Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Black Hawks Go Hue-y: Artists Add Color to Military

Birmingham artists Don Stewart and Sue Ellen Brown have forged some surprising alliances with the military in recent years. Stewart’s complex historical drawings have drawn attention and much needed funds to the plight of wounded warriors in the US Army, the Air Force, and the Marines.

Now the team has been asked to add color to the Army’s Black Hawk program. 'Operation Rainbow Hawk' will investigate the possibility of adding a new color spectrum to the livery of an attack helicopter squadron at the Army Aviation headquarters in Fort Rucker.
UH-60 Blackhawk - photo courtesy of Mu Yeol Lee
Gone are the matte blacks and olive drabs that have marked battlefield aircraft since the Second World War.

“It’s kind of an experimental approach,” Stewart said, “With emphasis on the more mental aspects. We’ve been asked to develop new superficial design schemes for a number of purposes, from innovative, “visual stealth” camouflage to public relations and morale. Just thinking of the phrase “Black Ops”, for example, brings all sorts of negative emotional connotations that may not be sympatico with the direction and focus of our modern armed forces.”

Of note is the artists’ plan to outfit the helicopters with advanced urethane coatings, that use tromp l’oeil techniques to fool the eyes of passers by.

“So far we have decked out an old UH-60 helicopter, so it’s now virtually indistinguishable from a vintage school bus,” Stewart said. The artist stated that one such aircraft has been situated in the parking lot of the Galleria mall for over a month without anyone being the wiser, other than noting the unusual amount of engine noise at take-off and landing.
Artistic "Bus" treatment -  photo courtesy Greg Gjerdingen
 “It’s all about using the right palette to create the proper mood,” said Brown, a portraitist and illustrator who is just now applying her talents to military subjects. “It’s fun watching the expressions on peoples’ faces – or the lack of it – when they encounter one of our camouflaged vehicles.”

What’s up next for the team?  “The Navy has asked us to help them re-think the whole ‘navy blue’ thing. That ought to keep us busy for a while yet,” Brown said.

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