Shayne Meder has been painting military aircraft for 14 years. Alan Kenny travelled to March Air Reserve Base in Southern California to see her work.
Shayne was a Master Sergeant who served with the US Air Force at Castle Air Force Base until 1994, when she retired. She began painted nose art onto active duty aircraft while in the air force, but her first job painting aircraft for a living was at the Castle Aviation Museum where she worked after retiring. In 1997 she was approached by March Field Air Museum to be in charge of restorations and she worked there for eight years before moving to the Wings and Rotors Air Museum at French Valley Airport in Murrieta.
Today, the Flygirlpainter team comprises Shayne, her husband Scott Donnell and Roxane Bond, who all met at March Field. Scott helps on the majority of jobs, doing much of the cleaning and letter stencilling and Roxane assists with aircraft that require a lot of painting.
Seven of 14 March-based KC-135s from the 452nd Air Mobility Wing/912nd Air Refueling Squadron have nose art painted under the commander’s window and many Sea Hawks from different squadrons have been adorned with Shayne’s art.
Turn ‘n’ Burn: Can you describe the process for painting the nose art and tail/boom? Do they differ for aircraft type?
Shayne: The nose art is easier, smaller, needs less preparation and can be done in two to three days. The process requires scuffing and priming the area, then painting the art and following up with a good coat of clear. The Sea Hawks take a lot more preparing as the tail section is covered with exhaust stains and oil. We also clean the under the removable panels to keep oils from seeping out onto the new paint. The surface has to be very clean for the paint to stick.
TnB: Nose art dates back to the Second World War. The art seems to be different and more toned down from those days. Are there restrictions on what you can paint?
Shayne: Times have definitely changed. The traditional pin-up girl of the old days has gone. We aren’t permitted to paint women anymore. Unfortunately some people look at it as degrading. However, it is really meant to be a compliment and tastefully done. The aircraft is very close to the crew who fly it – sometimes life and death is determined by the actions of both working together. When crew named their aircraft in WWII, it was usually a girlfriend, a mom, sister, wife’s name or maybe a dream girl painted on. It was a piece of home that lifted their morale and added to the attachment they had with their machine. Or they wanted to scare the enemy. The P-40’s shark teeth were originally done to scare the enemy. Teeth have appeared on many aircraft since then.
TnB: Due to the vast distances the March aircraft fly, and the deployment of the Sea Hawks, your art has been seen all over the world. Have any other units asked for your services?
Shayne: I finally got to the East coast with HSL-60 and HSM-72, so maybe more will follow. I have a request for HSL-37 in Hawaii, however we will paint that one in San Diego before it is shipped overseas.
TnB: What is/are your favorite Sea Hawk(s) and KC-135(s) that you have painted?
Shayne That’s a hard one-everyone always asks me that,,when they ask me what me favorite Seahawk is I always say the last one I just painted….however,,the Medal of Honor bird we did for Century Of Naval Aviation was very detailed with custom metallic paint. My helper Roxane Bond and I hand painted the medals on the sides of the aircraft. I came up with the design after the master Chief told me he wanted to do something that honored the first Naval Aviator to rec the Medal Of Honor. So it was done with much care and emotion. The Battlecat is a favorite as far as real looking and bright colors-its a favorite of everyone, and HSC-4 Black Knights rules for that warrior/gladiator feel. The HSC-6 Indians of course is an emotional paint job as that tail design is a flying memorial to a crew they lost in 09,,unfortunately I may have to add 2 more feathers to that one..
TnB: Out of the whole United States military aircraft inventory, which aircraft would you most like to paint and which would be the most difficult?
Shayne: Well, I’d like to paint a V-22 although it would probably be quite difficult as it is so large. I’d love to do art on a B-52 again. I first cut my teeth on a B-52 Stratofortress back in 1987, with the last one completed in 1990.
TnB: Who comes up with the ideas for the art, is it yourself, the crew chiefs or someone else?
Shayne Sometimes a unit will send me a detailed computerised graphic that I just have to apply to the aircraft. Sometimes it’s a scribble on a napkin. Other times they have no idea. So for many of the tails, I design most or all of it.
TnB: Do you get paid for your work? If not, how do you cover costs and expenses?
Shayne All of the painting and art I do for the military is voluntary. I cover all the expenses for the tankers as the art is smaller, but for the helicopters, since they are much bigger and require expensive paint, the Navy will pay for that and plus supplies, tape, masking items, etc. I only ask they cover my room cost on base and transportation if out of California. My day job does not provide sick time or vacation, so I basically take unpaid leave to do the helicopters.
TnB: What has been the most challenging aircraft to paint?
Shayne: That would have to be the EA-6B prowler for VAQ-131 – that plane is huge! It is much bigger than I expected. The HSM-78 and HSC-21 schemes were the most difficult to paint. Both had several colours which required masking. That takes a long time as each colour has to dry 12-15 hours before you can add tape to them, and then with several colours you have to cover each one before starting another.
Below is the list of squadrons and aircraft the Flygirlpainter team has painted to date.
HS-4 Black Knights
HSC-4 Black Knights
HS-6 Screamin Indians
HSC-6 Screamin Indians
HSC-12 Golden Falcons
HSC-15 Red Lions
HSC-21 Black Jacks
HSC-25 Island Knights
HSL-43 Battle Cats
HSM-73 Battle Cats
HSL-45 Wolf Pack-5
HSL-47 Saber Hawks-2
HSM-75 Wolf Pack
HSM-78 Blue Hawks
HMM-364 Purple Foxes-CH-46
57-1459 ‘California All Star’,
55-1482 ‘American Flyer’,
58-0085 ‘Heritage Flight’,
64-14835 ‘Silver Surfer’,
57-1438 ‘Good Times’,
61-0280 ‘Wild Thang’
62-3533 ‘Animal Style’.