Question: Why is this picture rare?
Answer: In 1979 a U.S. Navy TOP GUN Instructor Pilot, Lenny Bucko, a U.S. Marine Corps' pilot, escorted me on TOP GUN's flightline at NAS Miramar North of San Diego. I saw a U.S. Marine Corps F-4 Phantom II parked on TOP GUN's flightline with the above special, one-of-a-kind, tail markings. I asked Lenny if I could photograh "that one". He said, "Sure.", but, as we approached it, even though he was in his TOP GUN flight suit and was an officer, a guard told us we could not photograph that one, even though it was buttoned up and nothing secret was visible. The guard said there was a big brouhaha brewing over this tail marking, and the Marine who painted it might be court martialed for defacing a Marine Corps F-4II! Lenny got courious about this story and knew I wanted to photograph this plane because these markings are rare and unusual--the first Lenny or I had seen.
Lenny talked to someone and told me we had permission for me to photograph this plane.
When I was there, I was the only who took pictures of this Marine Corps F-4II.
My understanding of the story behind this picture is this: A) An enlisted Marine who was part of the aircraft maintenance for this F-4II when it was at TOP GUN, was so "Gung-ho!" and proud of how well "his" pilot and RIO [Radar Intercept Officer" had been doing during their TOP GUN training that he, on his own volition, overnight, painted the right side of this F-4II, as shown in the above picture; B) This enlisted Marine's intent was to manifest excellent morale and esprit to support his aircrew and tell them in a meaningful way, "At-a-boy! You guys are 'shit hot!'"; but, C) The pilot, when he saw this unexpected, unauthorized, extensive artwork on the tail of his airplane, interpreted that artwork to mean this: The Marine who painted this artwork intended to communicate to the pilot that that Marine artist beleive this Marine Corps' F-4 Squadron, its leadership, this pilot, and how well this pilot was doing during TOP GUN training, were all "shitty", and, thus, the artist had manifested a form on not too thinly disguised insubordination. This pilot, therefore, was out to get this aircraft maintenace guy turned artist, and intended to use two charges against the artist: defacing government property and insubordination.
The Marine artist who painted this rare, one-of-a-kind tail marking, however, only intended to pay this pilot and his RIO a supreme compliment. The tail code assigned to this Marine Corps F-4II squadron was [and is] "SH", and the artist, by putting a buzzard on top of an outhouse with the letters "SH", intended to tell the pilot and his RIO, in an elaborate manner, "Hey, you guys are doing great. You're SHIT HOT! You're lethal! Way to go, guys!"
I was so happy to get permission to photograph this F-4II, I did not have the presence of mind to look to see what was painted on the opposite side of the tail, so, I jus don't know if the other side was painted up, too. Darn!
I was also told that these markings had been on this airplane for less than 12 hours before I photograhed it, and the pilot was so furious with this perceived gross insult that he had ordered these markings to be scrubbed immediately, as soon as "the evidence" was photographed by a Navy photographer to document the defacing of government property and the alleged insubordination, and as soon as the manpower could be found to remove these markings.
About two years ago, after my picture of the entire F-4 with these tail markings was posted on Cloud 9, a man called me. This man said he was the Marine who painted these tail markings. I told this man what I was told and he indicated, briefly, that what I was told was substantially correct. I invited him--urged him--to please call me back to tell me the total story, from his side of it, and the outcome--did he get reprimanded or court martialed or what?--and I would post text on the site to accompany the picture. Unfortunately, this man never called me back.
This picture is a tight crop from a picture that I took of the entire airplane.
I also took close-ups of just the tail but I am currently unable to find them.
Andreas Klein, the owner of AirDOCs, a major European military aviation enthusiast publisher, wanted a picture of this rare F-4II tail marking so I made this tight crop for his purposes.
The above story, about the misunderstanding between this Marine artist and this Marine pilot, illustrates well how easily people can react differently to the same "fact" and how a brouhaha can easily arise from an unfortunate misudnerstanding or perceived insult or both.
-- Peter J. Mancus, Owner, www.cloud9photography.us