The Art Gallery  

Cobra Ball / Eye Nose Art
Darby Perrin

D. Perrin
Hi Res

"Island Girl"

RC-135S Cobra Ball III

D. Perrin
Hi Res

"Bering Maiden"

RC-135S Cobra Ball I

D. Perrin
Hi Res

"Cobra Eye"

RC-135X Cobra Eye

My name is Darby Perrin. In 1986 I went through Air Force basic Training, tech-school and field training before arriving at my first duty station at Eielson AFB, near Fairbanks Alaska. I was put to work as a Crew Chief in the 6th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, maintaining nationally important RC-135 spy planes.

An accomplished high school artist, I took advantage of every spare moment to paint and sketch. My subject matter, like many young artists, varied greatly. More often, I was beginning to paint the aircraft that surrounded me from day to day. A friend commissioned me to paint an RC-135V (code named "Burning Wind") escorted by a Russian Mig-31 Foxhound. In reality this was the peak of the Cold War, and intercepts of reconnaissance aircraft by Soviet Fighter jets was not uncommon. The troops who worked on the camera-shy RC-135's were not allowed to photograph them. Doing so not only risked your camera and film, but gave some 19 year old airman with a gun reason to put his knee on the back of your neck while you lay, whimpering, in the snow. It stood to reason that an artist's conception of what these aircraft looked like might just sell without violating any photography rules. In 1988 I printed my friend's commission and titled it, "The Fox and the Wind". This was the first of many images I would produce as lithographs, and within a few months, I was sold out. During this time I was approached by my Commander who saw my talent as an opportunity to increase morale in an over-worked and under-appreciated squadron. I was honored with the task of painting the nose art on all the jets of the 6th SRW. Since then, my nose art has shown up in many books and magazines and been hailed as "...some of the best in Strategic Air Command".

My tour in Alaska was at an end. I received orders to Andrews AFB, outside of Washington D.C. And reported there in November of 1989. I worked as a phase dock inspector on the 89th Airlift Wing's fleet of VC-135's, VC-137's and VC-9's. This was tedious work, and although I had tremendous respect for my fellow mechanics, I yearned for something different. I had wanted to paint and design for the Air Force ever since I found out there was such a job. Alas, graphic artist jobs are rare and I had no strings to pull to land such a coveted vocation. Instead I thought I might retrain into a career field that would bring me closer to the airplanes I had grown to love. I decided to be a flyer. Only about 2% of Air Force personnel are enlisted flyers. Not very many jobs to consider. My timing was also a factor. The Gulf War had begun and all retraining was cancelled. I had only a small window of opportunity before my enlistment was up; if retraining didn't start again, I would be forced out on the street with my discharge paperwork.

The war came to an end and retraining was again available, but with fewer flying jobs available than before the war. I put in for and was accepted as an Airborne Communications Technician aboard the E-3 "sentry" AWACS aircraft. I envisioned myself as an elite airborne warrior, scanning the horizon for enemy aircraft, all the while barking orders to F-16's to kill the bad guys. Reality is sometimes very harsh. Heck, I didn't even have a window. AWACS wasn't all bad. I made many friends and traveled the world. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that some of those friends lost their lives. On September 22nd, 1995, an E-3 with the call sign Yukla 27 took off from Elmondorf AFB Alaska. The airplane struck a flock of Geese and went down in the woods a few miles away. All 24 crewmen were lost. I designed a memorial that stands at Tinker AFB, East of  Oklahoma City. The memorial was paid for by selling a memorial print titled "Twenty Four". I donated the original painting to the 962nd Airborne Warning and Control Squadron for whom the men were lost.

I left Active Duty in 1996 to start a career as a professional artist. I went to art shows and conventions and lived the dream. The dream wasn't all dreamy and I found out the life of a starving artist wasn't all peaks; there are many valleys. I had to make ends meet between the peaks somehow. At the end of 1998 I joined the Air Force Reserve as a KC-135 Boom Operator. There was the view of the horizon I was looking for. I'm around aircraft and aviators all the time and the valleys aren't so deep. I fly and I paint. I paint and I fly. I opened a gallery on Tinker AFB in 1997. If you happen to be in the area and you have a DoD ID card, I encourage you to stop by and chat. If I'm not somewhere above you, refueling some elite airborne warrior, I'd love to talk.

Click Here for more artwork by Darby Perrin.

Kingdon R. Hawes (Webmaster)

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