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Gunship Artist Darby Perrin


Combat Aircraft Magazine, May 1998, (Vol. 1, No. 7)
(reproduced here with the permission of Combat Aircraft and Natalie Raccor)

ART In Aviation by Natalie Raccor

Commemorating Military Aviation: The Work of Darby Perrin

Joining the US Air Force changed Darby Perrin's life. There he encountered for the first time the two elements that would come to dominate his work as an artist: the magnificence of military aircraft and the courage of the pilots who risk their lives to fly them. His ability to masterfully convey these two characteristics, and preserve the nobility of his subjects, has rightly earned him the respect of many aviation aficionados.

Growing up in the mountains of Colorado, Perrin was surrounded by nature's beauty and it quickly became the first source of inspiration for his paintings. In trying to capture his subjects, he soon discovered its drama was easy to find but not easy to produce. In time, he was to discover another strong new influence on his work, flying with the Air Force. He states: "Flying translates directly into inspiration and stimulates imagination, both of which are critical for me to paint well."

With a loan from a friend he produced his first lithograph while stationed at Eielson AFB, Alaska and quickly found success. He sold 150 copies out of his dorm during the first month and the response to his first painting quickly prompted another. His growing popularity attracted the notice of his superiors, who approached him to do the nose art on the reconnaissance aircraft in his unit. Gaining experience and honing his skill, Perrin continued to produce lithographs and, after his transfer to Andrews AFB, was asked to paint a special mural for his squadron.

Starting his Air Force career as a mechanic, Perrin applied for a retraining slot and ultimately found himself as an Airborne Communications Technician aboard the Boeing E-3 Sentry (better known as AWACS) stationed at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.

The AWACS community was shattered in September 1995, however, by the loss of call sign "Yukla 27" on take-off from Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. All the men on-board were killed and the effect on unit morale was staggering. Nearly everyone at Tinker knew one or more of the victims and Perrin was asked to design a memorial for display at the base. He says, "I had hoped to honor their memory with a simple artistic gesture. In a way, I feel that they ended up honoring me... Under the circumstances, however, I hope I never have the opportunity to be honored in this way again." Funds raised from the sale of 500 limited-edition prints of the painting "Twenty-Four" paid for the memorial. The painting's title represented the number of crewmembers lost.

The speed with which the first set of prints sold out prompted a second painting "Yukla 27", from which print sales helped pay for the memorial at Elmendorf AFB. As Perrin recognizes, nowhere does the awesome power of nature and aviation reveal itself more forcibly than in such a disaster.

After 10 years of service, Perrin left the Air Force to pursue his art career full-time and has opened a small studio and shop at Tinker AFB. In addition to continuing to produce lithographs and paintings, he has been commissioned by several different organizations throughout the world that have furthered his artistic endeavors professionally. Readers wishing to contact Darby Perrin may do so by writing to him at Darby Perrin Aviation Art P.O. Box 300233, Midwest City, Oklahoma 73140-0233.

Note: Darby painted for three years before returning to the military and he is currently a KC-135 Boom Operator in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. His gallery is located on Tinker AFB. in Oklahoma City. He's there whenever his flying schedule will permit it. He encourages anybody who has access to get on base to stop by and chat for a while.

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