About the Artist
I have been drawing and
painting airplanes for as long as I can remember. This fascination with
airplanes, particularly military airplanes, was fostered by my Dad, who built
solid models of combat airplanes during World War II. Most of this sizeable
collection was hung from wires that criss-crossed the ceiling of my bedroom. My
last waking moments were often spent gazing at the lines and angles that defined
these classic airplanes, and the sun always came up with glancing rays of light
shimmering on their wings and fuselages. It was a most effective and lasting
form of brainwashing, leading to a lifetime of deep interest in airplanes,
particularly military airplanes.
My family has no great artistic tradition. The only other
artists in my family (that I am aware of) were my aunt, who was serious about
her art, and my mother, who was not. But my earliest memories literally are of
trying to draw and color airplanes. The desire to create pictures has always
burned brightly, equaling my attraction to airplanes.
This desire was matched almost equally by the desire to fly.
My favorite childhood books always starred aeronautical heroes. While most of my
contemporaries immersed themselves in sports, I spent my time in the library
devouring military history. When I read "Those Devils In Baggy Pants",
the World War II chronicle of the 504th Airborne Infantry Regiment, I knew I had
to become a Paratrooper. Three years in the 82nd Airborne Division gave me an
appreciation for the appeal of calculated risk......and a set of Senior
My aeronautical passion was briefly sidetracked into the world of sports car
racing when I bought my first Corvette, and then met my future wife. Two years
of road racing, and one wedding later, I was sans Corvette and getting serious
about painting airplanes. Soon enough, I was also serious about flying
them......but not before a return to falling out of them. Carol and I joined a
skydiving club and spent one summer with the Midwest Skydiving Club. Fortunately
for us, the primary jump plane pilot got his instructor rating that summer and
offered to teach any interested sky divers to fly.
Skydiving in the early sixties was a chancy deal. The parachutes were mostly
military surplus, round high porosity canopies, which we modified for
maneuverability by removing panels....thus increasing the descent rate. I
noticed that most of my skydiving buddies had suffered various injuries as a
result. After I suffered a separated shoulder, it was not a difficult decision
to give up falling out of airplanes in favor of staying in them.
I earned by Private Pilot certificate in 1965, my Commercial
in 1966, and started aerobatic instruction that same year. By 1968 I had logged
over 500 hours. But I had also gotten pretty serious about painting airplanes,
and was soon promoting publication. The Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine
published an eight- page feature on a series of paintings I had done depicting the
Air War in Vietnam. The Journal of the American Aviation Historical Society also
published several of my works.
Braniff Captain, aviation author and publisher Len Morgan had
become a regular correspondent, and when I suggested that he publish a book on the
Vietnam air war, using my illustrations, he responded that I should write and
illustrate the book and he would publish it. "The Air War In Vietnam"
was published in 1968. It was followed by "Aircraft Of The Vietnam
War", in 1970. In early 1972, I traveled to Eglin AFB and Hurlburt Field for the USAF Art program. This trip was basis of several painting which are in the USAF Art Collection. USAF Art Program
I met Jerry Campbell, owner and publisher of Squadron/Signal Publications, in 1972. We established an enduring
relationship. My first book for Squadron/Signal was "F-4 Phantom In Action",
published in 1972. It was followed at regular intervals by over 50 more books.
(See Books by Lou Drendel.)
All this authoring and painting (not to mention raising a
family) had led to a moratorium on flying, but when a beat up T-34 showed up at
our airport, and I found out that it was being sold to a just-forming flying
club, I took an orientation ride and my interest in flying was instantly
The T-34 Mentor is one of the nicest flying airplanes ever
built. It was designed to have the feel of a 1950's jet fighter. The controls
are relatively light and well-balanced, and it is fast enough and comfortable
enough to make it a good cross-country airplane. And, it was fully aerobatic!
The Mentor Flyers was founded in 1974 as a fifteen member group, but we did not
fill the membership until the early 80s. During those early years we spent more
time on restoration than we did on flying.
The article shown here appeared in the AUTOPILOT magazine. It featured a picture I took during the opening maneuver of the 1997 Chicago Air & Water Show.
My Pentax 3000 with 20mm lens was mounted on top of the glareshield, with a cable
release running to my throttle hand, so that I could fire off pix as I
flew the six-ship loop. This was the best of the 15 frame sequence. Click on the article to get a more readable image.
The early 80s also saw
the popularization of civilian formation flying. I was an early member of the
national T-34 Association and quickly became a formation flying addict. The T-34 Association soon set the standard for large precision formation groups
at the annual convention of the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh. A major part of this rise to formation
prominence was the publication of our manual "Formation Flight". I co-authored
and illustrated the manual, and it has since been reprinted 3 times. "Formation
Flight" was adopted by all civilian warbird groups sanctioned by the FAA to fly
formation in airshow airspace. I was elected to the Board of Directors of the
T-34 Association in 1980, and have served as President since 1992. I also served
a stint on the EAA Warbirds of America board, from 1989-1994. My designs for the formation flying qualification patches
are used by all civilian groups.
As interest in civilian formation grew, we developed a core
of formation pilots in our flying club, the Mentor Flyers. This core group
eventually began to acquire their own airplanes and by the mid-80s, we had six
T-34s locally. Weekly formation practices soon began to expand the envelope of
maneuvers, and within a few years we had developed into a precision team,
capable of formation aerobatics equaling the jet teams in the range and
complexity of maneuvers. The Lima Lima Flight
Team has performed in front of hundreds of millions of spectators, from
coast-to-coast and border-to-border since 1988.
Three years ago I accepted a commission to produce a series
of paintings for American Flyers website, the national company which provides flight training
for Private, Commercial, Instrument, and Instructor ratings. This series of
paintings covers virtually the full spectrum of aviation history. It was while I
was developing the "famous aviators" series for American Flyers that I created
the technique of "ghosting" the image of the aviator in the background, with his
airplane in the foreground of the picture. This technique has provided the basis
for most of the commissions I have undertaken for pilots....famous or otherwise.