2019: A Fond Farewell for the NDB

Flight training entails the use of several items of clothing and equipment not normally issued to a young lieutenant, and while I readily understood the purpose of the SPH-4 aviators helmet1, and my flame retardant Nomex® flight clothing, other items like the E6-B flight computer2 baffled me. Fortunately I learned my very first day on the flight line that my single most important piece of equipment was my stick buddy – another student I was teamed up with. We sat in class together, studied for exams together, and when we transitioned to the UH-1 we flew together. We alternated between actually flying the aircraft and sitting in a jump seat just aft and between the student at the controls and the instructor pilot who was situated where he could observe. Then we’d swap places and learn from our mistakes.

I was fortunate to draw Scott the Former Cadet as my partner, and while as a rule he was a great guy to work with, there was one time when I questioned his sanity. I was at the controls, but out of the corner of my eye I could see his head slightly rocking, and I began to wonder if he had some sort of nervous tic brought on by the stress of flying. It turned out that he was in fact “rocking out”. Drawing on his background as an electronics maintenance officer he’d figured how to listen to music simulcast over an NDB at the same time he listened to the instructor pilot’s calm, thoughtful, and insightful commentary on my performance3 that day.

So what was an NDB? It was a “non-directional beacon”, an almost-gone old-tech radio aid that used outmoded technology differing a bit from other newer aids to aerial navigation. The NDB’s signal had no inherent locational information but in fact was the instrument flight version of a lighthouse giving a relative bearing to the transmitter with no reference to north or south. Finding your way with an NDB was a multi-step process: you had to find the transmitter’s location on a chart, and after some number crunching, figure out where you were and where you were going.

Recently the FAA announced plans to drop questions about non-directional beacons from the written exam for instrument flight certification, a move that bothered me because as outmoded as they are these NDBs had their benefits. For example in one flying area where I logged a lot of hours the terrain was such that the newer and more sophisticated beacons were less reliable than the older versions. NDBs also had a longer range at lower altitudes and as a bonus could give notice of unknown thunderstorms when electricity released by lightening would “crackle” on their less distinct signal.

For most of my life I’ve had a circle of friends that functioned much like a system of NDBs, a group of people with a wide range of age, background, faith and gender whose positive examples helped me navigate the moral terrain of my life. I started out with most of them being home-grown Alaskans from my youth, but other “flavors” came along during my travels as a student, missionary, soldier, design professional and teacher. These friends – combined with my board of directors4 – formed a network of moral NDBs to guide me in life the same way the actual beacons gave directions for flying without visual reference.

Unfortunately I am now in the 55-to-dead demographic and both the state of the world and my own situation brings to mind the words of British foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey on the eve of the Great War: “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time”. My personal NDBs are getting fewer and fewer as time goes on: some are passing away, some have succumbed to the ravages of different forms of mental impairment but sadly there are those who’ve lost their way and have been unable to keep their principles while becoming lost in a social overcast of catchphrases, buzzwords and political correctness.

Before the term “fix” took on its unfortunate drug overtone, the word was used in navigation as a reference to a point where two star-sightings or radio beams intersected and provided a location on the map. Getting a fix is OK, but what you really want is a “good fix” – three beams intersecting and giving a much more precise location. As I lose more of those moral NDBs it gets harder and harder to get a fix much less a “good fix” as I navigate on my journey through life.

Make no mistake – in my lifetime I have been witness to forms of prejudice and injustice that were sorely in need of redress, and while great strides have been made there is still much to be done.

However, there is something inherently flawed in the way both sides of the political spectrum are addressing these problems. As I listen in on the dialog about those unsolved problems it is especially distressing to hear that chilling maxim “the end justifies the means” uttered most often by those who do not know the source of the adage, namely Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, a 16th century Florentine government functionary and philosopher who first used the words as justification for manipulation and duplicity in his political treatise The Prince.

…and then I wonder if they’ve also missed the work of Georges Santayana when he wrote that “ those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” and are clueless as to how quickly political chaos can devolve into totalitarianism? Only ten years separate the Beer Haul Putsch 1923 from the German government’s national boycott of Jewish business which put the Holocaust in motion. Think about it – ten years ago for us now was 2009, the year that Micheal Jackson died, Barack Obama was sworn in and the Great Recession ran out of steam.

Doesn’t seem that long ago, eh?

As I get older I find that navigating perilous socio-political waters takes a lot more out of me, and just leading a good life doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Instead we’re called on to prove our “goodness” by negotiating a series of steps that seem to change in mid-stride, but just as the effort is more tiring the emotional response remains the same. My own set of values are well established, so I’ll continue on the moral path I have chosen…

…but it gets kind of lonely sometimes.

 


Notes

  1. AKA “brain bucket”
  2. Nifty slide ruler with a frosted  Mylar(R)  window that allowed you calculate airspeed, ground speed, fuel consumption and the myriad ways the wind could screw up your flight plan
  3. Please engage your sarcasm filter for this sentence.
  4. See Board of Directors Part 1: Richard Bird

Charlton’s Peacemaker

Peacemaker cover

Comics fans tend to divide the market into two monolithic superpowers – DC and Marvel – especially when talking about the Silver Age of the 1960s. However there was a  smaller third contender known as Charlton Comics that would weekly duke it out with the Big Two for space on those spinning comic racks. Charlton started out doing television and movie tie-in books but for a short time they had an Action Hero line that gave the big boys a run for their money.

…and the title Action Heroes was a deliberate move to distance the Charlton books from the rest of the market. Editor Dick Giordano had always favored the Batman-model for heroes – regular human beings righting wrongs and facing danger armed with just  hard work and imagination rather through the benefit of superhuman origins or equipment. During Giordano’s tenure  all the Charlton super-powered heroes were either changed into non-super versions (like Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle) or substantially reduced in power as was the case with Captain Atom.

DC bought out Charlton in the Eighties, so you can still find versions of Blue Beetle and The Question in print, but some of their comrades weren’t  so lucky as was the case with The Peacemaker. Billed as “The man who loved peace so much he was willing to fight for it” Peacemaker always struggled to find a home in DC and was finally  written out in a recent reboot event. His methods of operation didn’t translate well into contemporary books, but I also think he suffered aesthetically ; there was a logical explanation for his outsized helmet (it housed long range communications and sensor equipment) but I imagine his foes weren’t able to look for long at that particular piece of headgear without starting to snicker…and I personally  wonder about the effect a good stiff crosswind would have on that thing.

It’s  also hard to draw. I’ve tried my usual update-magic on Peacemaker’s entire outfit, but that helmet is proving to be troublesome….

Peacemaker sketch

1979: The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter

It was topic common enough for the end of any spring semester. While  recording grades for the first critique of the semester our instructor  asked everyone in turn what their plans were for the coming summer:

  • Karen was going to intern at a magazine in Salt Lake City.
  • Dan would be taking a remedial math class during the summer term.
  • Bob had scored a sweet  gig doing backgrounds at an LA animation house.
  • I would be flying helicopters for the Army at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

Total silence

There’s nothing quite like being surprised by someone else being totally surprised. Even though I’d  been an ROTC cadet the entire time at BYU,  Sarcastic Instructor1 was quite startled at the prospect of me actually raising my right arm, swearing in and becoming a second lieutenant. To be totally frank I wasn’t too sure about the decision either –  bridging the gulf between creativity and controlled mayhem had been fuel for many sessions of anxious introspection during my years as a college student but I’d always figured that one of the two options would nose ahead of the other  by the time I finished with school.

…at least that’s what I thought the previous summer when I’d hit creative roadblock of such magnitude that the military seemed my only viable option but in a perverse twist of fate I’d made an artistic comeback and was well on the way to building a truly magnificent portfolio. Unfortunately I still had to complete Sarcastic Instructor’s 400 level Illustration II class, and his response to my announcement about “summer employment”  was a rolled-eye glance in my direction as he announced the subject for our mid-term project.

The assignment was to rework an existing lack-luster record album cover for which I was given “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter” by the Incredible String Band.  As I went through all the tracks on the album the group’s reedy vocals and use of medieval wood-winds backed by contemporary instruments suggested a marriage of artistic vision. I felt  a combination of Patrick Woodruffe’s rich textures and trompe l’oeil effects with Jim Sharpe’s punchy linework and airbrush backgrounds would work, , but what I ended up with was a mish-mash of stylistic inconsistency. The background worked out nicely but my effort to hork Mr. Sharpe’s styles devolved into an indifferent main-figure, which Sarcastic Instructor referred to during the preliminary critique as my “quasi-comic-book style”.

I returned home in a foul mood – I had a 48-hour respite before the final critique but attending to all the details of graduation and commissioning had already put me under the gun time-wise. Starting over from scratch was not an option so I masked off the background and started to airbrush white ink over the main figure with a vague plan for re-penciling the image – and that’s when the magic happened. The notoriously fugitive Dr. Martin’s dyes I had used to color the original figure began to  bleed into the white ink and in the process a  wonderfully ethereal figure began to emerge from the panel.

It was so. Totally. Cool.

In a perfect world I would have gone back to the final critique to be met  with effusive praise from Sarcastic Instructor but the best I got was “Well Deitrick, you pulled it off”. Six weeks later I graduated with a bachelor’s degree and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army. Another six months later I was flying TH-55 helicopters in basic flight training.

…and forty years later “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter” occupies a place of honor on my living room wall, carefully angled away from the front window and the UV light which would permanently fade-out the Dr. Martin’s Dyes that accidently changed the painting from a disaster to a masterpiece all those years ago.

HangmansBeautifulDaughter


 

1: See 1978: Superman With A Paunch

Easter Eggs and Retro-Design

I’m not the first artist to hide Easter Eggs in work, but I think I might be in contention for the title of “most obscure reference.”. Take the nice little pen & ink drawing I did in the summer of 1988 depicting a British tank crew on the Western Desert ca. 1941. In the foreground is the commander sipping a mug of tea, in the background was an-obviously-recently-shot-down pterodactyl and on the hull of the tank itself is painting the Cross of St. George.

ST George

Unfortunately it all worked out the way a  visiting friend predicted:  ” Nice drawing but no one will get the reference”

Today’s drawing falls into much the same category…

2018-10-01 SkyDiver 1939

Never mind the fact that the idea has been retro-designed to approximately TL 1939…

Title Page: “Dog King John and The Stolen Syrup

2018-08-01 DJKSS CoverTitlePage

Title page for the aforementioned book I’m writing for my grandchildren. As you can see here and in other images from the book the linework and type are not perfect – and there’s a reason for that. I’m producing this in the “old-school” manner much like we did forty years ago. I’m using my computer strictly as a stat camera/typositor – all the drawings are done with pencil, pen and template as is the line work and graphic devices. I’m placing the type by hand and designing “by eye”.

You’ll also occasionally see stray construction lines that I’ve left in.

Some people dress in period costume and live in restored villages as a means of “living history”. This project it my way of doing so as well.

Update: Dog King John Page 2

2018-08-04 DJKSS Page 2

Page 2 of the Dog King John book.

Page-numbering in this book is a little different. Pages that are numbered (1,2,3 etc.) tell the story of the syrup hijacking.  Pages that are lettered (A,B, C etc.) show maps, diagrams, historical notes and other information that expand on the story. I’ll post the numbered pages but I’m holding back the lettered pages to keep the project  special for my grandkids – they’ll be the only ones completely “in the know”, at least  for the time being.

Update: Dog King John

As I wrote previously I am in the middle of a book project entitled “Dog King John and the Stolen Syrup”.  The story behind the project has more twists than an M. Night Shymalan script but basically involves my efforts to stay involved with my grandchildren through sketch cards I send to them each month.

I’m replacing the individual cards with pages from a book I’m writing for my wonderful mob of grandkids. If everything works according to schedule the book will be done third-quarter 2019 and will be available for purchase via a Kickstarter campaign at the time. Until then I will periodically publish occasional pages like this one:

DogKingJohnPage1

The Golden Hound (revised)

It never fails to happen.

No sooner had I posted the first sketch of the airship Golden Hound but I  immediately started to mentally pick at the concept – just as I cannot ignore a snag of a sweater I got sucked back into tweaking/changing/designing the design. I think that I am finally happy with the this version – there is still an element of fantasy involved but the gondola doesn’t look quite so clunky now (it’s about half the previous size in comparison to the lift-cells.

2018-06-02 The Golden Hound

The Golden Hound

2018-06-02 The Golden HoundPreliminary rendering of Dog King John’s personal airship The Golden Hound.

Strictly speaking the gas cells on The Golden Hound are much too small to support a gondola and engines the size of these, but physical science works a little differently in the upcoming book Dog King John and the Stolen Syrup. Lift is provided not by helium or hydrogen but by fly-drogen , a gas that is not only not inert, it definitely has an altitude attitude.

 

Time for a change…again

My dad used to say ” a move was as good as a change” but I personally think the opposite to be true: “a change is as good as a move.” Living in Clarksville is nice but I do miss the gypsy days of my younger years when it seemed like I was moving every year or three.  Funny thing: I always felt a bit short-changed at the time because I didn’t have a home town – place where  I spent my entire youth from birth to young adulthood, but after living for extended periods in some places I realized that I like a change of venue from time to time.

All of which has nothing to do with the new masthead illustration. The title is “Solo Kill” and it was painted with acrylics on a 36″ X 15″ Masonite panel. It was produced in 1990 and is based on a book written by Skye Boult  – and  if you search through my older Solo Kill posts you will find that there’s actually an interesting back story to both the book and the painting.

…and yes, it really is a cat flying that airplane.