When an airplane flies by and someone asks, “What is that?” they are usually talking about the airframe. When Roger Ryon and Martin Kosina fly by in their Piper Apache, it’s not the airframe that people remark on — it’s the paint job. They fly an airplane that looks like a mythological creature come to life.
According to Ryon, it started a few years ago when they bought the Apache, which had been a ramp queen at an airport near Portland, Ore., for a number of years.
“It was a project airplane when we got it,” he said. “Ugly on the outside, but okay on the inside.”
And, notes Ryon, the price was right for two guys who were looking to upgrade to a twin-engine airplane.
They bought it and began the process of restoring it. The final touch was, of course, the paint job. It would have to be something special, they decided, because both men are active in the annual gathering of artists known as the Burning Man festival, which takes place in the Black Rock Desert of Northern Nevada. Being around such a creative outlet persuaded them to go for a look beyond the stripes and nose art that normally appears on general aviation airplanes.
They contacted local artist Jonas Nash to see if he was interested in making the airplane his canvas.
“We didn’t tell him what to paint, but we gave him parameters,” Ryon says. “You know, to keep the FAA happy. We told him no naked people because we wanted to do Angel Flights, but we wanted it to be hip and edgy. He gave us hip and edgy and did a 90° left turn with it and interpreted it in his own way.”
The design features lots of flames and eyeballs.
Nash describes his art as impressionistic and industrial, noting that this was the first airplane he’d ever worked on.
“I developed a rough drawing idea of what I saw, which was a screaming demon kind of creature thing. It is not really evil because I didn’t want to make it too evil,” said Nash. “There is definitely a Dr. Seuss influence on the fire and the spirals because I love Dr. Seuss. Tiffany McCormack did the spirals on the spinners.”
The painting was done at the Troutdale Airport (TTD) in Oregon, which is also home to the unusual plane.
Ryon proudly notes the plane — and its pilots — get noticed wherever they go. “You should hear the tower controllers,” he quipped.