Ah! But The Beauty Of UglinessWednesday, August 24, 2011
When I looked at the AE-6B Prowler parked on the tarmac at the Abbotsford Air Show a couple of weeks ago I remembered my grandmother Dolores Reyes de Irureta Goyena. As an older teenager we had both attended the opening of a young Filipino artist in Mexico City around 1961. My grandmother, a fine painter herself asked the Filipino artist for a walk around. The artist finally settled by a very large oil painting that featured a pair of old Mexican huaraches. The painter’s technique was marvelous, the leather looked like leather and I could almost smell the feet that might have worn them at one time. My grandmother baited the artist by saying,” With so much beauty in this world why would you choose a subject that is so ugly?” The artist, with a smile on his face countered with, “Ah, but something must be said for the beauty of ugliness.”
While driving to and from south Texas in our Malibu I had ample chance to look at the front end of cars in my rear view mirror. Two in particular caught my eye. One was the latest Cadillac sedan and the other was a very large Honda SUV. Both vehicles had a presence that I would define as menacing and most dangerous.
I often wonder how many Iraquis, during the Gulf War ever saw a Humvee (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) in similar circumstances to mine. There was some Humvee in both that Cadillac and Honda.
I wonder what ever happened to the idea that an automobile should appear graceful in shape? After years of being told that streamlining helped gas efficiency why are so many vehicles now breadboxes with wheels? Some of these vehicles would be star attractions in a Mad Max II remake.
My conclusion based on the thin facts displayed above is that we are embarking on a trend in which ugliness (ugliness that means business, that is) trumps grace and beauty. A 1954 Raymond Loewy designed Studebaker would cause laughs if seen on a rear view mirror.
The last beautiful airliner was the Lockheed Super Constellation. The liner coincided with times when food on board was great (except for the perennially cold buns) and stewardesses were stewardesses many years away from being grandmother flight attendants. Cubans started pointing guns at pilots and passengers no longer stepped down from planes and be able to look back at the graceful lines. Now they could study the “I mean business” look of a Boeing 707.
My favourite airplane of all time, I must confess is one that was never graceful nor ever designed to be that. I have written about the US Navy Grumman A-6 Intruder many times here and I have read Stephen Coonts’ The Flight of the Intruder and its sequel The Intruders at least twice each. This plane showed menace in an ugly yet with touches of art deco that charmed me. I felt attracted to what really was one mean killing machine. This brought me at odds with my generally peaceful attitude and beliefs of peace and not war. But then I also thought that the McDonnell F-4 Phantom of Vietnam fame was beautiful in its equally ugly way.
Ever since I can remember I have had an attraction for handguns. This is why I have never owned one. The closest I ever got to that was a replica .357 Magnum air pistol with which I dispatched a Casablanca Lilly munching squirrel to its maker to my embarrassed regret. I see that my attraction to guns is no different from considering, even momentarily, that the Cadillac is a beautiful sedan with its sharp edges that resemble the surfaces of a stealth fighter. I cannot speak for women but as a man I am attracted to stuff that looks dangerous.
While watching Lauren in her one hour long swimming class in Jericho I was reading my Flying the World’s Great Aircraft with an introduction by Jeffrey Quill OBE, AFC. I was reading a chapter on the Supermarine Spitfire by experienced Spitfire pilot AVM J.E. Johnson. This caught my eye: Johnnie Johnson said, “The Spitfire was ill suited to missions like strafing attacks against Luftwaffe airfields. The Spitfire had a glycol coolant tank under the nose which was especially vulnerable to ground-fire. If this tank was holed, it was only a matter of minutes before the engine seized.”
|Pentax MX, 20mm lens, Ektachrome 100 G|
What Johnson was saying was that the elegant Spitfire was designed to battle other fighters in the air and not for the more mundane task of strafing locomotives and trucks. The Spitfire was a beautiful and, yes, graceful flying machine designed for a task that those of us who never flew one see as being part of a supremely romantic one.
|USMC Major S.K. Nelson & his A6-E Prowler|
But just as soon as airplanes flew in anger ground troops figured out ways of singling them out from the ground. This back and forth contest culminated in Vietnam (not forgetting the terrible damage that the Luftwaffe and the German air defenses sustained on British Bomber Command and the US Army Air Force) when the combination of Russian anti aircraft missiles and terrible barrages of radar directed anti aircraft fire played havoc on American fighters and bombers.
Then the US Navy brought in the A-6 Intruder which was a plane that could skim the tree tops in any weather to drop their ordnance (this plane as small as it seems to be had only one other plane that could carry a heavier bomb load and that was the B-52!).
And then the US Navy adapted and re-designed the A-6 by making it a tad longer and instead of a crew of two it had a crew of four. The sole purpose of this plane was not to bomb troops, or shoot down fighters or bombers. Its sole reason for existence was its ability to jam enemy radar communications. This variant of the A-6 was the AE-6B Prowler. It carried HARM missiles which would lock on radar installations (attached to those Russian SAM missiles) and destroy them.
|Pentax MX, 20mm lens, Ektachrome 100 G|
It is sure that there would have to be “collateral damage” and radar operators would be killed. But I have a fondness for a mean looking flying machine that is not quite as mean as it looks.
A similar plane (similar in that it is ugly, but in fact it is far uglier) is the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt. It is better known as the Warthog. There were 7 of these at the Abbotsford Airshow. I even say one fly. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t as loud as a CF-18 nor did it fly fast. It was not designed to do so.
This plane was originally built as a tank buster. The pilot sits over a titanium bathtub that protects him from ground fire. The A-10 was made to attack Russian tanks invading Germany in what could have been a heated cold war. It was never used for that but the A-10’s ability to fly low and slow and to take punishment is the kind of plane that the rebels in Libya were clamoring for once the US had left the NATO coalition some months ago.
|A-10 Thunderbolt, iPhone photo|
If I were to ever be tempted to write a book it would be called The Beauty of Ugliness and I would feature all the above and I would add my wonderful Mamiya RB-67, my extremely lethal (if I swung it as a weapon) Nikon F-3 Motordrive camera and even, if I can get it to run again, that ugly, “I mean business” Maserati Biturbo that lies abandoned in my garage.
|Nikon FM, 35mm lens, 800 ISO no-name colour neg film|
|A-10 Thunderbolt, iPhone photo|