By Dan Pimentel, EAA 1073301
When EAA’s B-17G Aluminum Overcast arrived at Eugene, Oregon’s Mahlon Sweet Field for its tour stop, the EAA crews had the airplane and tour trailers all ready to present the historic aircraft to the public May 5-7 as part of the “Join the Flight” national tour.
But when well-known experimental aircraft airbrush painter John Stahr, EAA 714251, of EAA Chapter 1457 took a look at the faded nose art on the B-17, he offered to volunteer his services to EAA to restore the art during the afternoon ground tour portions of the aircraft’s visit. With enthusiastic approvals from the EAA crew at KEUG as well as Tour Chief John Hopkins at EAA headquarters in Oshkosh, Stahr began the restoration, which would take several hours of work over each of the tour stop’s three days in Eugene.
Stahr — who is a self-proclaimed diehard B-17 nerd since watching the 12 O’Clock High TV series as a kid — knew that for an aircraft as important to aviation history as Aluminum Overcast, the nose art had to be as authentic as possible. “Instead of doing a slick airbrush rendering, which looks like the medium used for the original rendering,” Stahr explained, “I decided to repaint the same image and lettering using traditional oil-based sign painters enamel, the paint probably used by artists decorating planes between bombing sorties during the war.”
While a long line of interested public waited to climb inside Aluminum Overcast for ground tours, Stahr set up shop on a portable scaffolding and went to work, using a technique generally called “bulletin painting” common in the sign industry. “Although the ‘Vargas Girl look’ is a very stylized and slick illustration which uses delicate airbrush rendering with very fine details, those airbrush tools were not commonly found on English countryside airfields where these B-17s were based in World War II,” Stahr said. “The spirit in which I am approaching this restoration of the existing artwork is not to change it, but to recreate it using the same tools and paints that could have been used back in the ’40s to capture the authentic look of bomber nose art.”
During the first two days of the nose art restoration, Stahr had to work through winds gusting to 20 knots that would at times blow the paint right off his brush’s bristles while keeping an eye on thunderstorms skirting the airport. The conditions only added to the artist’s feeling of doing the job in as historically accurate a way as possible. “In retrospect, these are likely the same conditions that young aviation artists had to work in out on the grass strips in the English countryside, squeezing in some nose art painting between sorties as the young B-17 crews were delivering fire and rain to the Germans, so I am definitely feeling the nostalgia,” Stahr said.