Saturday, April 3, 2010

I Have You Now!

Perhaps the most colorful aircraft certainly in today's U.S. military are the CAG birds of the Navy. CAG stands for Commander Air Group. He is the boss man of the Carrier Air Wing, composed of the various squadrons embarked aboard a typical American aircraft carrier.

Since the standard battle colors of contemporary military aircraft are various shades of gray (or as one friend puts it, "yuck gray"), colorful aircraft are a rarity. Fortunately Navy rules allow each squadron to paint up two aircraft in CAG markings - ostensibly because its the airplane (and the spare) that the CAG gets to fly should he choose to do so (or is qualified to do so).

Regardless, the squadrons usually try to out-do each other, hence the very colorful, sometimes gaudy markings that are sought after by slide and image collectors.

This EA-6B Prowler of VAQ-209 is heading down the taxiway to the runway at Nellis AFB during the recent ISAP event there. Activated, or "stood up," in 1977, VAQ-209 is a reserve squadron that calls itself the "Star Warriors." Yes, that is Darth Vader's head adorning the vertical tail of the Prowler.

I have to admit to some mixed feelings about these markings. While a wonderful piece of graphic art, and while Darth Vader is an iconic American image, he is, after all, a bad guy. At least he was in Star Wars (yes, I know it's called A New Hope" now, but to me it'll always be just Star Wars) and in The Empire Strikes Back. It wasn't until The Return of the Jedi that he redeemed himself - which I never really bought dramatically.

Regardless, in his incarnation as Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker was the villain. Even more bluntly, he was evil personified! So why on Earth would clean-cut American aviators - the Good Guys - want to take as their squadron symbol something perceived as evil personified? On top of that he was the front man for the spread of an evil empire! Is that the message we want to spread?

I suppose in the business of war the psychological trumps questions like that. Various squadrons have the grim reaper as their mascot. Some have werewolves, some have Vikings and other fierce warriors while one famously has Felix the Cat. It's whatever makes your morale strong and melds you into a cohesive fighting unit. If Darth Vader's mask is too cool for words, then the symbolism behind it takes a back seat.

I just wonder what the other side thinks and if irony is lost in war?

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