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“El Diablo” rises from history

Master Sgt. Joe Simpson, 940th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief, and Col. Stephanie W. Williams, 940th Air Refueling Wing commander, uncover the “El Diablo” nose art on a KC-135 Stratotanker May 5 at Beale Air Force Base, California.

Master Sgt. Joe Simpson, 940th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief, and Col. Stephanie W. Williams, 940th Air Refueling Wing commander, uncover the “El Diablo” nose art on a KC-135 Stratotanker May 5 at Beale Air Force Base, California. Simpson chose “El Diablo” after finding the artwork was on that specific aircraft in the past. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tara R. Abrahams)

The “El Diablo” nose art is displayed on a KC-135 Stratotanker belonging to the 940th Air Refueling Wing May 6 at Beale Air Force Base, California.

The “El Diablo” nose art is displayed on a KC-135 Stratotanker belonging to the 940th Air Refueling Wing May 6 at Beale Air Force Base, California. “El Diablo’s” legacy was traced back more than two decades on this plane’s nose through aircraft records and prior crew chiefs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tara R. Abrahams)

The maintenance crew of the “El Diablo” KC-135 Stratotanker stand with the 940th Air Refueling Wing commander and vice commander on the flightline after revealing the aircraft’s nose art May 5 at Beale Air Force Base, California.

The maintenance crew of the “El Diablo” KC-135 Stratotanker stand with the 940th Air Refueling Wing commander and vice commander on the flightline after revealing the aircraft’s nose art May 5 at Beale Air Force Base, California. This was the 940 ARW’s third nose art dedication. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tara R. Abrahams)

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, California --

Adding artwork to the front of an aircraft is a long-standing tradition, stemming back to World War I. From sharp teeth to combat cartoon characters, these paintings became a morale-booster for the troops during the war.

 

The 940th Air Refueling Wing has been bringing the tradition to life again, after being re-designated as a KC-135 Stratotanker unit in 2016. The wing uncovered its third nose art, “El Diablo,” May 5, almost one year to the date after the last reveal.

 

“Let’s roll!” was unveiled May 7, 2017.

 

Individual nose art pieces, like the patriotic graphic for “Let’s roll!” will often carry a lot of history and strong heritage in the Air Force.

 

When Master Sgt. Joe Simpson, a dedicated crew chief with the 940th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, was assigned his plane, he started researching the aircraft's history for artwork.

 

In his search of the aircraft’s records, he found a line that read, “The crew of 8879 would like to welcome you aboard the 'El Diablo.'” Intrigued, he began looking for the artwork to match.

 

“Instead of reinventing the wheel, I wanted to put the spokes back on,” Simpson said.

 

Every five years, the planes are sent away for inspection and stripped of their paint, including nose art, making it difficult to find old records more than a few years old.

 

However, Simpson was able to trace photos through prior crew chiefs at different bases as far back as mid-‘90s, when this specific aircraft was stationed at Royal Air Force Mildenhall.

 

He collected enough photos to create the graphic and set off to collect his leadership’s approval to put “El Diablo” back on the nose. Even though his design was very close to the original artwork, it still took a lot of time.

 

“The only changes I made were the font style and color, and added the motto underneath,” Simpson said.

 

When the artwork was finally uncovered, it revealed a red devil’s face wearing sunglasses and smoking a cigar, and read “El Diablo” above the horns and “no fire without fuel” below the chin.

 

Simpson shared the meaning of the motto to be the importance of our job here in the 940 ARW and refueling in the Air Force.

 

“There’s never any fire without the fuel,” he said. “That’s what we do.”

 

The 940 ARW eventually would like each of its eight tankers to display art on their noses. The next nose art dedication is scheduled for September 2018.