“The Making of 443”

Base Administration Division – Graphics Office
Text and photos by W. Borghans
(article from the Base Newspaper Skywatch, March 2007)

It must have been the last week of June in 2006 when we were requested to design a special E-3A paint scheme to mark the 25th anniversary of the E-3A Component. Since we had designed a paint scheme for the 20th Anniversary in 2002 that did not take place, we were able to present an almost ready-to-use design to Brig. Gen. Schmidt.

Following the General’s approval, we updated the design by adding a new logo. The aircraft itself is to be painted in silver and blue. The colour silver – for the nose – was chosen as it represents 25-year anniversaries, and the colour blue represents our Air Forces. Together, these two colours illustrate the continuing “day and night” nature of our operations. On the fuselage, the silver-blue borderline has been put at a sharp angle in order to add as much speed as possible to the overall design. For the same reason, the logo will be placed at this borderline. Since the logo (which measures 9 x 4 meters) follows the cylindrical shape of the fuselage, we had to digitally distort its shape to make it fit. The logo itself features a superimposed figure “25” next to the official NATO logo. It is followed by 15 flags representing only those nations participating in the NATO E-3A Programme. And YES, before anybody asks, the order of the flags is correct. Under NATO regulations the flags are always shown sequentially from left to right in French alphabetical order.

Apart from the logo, the most remarkable portion of the paint scheme is probably the very distinctive design on the tail, or to put it correctly, the vertical fin. On the very centre of the fin we placed the “fortress wall”. This wall symbolizes a clear separation line between our opponents and the NATO members. The lightning bolts illustrate our E-3A radar function and the NATO star rises high above to watch over this. So far nothing new… but the colour selected for the top of the fin and the background to the NATO star is now golden yellow with an additional orange gradient. The intended effect is to illustrate the early dawn with the sun rising over the horizon. Figuratively, this is the beginning of the new decade we have just entered with the E-3A Component supporting NATO’s new role in the NRF.

The logo with flags and the fin section are linked by a string of 26 stars (one for each NATO nation). The stars commence next to the flags in the logo and fly in one dynamic wave to the largest of the three lightning bolts on the fin.

To finish it all off, the Luxembourg Lion has been given a very prominent position on the strut. Instead of the standard Lion decals, bigger lions will be applied in paint.

Last but not least, the colour blue returns on the vertical stabilizers and the engine cowls. The wings themselves are not affected by any colour change, but will carry larger NATO stars on both sides – top and bottom – together with the words ‘NATO’ and ‘OTAN’ and the Luxembourg Lion.

Needless to say, designing a special paint scheme like this on our sophisticated Apple Macintosh Power PCs is not a problem… But getting the proposed two-dimensional design applied to a three-dimensional aircraft body is something else! When Brig. Gen. Schmidt approved the final design, he made one comment that sent shivers down my spine: “And now make the real thing happen.”

In order to make it happen, my colleague Hay Janssen and I traveled down to Venice, Italy where 443 was undergoing technical maintenance at Aeronavali. My other colleague, Andre Joosten, stayed in Geilenkirchen to provide the necessary support. Two paint experts from Logistics Wing, Mr. Hans-Dieter Schmaglowski and Mr. Marcel Plum, accompanied us to advise on paint issues.

Once faced with this big aircraft, the trick was not to panic. We started by planning all the individual ornaments and colour layers step by step. Our POC at Aeronavali, Mr. Andrea Molinari, and his colleague Mr. David de Luca provided all the necessary management support. We also received professional support from the supervisor of the paint job crew, Mr. Romeo Rizzetto who “had seen (and done) it all before”. Uncharacteristic for an Italian, Romeo remained calm and always responded positively to our special wishes. After a quick meal in the evening we returned to the hangar and witnessed the orange gradient being put on in a figuratively and literally breath-taking painting session, starting at 23.00 hours. We witnessed Romeo communicate from the ground with a flamboyant Sicilian named Franco performing this drama of sound and light.

What a magnificent performance. But in this case the “Grand Finale” was going to be either O.K…or not. None of the available members of the paint job crew had ever painted a gradient of that size on an aircraft, or in such a tricky position. So it was a case of “all or nothing.” But it all worked! I have never seen anybody look so happy as when Romeo told Franco that he could stop working on this job well done. By now, it was 3 o’clock in the morning.

The next day we continued by determining the exact location of the silver-blue borderline and the corresponding position of the logo on the fuselage. We had taped a full-size paper print copy of the logo on the side of the aircraft and reference points were marked on a large piece of clear plastic for the real paint job.

After having spent two weeks at Aeronavali, we can officially report that the paint job is on schedule and we can’t wait to see the final product.

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