It began on 29 June 1962, as I stood before the main gates to the entrance of the Canadian Army's Currie Barracks, in Calgary, Alberta. To the guard, I uttered the simple words "I want to join the Canadian Army as a Military Policeman." Four days later I was aboard a train bound for the Canadian Provost Corps school located at Camp Borden, Ontario, and the start of basic army training.
I was born with a talent to draw free hand–no formal training, just a half-assed, self-taught artist. I loved cartoons and for the first time realized the power that lay in my drawings, as I could poke fun at senior officers and escape punishment. I graduated as a Service Police Group One, Lance Corporal just before Christmas of 1962, and stepped off the train on my first posting at Kingston Detachment on a snowy in mid-January 1963.
Kingston became my military home until the last week of September, 1965, when I climbed aboard a RCAF Canadair C-106 Yukon transport at Trenton, Ontario, bound for far-off Cyprus. My flight was mainly made up of soldiers of the Royal Canadian Dragoons and I befriended two on the 18 hour trip. We later crossed paths as they drove armoured cars called 'Ferrets', delivered to Cyprus on the Royal Canadian Navy aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure. Some Ferrets carried hand-painted names and one was called "Snoopy".
Simonsen began his military art career painting designs on the sides of Canadian Army Ferret scout cars used in Cyprus. The British Daimler-built Ferret was the mainstay of Canadian reconnaissance vehicles in the 60s and 70s. Many are still in service in places like Nepal, Burkina Faso, Indonesia and Sudan. The white cowboy hat on this Ferret (not painted by Simonsen) indicates a unit based in Alberta. Simonsen was part of the UN Peacekeeping force there known as UNFICYP, inserted between the lines to keep the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots from killing each other. What is truly unbelievable is that UNFICYP is still in play today, nearly fifty years after the conflict was halted.
Our M.P. Company took over an ex-Greek military camp in the capital city of Nicosia, located in a no-man's land called the "Green Line." I was assigned to the traffic section, investigating all U.N. accidents at any location on the Island, working closely with Greek and Turkish military or civilian police. In my spare time, I began to draw cartoons, and posted them on the wall of our wet canteen. As Christmas '65 approached, I was summoned to the Danish C.O.'s office. He had seen my cartoons and asked if I would paint something for the head table for Christmas Eve dinner.
With no lights, or gifts, I decided to paint a little Christmas mural, with snow, Santa, and the emblem of each country in our M.P. Company. On Christmas Eve, it was pouring rain and I was working 1st call vehicle, when just before dinner, we were called to an accident two hours drive away. I recall my mixed feelings that wet night, but what occurred next, on Christmas Day, changed my artistic life forever. A number of M. P. soldiers, whom I had never met or worked with, approached me and shook my hand or gave a pat on the back with a "Merry Christmas" or "Thank You" for the little Christmas painting. This initiated a series of large wall art murals of Hockey Night in Canada, CFL Football but mostly pin-up girls, and slowly I began to understand firsthand the power of art during war.
There are three areas where grassroots military artists and cartoonists could apply their talents - nose art, editorial cartoons for unit newsletters and publications and, as we see here, colourful murals on mess and barrack room walls. For Christmas of 1965, Clarence Simonsen painted a mural on the Military Police mess, which displayed the unit crests from each of the multinational contributors to the peace keeping. The result was to make these soldiers feel just a little bit more at home during a period when they are particularly vulnerable to loneliness. Photo Clarence Simonsen
Clarence Simonsen relaxing in 1965 at his Cypriot barracks. In the days before the intrusion of the NFL, the Canadian Football League was the be-all and end-all of football in Canada. Simonsen created a large mural depicting the Calgary Stampeders (Red) and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Photo Clarence Simonsen
Nothing makes a Canuck feel at home like a busty center-fold girl and a painting of the great Maple Leafs goaltender Johnny Bower poke-checking a flying Montreal Canadien. Simonsen must have had a Canadiens fan in his barrack, as the famous photograph (Inset) that the image is based on was of Bower stonewalling Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe, not a Canadien. Perhaps it was better to keep it all-Canadian. Photo: Clarence Simonsen
I left the Canadian Army in August 1966, and became a Metro Toronto Police Officer on the 6th of October. In April of 1966, I was posted to 23 Division in Etobicoke, and later joined the Royal Canadian Legion at Malton, Ontario. I had searched for any publication on the subject of aircraft nose art, but none existed. This started a 45 year hobby devoted to research into this lost art of aircraft nose art. I would copy over 8,000 images, interview over 1,100 veterans who served in the air force, and record the history of 83 men and one woman who painted in the Second World War. During this time I repainted over 500 replica nose art images on original wartime aircraft skin. 200 went to museums in U.K., U.S.A., and Canada, while 300 were given to veterans as a thank you.
In July 2010, I retired from work and bid goodbye to nose art research, not from lack of interest, just the fact my friends from the greatest generation were gone. It was all over.
Then in January 2012, I received an email from Major Jay Medves of 1 Wing, Kingston, Ontario, who informed me Canadian nose art came alive during the war in Afghanistan. He asked, "Would you like to repaint a replica helicopter nose art from Afghanistan?" My mind said "No", but the urge was too great and I replied "Yes." Now I faced a new learning curve and the following history unfolded.
Modern Canadian manned aircraft nose art reappeared with Joint Task Force Afghanistan Air Wing helicopters, which became Canadian Helicopter Force Afghanistan. Beginning on the 24th of December, 2008, six ex-U.S. Army helicopters, from the 101st Airborne, landed at Kandahar Airfield, property of Canadian Forces, and three carried American nose art. The helicopters were officially named "Chinooks" and the Canadians now joined an elite group known as "hookers". [A slang term for the huge loads they sling] The helicopter was named for the "Chinookan" Indians who inhabited the upper and lower Columbia River in the states of Washington and Oregon. I first learned Canadians live in a much more politically sensitive world today and the personalities of the majority of air and ground crews helped determine a more appropriate helicopter nose art style. One point remained the same, nose art, no matter what shape or name, provide esprit de corps, and are a talisman of good luck for air and ground crews alike.
Along with five others Boeing Chinook S/N 147201, was delivered 24 December 2008. Here, we see 201 as a backdrop to a handover ceremony. Pilots and soldiers of the United States Arm 101st Airborne regiment hand over the American Chinook to their brother aviators of Edmonton's 408 Squadron, normally a Griffon unit. DND Photo
Boeing Chinook 147201 going about her daily trade in the harsh and unforgiving terrain of Afghanistan. Photo: Brett D. Tyre
The Canadian Government purchased 100 CH-146 helicopters under the Utility Tactical Transport Helicopter program in 1992. Delivered from 1995 to 1997, they took the official title Griffon, the name and spelling being adopted due to its use by Agusta-Westland [Bell] which builds the military model 412 under licence in Italy. On the 26th of November 2008, Canadian Forces announced eight Griffon helicopters would be modified to act as escorts for the six Chinook helicopters. In January of 2009, a Canadian CH-147D Chinook made its debut flight from its base at Kandahar Airfield, while modified Griffon utility Tactical helicopters provided escort and over watch protection for the larger Chinooks.
The first Canadian Griffon nose art appeared in early 2009 painted by M/Cpl. Gordon Bennett, was ‘Double Ace’ due to a series of bird strikes helicopter #146414 suffered.
During the last Canadian rotation in 2011, a very talented Corporal Richard Aucoin painted five Griffon helicopters with Squadron nose art. All designs were first submitted by troops to a ‘design review board’, led by the Squadron Air Maintenance & Engineering Officer. The selection then moved up the chain of command for final approval.
An RCAF CH-146 Griffon helicopter prepares for takeoff during Exercise MAPLE RESOLVE 1101 in Wainwright, Alberta, on October 21, 2011. Photo: Master Corporal Marc-Andre Gaudreault, Canadian Forces Combat Camera
Corporal Richard Aucoin and his Griffon Canadian helicopter nose art for CH-146 Griffon S/N 146425 Dragon’s Breath. The name was in reference to the Taliban’s moniker for the two M3M guns mounted on the Griffon – Allah’s Breath of Death. DND Photo
The completion of the last operational mission of Canadian Helicopter Force Afghanistan took place on July 27, 2011, ending an incredible 31 months of Canadian tactical aviation history. The most outstanding accomplishment by 1 Wing was the staffing of the air wing under extremely tight time restraints. These Canadians were able to refine new combat tactics, procedures, and techniques which will be passed on when new, built for Canada CH-147F Chinook helicopters arrive in 2013. Canada's first expeditionary force with helicopters in the Afghanistan combat theatre saved untold lives on the brutal Afghan roads, and now their nose art is forever part of our Canadian Forces history.
This article is dedicated to all the Canadian Forces personnel who served and those who gave their lives during the war in Afghanistan. I wish to salute the members of 1 Wing who were responsible for the reincarnation of Canadian 'nose art', and without your help this story would not be possible. To the helicopter nose artists "Thank you." You have joined an elite group who painted aircraft from 1939-45, and I know they would approve.
Today military museums are run by senior retired military officers, bureaucrats, and civilians who have a limited idea what art can mean in time of war. After 45 years I have a very good idea, and it all began a long time ago when I painted a little Christmas mural on the Cypriot Green Line.
Chinook Nose Art
This Second World War sexy style pose was the only nose art painted by Master Corporal Robert Bannen. It was painted on Chinook 147201. The Miss Behavin nose art was liberated/copied from a Quebec City night club. Sexy nose art combined with double entendre titles, while perhaps not politically correct these days, was the most common subject for nose artists since the beginning. Randy behaviour and salacious artwork can be forgiven of those young men who put their lives on the line for our freedoms. Photo: Ed Storey
The two helicopter types flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force in Afghanistan - the CH-146 Griffon (left) and the CH-147 Boeing Chinook. This photo, taken September 9, 2009, shows Chinook 147201 at Kandahar Airfield and Camp Nathan Smith, Afghanistan. The passenger for this flight were VIPs indeed. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General and commander in Chief of Canada along with Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), General Walt Natynczyk travel by helicopter to and from Camp Nathan Smith, on September 9, 2009. Her Excellency visited Afghanistan to show her support for and solidarity with Canadian soldiers and the people of Afghanistan. A close look at the spot where the Miss. Behavin' nose art should be shows that there is something missing! Photo credit: Sgt Serge Gouin, Rideau Hall, OSGG
A close-up of the above photo of Chinook 147201, Miss Behavin' shows that the salacious, former strip club image of a sexy girl has been painted over in deference to Her Excellency, Governor General Michaelle Jean. Good idea! Photo credit: Sgt Serge Gouin, Rideau Hall, OSGG.
US Army Chinook S/N147202, was also delivered on the 28th of December, 2008. This 40-year old helicopter came with American nose art The Magic Bus depicting a yellow school bus with dual rotors. The Magic Bus was shot down while in service with the RCAF and destroyed on the 5th of August, 2010. It was replaced by a leased CH-47D, S/N147207. The American nose art was not repainted on the replacement helicopter. Photo: Ed Storey
A more simplified nose art was applied to Chinook 147203 - a stenciled naked, bat-winged she-devil with a trident. The dust/sand problems in the Afghan theatre are pretty evident in this shot. DND Photo
A close-up of 203's nose art - crude, weird and somehow cool.
Canadian military ‘Riggers’ working in Kandahar, Afghanistan for the National Support Element, attach a load to a CH-147 Chinook helicopter prior to commencing hoisting drills at Kandahar Airfield, February 18, 2009. DND Photo
Canadian Forces Chinook helicopters including 201 fly in formation during a training mission for OP MOSHTARAK. Task Force Freedom, Canada's Helicopter presence in Afghanistan was preparing for the largest air assault since the Second World War. The Canadian component consisted of 3 Chinook helicopters, 4 Griffon helicopters and approximately 60 Canadian Forces members. Their mission was to insert British, Estonian and Afghan troops into the village of Nad Ali. The village was considered to be an insurgent hot spot and locals were warned to stay inside their homes. Joint Task Force Afghanistan (JTF-Afg) was the Canadian Forces (CF) contribution to the international effort in Afghanistan. Its operations focus was on working with Afghan authorities to improve security, governance and economic development in Afghanistan. JTF-Afg comprised more than 2,750 CF members. Canadian Forces Image MCpl Craig Wiggins
RCAF Boeing Chinook, S/N 3147204, received Canadian-painted nose art Black Jack. One can see the effects of operating aircraft in a desert setting, with oil and dust making this aircraft appear to be worn out and tired. DND Photo
A nice close up of RCAF Boeing Chinook Black Jack by M/Cpl. Gordon Bennett, shows a grim Jack the Ripper character, again with a hook, against a full moon, with drops of blood spattered about. More modern nose art, like one sees on American B-1B bombers, tends to be more gruesome than that of the Second World War. Photo: Ed Storey
RCAF Chinook S/N147205 came from the US Army with nose art of the Social Distortion which was modified by Canadians [by M/Cpl. Gordon Bennett] and given red hockey helmet, white maple leaf, stick and a new name – 2 for Hooking. Here we see 205 about to sling or “hook” an M777 artillery piece. DND photo
Following the time-honoured tradition of the double entendre title, 2 for Hooking is about the most Canadian of titles imaginable. In the great Canadian game of hockey, a player can be penalized 2 minutes in the penalty box for hooking, or pulling down an opponent with his hockey stick. On the other hand, crew members of the Chinook are proud to call themselves “hookers” as one of the prime roles of the Chinook is as a heavy lift helo, slinging or “hooking” payloads such as supplies or artillery pieces beneath their fuselages. 2 for Hooking crashed on the 16th of May, 2011, but the nose art was returned to Canada, and the RCAF's history H.Q. in Winnipeg. DND Photo
In fact, 2 for Hooking was simply a more creative and simple over paint of the American nose art that existed on Chinook 147205 when the RCAF took possession of it. Before its new Canadian nickname, it was known as Social Distortion.
The basis for the 2 for Hooking nose art, Social Distortion, was not a random illustration but rather a copy of part of the logo for the long-living American punk rock band Social Distortion which was formed in the late 1970s. Thanks to Robert Allen, our resident punkrockologist and warbird enthusiast for pointing this out. At least the crew of Social Distortion can order t-shirts, ball caps and other swag that would go with their Chinook. Perhaps we will consider a 2 for Hooking t-shirt!
A CH-146 Griffon helicopter provides security for CH-147 Chinook 2 for Hooking during a flight mission. Seeing a helmeted, hockey playing, skeleton flying over the desert is heartwarming to a Canadian. Photo credit: Master Corporal Angela Abbey, Canadian Forces Combat Camera
Boeing Chinook CH-147D, 147206, in US Army markings with American nose art, Jack’D Up. The artwork resembles the label from a bottle of Jack Daniels bourbon whiskey. This helo was also transferred to the RCAF and the Jack'D Up nose art was maintained, except for the addition of artwork on the interior which celebrated a Canadian whiskey. DND Photo
A close up of Jack'D Up's design, with a graphic nod to the Jack Daniel's Whiskey label.
Though Chinook 147206, Jack'D Up was a former American helicopter and the nose art was from its American past, the Canadian's who flew it could not help adding a little Canuck touch to the inside... with a tribute to Yukon Jack, a Canadian whiskey of perhaps a rougher palette. The Yukon Jack folks are fond of saying “Yukon Jack is a taste born of hoary nights, when lonely men struggled to keep their fires lit and cabins warm. Boldly flavourful yet surprisingly smooth, there is no spirit like Yukon Jack.” Photo: Ed Storey
CH-146 Griffon Nose Art
Griffon [serial 146401] was the first CH-146 to receive approved nose art - depicting guns with the Bat symbol of the 1 Wing Crest. The guns represented the new approved M134 mini-Gatling gun and the .50 cal. machine gun. The spelling with only one “L” stood for the Tactical Helicopter community “Tac. Hel”. This original nose art was over painted by mistake and lost. Replica painted by Clarence Simonsen 29 April 2012. Photo: Richard Aucoin
A close up of CH-146 Griffon S/N 146425 Dragon’s Breath. The name was in reference to the Taliban’s moniker for the two M3M guns mounted on the Griffon – Allah’s Breath of Death.
Photo: Richard Aucoin
Griffon serial 146482, featured a red Gyrfalcon (the squadron's symbol) called Aggressive Falcon with Canadian Flag. Named for all personnel from 430 Gyrfalcon Squadron who served Canada and abroad. Photo: Ed Storey
Griffon 146414 featured a fist swingin' Popeye cartoon sporting tattoos of the Canadian flag and the RCAF's roundel and the title To the Finish. The art was based on the 420 Squadron (Shearwater, Nova Scotia) crest and motto “Pugnamus Finitum” - We Fight to the Finish! Photo: Richard Aucoin
RCAF CH-146 Griffon 164465 went by the name of Gun Slinger, referring to the M135 Gatling Gun and the 50 cal machine gun that it toted. Photo: Richard Aucoin