Great State: Air Force Reserve Artist Draws on a Unique Canvas

Great State
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TINKER AFB, OKLAHOMA — Pre-flight checks are mandatory for any aircraft, Air Force and Air Force reserve included.

They run like clockwork at the 507th Air Refueling Wing.

Longtime boom operator Darby Perrin has only done one thing longer than work around or fly on KC-135’s.

Occasionally he will paint on them too.

He walks beneath the nose of a huge KC-135 and motions to a 3-foot square piece of art work under the pilot’s window.

“I get a lot of comments on this one,” he says, “just because of the nature of the art work.”

His work on these work horses of the mid-air refueling fleet stretches across the whole squadron.

One on the tarmac is dedicated to a fallen Air Force comrade.

Another he titled ‘Waiting in the Clouds’.

“This was a crew chief idea,” says Perrin. “He came to me with a very crudely drawn picture of a horse and rider.”

He started off painting straight onto the aircraft.

“There were lots of bugs and very limited time to paint,” he recalls.

These days Darby creates in the comfort of his studio, taking ideas from crew chiefs and inspiration from ‘nose artists’ who’ve come before.

“Do people still request girls in bathing suits?” asks a 507th visitor.

“Oh yeah,” smiles Perrin. “I have to shoot them down because of the ‘politically correct’ movement. It just won’t happen.”

A room at the 507th hangar has become a gallery for one of the last of the nose artists.

The regular Air Force banned nose art in 2002.

As a reserve Master Sergeant Perrin still has some artistic license.

Over his long career he’s painted some 40 different aircraft.

“I will say there aren’t many buildings on base that don’t have at least some of my art work in them somewhere.”

He might fly in the mornings then retire to his on-base studio in the afternoon.

That’s a perfect day for him.

Either way, a little piece of Darby Perrin is always flying high.

Darby says, “I have two jobs that I really like.”

At the May meeting of aviation artists Perrin won a first place medal for his portrait of a passenger jet.

He won another medal for overall excellence.

For more information about his art work go to


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