asia region or any other area where local populations may consider it sensitive or offensive."

The Guard has plans to restore some of its older art pieces, like the Flying Lizard. Widerburg said art with a Utah Jazz theme will be among new additions to the customized tanker fleet.