It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a Wild Weasel

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jonathan Bass
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Soaring over the skies of Shaw, people might now see a flying weasel.

That's because the 20th Fighter Wing's flagship F-16CM Fighting Falcon tail flash recently received a makeover to honor the 50th anniversary of the Wild Weasels.

Half a century ago a group of pilots were nicknamed Wild Weasels for their heroic acts during the Vietnam War, creating a legend todays pilots of the 20th FW are still upholding.

Tech. Sgt. Todd Bosley, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance craftsman, led the charge in creating a design for the commemorative tail flash to represent the mission of the 20th FW.

Bosley and his team coordinated with Capt. Kenneth Lustig, 369th Recruiting Squadron support flight commander, based out of Los Angeles, California, on a plan to get the weasel flying. As a freelance graphic designer, Lustig was able to create a mockup for the tail flash while Bosley and his crew determined a method to produce the desired result.

"They worked through numerous engineering and environmental concerns to ensure the end result would look great but also be safe and airworthy," said Lustig.

The team debated between using an aircraft wrap or a large sticker, but were shot down due to safety concerns. Ultimately, they realized the most effective procedure was to paint the design themselves.

Although the Airmen had many ideas, compliance and cost were top priorities so the team simplified the design and decided to paint it on standard aircraft gray instead of a more intricate Vietnam-era camo background, said Lustig.

Lustig and Bosley's team worked together to design the life-sized paint decals needed to outline the new tail flash.

Knowing how they were going to accomplish the feat, Bosley then needed to find a location to send his team. With the 20th EMS's paint shop closed for maintenance, they turned their eyes to Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.

Bosley's team had 10 days in Moody's paint booth to complete the project and in an effort to save time the team accomplished as much as possible before leaving, said Lustig.

Working 10 to 12 hour days in two shifts to maximize efficiency, the five Airmen crew finished ahead of schedule.

"Aircraft paint is not the most forgiving medium," said Lustig. "At Moody, the team worked oddball shifts based on the cure time of each paint layer, and finished in precisely the minimum time needed, since the tight schedule left practically no room for mistakes."

Senior Airman Stephanie Arwood, 20th EMS aircraft structural maintenance journeyman, was one of the five who painted the tail flash.

Arwood, who paints aircraft every day, but rarely with this much detail, realized the significance of the project early on.

"It's amazing," said Arwood. "It's something that's bigger than us. When they revealed it, to see the look on the veteran's faces was incredible."

The tail flash debuted on June 5, during the Wild Weasel conference here, in front of a captive audience of past Weasels.

"Tail flashes, like aircraft nose art, commemorate our units and milestones and are a major part of Air Force heritage," said Lustig. "Designs like these capture the imagination and inspire dreams of flight in ways that simple dates or announcements can't. If you ask people to list the things they think make military planes special, they'll probably mention the artwork. This kind of art is a symbol of belonging to a military organization with heraldry and traditions, and a piece of history."

The iconic Wild Weasel will fly over the skies of Shaw serving as a proud reminder of past Airmen who made today's mission possible.