A Legacy Remembered Through Art

The 452nd Air Mobility Wing has a historic background. During World War II, the 452nd was a bomb group in the Mighty 8th Air Force, using B-17s to attack Nazi Germany. Years later the 452nd made history again, flying B-26 Invaders on daring daylight missions during the Korean War. At one point the 452nd was the only Invader unit conducting daylight operations. This would culminate in April of 1951 when the 452nd flew 30 sorties a day for eight straight days. In 1958, the 452nd became a troop carrier wing and began to fly legendary cargo aircraft like the C-47 Skytrain and C-46 Commando. These would form the backbone of the troop carrier wing and would later see the 452nd flying high-powered jet cargo aircraft like the C-141.

In the spring of 2019, another chapter in the history of the 452nd was written. For the first time, the wing would have a female commander, General Melissa Coburn.

“No one else really flew in my family. By age nine, I was aspiring to become an astronaut,” General Coburn said when recalling her childhood. “My father told me that if I wanted to do that, I would first need to become a pilot.”

General Coburn’s family was a military family. Her father was in the Army, and they moved around a fair amount. “When I told my parents I wanted to fly, they were both very supportive. My mom was a little nervous, but still found the courage to support what I wanted to do.”

General Coburn attended the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado and was commissioned in 1992. “I certainly felt a tie to the women who did this before me, like the WASP,” She said. “Without them being the trailblazers they were, I would not be able to do what I was doing.” She served on the C-141B and the C-12J before transitioning to the new C-17 Globemaster III. “I really love the C-17. It is an amazing airplane, and perhaps the most special part of the aircraft is the core mission. This being humanitarian missions.”

Recently one C-17 was selected to receive a special piece of artwork. General Coburn explained: “I discussed bringing back some of the nose art with the maintenance group commander. He said it had been a while since any of our aircraft carried artwork.”

The 452nd is based at March Air Force Base in California. There is a rich history with aircraft manufacturing which predates World War II. At the height of production in the war, California was churning out aircraft from many of the different factories there. Many of these were being built by the workforce of women which stepped up for the war effort, better known by their nickname, “Rosie the Riveter.”

General Coburn mentioned a wonderful tie to the Rosies of World War II. “We had a woman who was one of the wartime Rosie the Riveters who ended her career working on the C-17 program. I had the chance to meet her while I was picking up a new aircraft, and she has been out to visit us on the base from time to time.”

USAF veteran Shayne Meder, EAA 1404980, was selected to do the honors and create the art for the aircraft. It would be named Spirit of Rosie the Riveter and carry artwork inspired by the 1940s’ poster. The aircraft was rolled out in January of 2021 sporting its new artwork and dedicated at a formal ceremony.

General Coburn had an important message to young women who also want to fly. “Stay in school, do the best you can with your grades, and perhaps most importantly, never let anyone take your dream from you.”

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