By Kevin “K5” Michels
All of us at the Gulf Coast Wing are very proud of our B-17 Flying Fortress, Texas Raiders. Her distinctive Nose art separates her not only from other B-17’s, but from all other aircraft. Whereas most CAF aircraft that carry nose art have carried the same or similar artwork during their CAF careers, Texas Raiders is a notable exception. In fact, eight-and-a-half different versions of nose art have appeared over TR’s 53-year CAF career. What’s that? Half, you say? Well, maybe it’s eight and maybe it’s nine. Stick with me and see how you count it.
The CAF’s B-17, N7227C didn’t even have a name when she arrived at the CAF. It wasn’t until 1973 that B-17 co-pilot and GCW Executive Officer Eddie Burke is officially credited with naming the aircraft Texas Raiders. The very next year the first nose art was applied. It consisted of simple text and a small Texas flag. However nonchalant it was, this nose art remained unchanged for as long as the aircraft maintained the 305th BG markings. Note in the photo below that both sides of the nose have only one small window and no cheek gun ports.
In approximately August 1977 TR received a completely new 381st Bomb Group paint scheme. Photo evidence indicates that the aircraft may have gone the rest of the 1977 season without nose art. However, in 1978 what is now referred to as the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” nose art appeared. However, this art was applied to TR three-and-a-half years before the movie was released. Ironically, this nose art disappeared a year before the movie was released in June 1981 so they never coexisted. Marketing opportunity lost!
In 1980, TR received Cheek Gun windows, one of the many updates on a long road to being restored to her original B-17G configuration. The photo showing the install nearly complete is from the May/June 1980 Dispatch. With her old nose art partially pasted over with a window, new nose art was created: the short-lived “Large Flag” nose art. Of special note is that the left side of the aircraft had only one small window next to the cheek gun window while the right side of the aircraft had no small windows at all.
In 1981 both small windows were added to the right side and a second small window was added to the left side, thus completing nose window restorations. Since this upgrade obliterated the nose art for a second year in a row, nose art was updated yet again, essentially just a smaller flag graphic as the text appears to be unaltered in appearance and location.
In 1982 two slight changes appear. This is what I refer to as the “Half Version” of the nose art. The first change is a slight re-imaging of the Texas flag for reasons unknown and the second is the inaugural appearance of yellow bomb mission markers. Fifteen is the mission count although the reasons for this number, if any, have been lost to time. Arguments could be made to count this nose art version as no change, a ninth, or the eighth-and-a-half as I have. Decide for yourself.
1983 was a landmark year, for this was when the first “Bomb Girl” nose art graced the sides of Texas Raiders. Mission bomb markers were increased to 21, again the reason for this count is not known. This was all short-lived, however, as Texas Raiders began her three-year nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip restoration during the fall of the same year.
In late 1985, while the all-encompassing restoration project was entering its final stages, artist Otto Dickey applied what is now known as the “Airbrushed Bomb Girl” artwork. No yellow bomb mission markers were initially included. However, in 1988, Col. Everett Gibson & Wing Staff came up with the idea to put 34 bomb mission markers on the aircraft. This time there was meaning behind the count. Thirty-four was a nod to the 35-mission tour of duty for 8th Air Force bomber crews during WWII while keeping in mind Texas Raiders’ ongoing “35th mission” of honor, inspiration, and education. The 34 bomb mission markers have remained on the aircraft ever since.
In 1993, just seven years after the restoration project was complete, Texas Raiders underwent corrosion abatement, corrosion repair, and a full re-painting. One of the corrosion casualties was the panel containing Otto Dickey’s nose art. The panel was removed and auctioned off at $20 per ticket. Over $1,000 was raised, although no word on who won or where that panel currently resides! Prior to the 1994 airshow season, artist Jackie Newcomer, a renowned Warbird artist was brought in to utilize a period accurate paintbrush technique to update TR’s nose art. Jackie’s previous work had been immortalized on many aircraft in the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame. Jackie’s freehand painted nose art on TR was more than just good. Having graced the fuselage of TR for 23 years, this nose art served TR longer than all the other 7-1/2 versions combined.
In 2017 Texas Raiders underwent her most recent corrosion abatement, corrosion repair, and full re-paint. As a result, all markings including nose art had to be reapplied. Wing Staff decided to bring in Gary Velasco, a well-known Vargas-esque style professional artist with a long resume of Warbird nose art to his credit, including many CAF aircraft. The results were stunning and we expect TR to wear this nose art for the foreseeable future.