Status of Original Painting – For Sale
All prices are in Canadian dollars
Size: 10 x 21 inches
Medium: Watercolour on 300 lb Arches
After a strenuous 30-minute hike to ascend 800 feet along a forested path in Burgoyne’s Cove, you’re rewarded with splendid, peaceful, beautiful greenery – and the scattered skeletal remains of an enormous war plane. What you see in this painting are remnants of its massive tail section. In other parts of the valley, you’ll find engines, landing gear, wings, and other splintered parts from the main cabin.
On March 18, 1953, the fatal flight left a US Air Force base in the Azores, bound for South Dakota. The plane was a Convair RB-36H-25 Peacemaker – the largest ever piston-engine aircraft and bearing the longest wingspan (70 meters) of any combat aircraft. Despite its Peacemaker name, these B-36 bombers were the primary means for delivering nuclear weapons until B-52 planes entered service in the mid-1950s.
The fateful reconnaissance mission was to test whether aircraft could approach North American defenses without being detected. The crew were ordered to fly without radar, using only their sextant for navigation, and the altimeter to maintain about 500 feet of altitude as they crossed the Atlantic toward Newfoundland. Navigational radar was to be turned on an hour before landfall so that they could climb to a safe altitude over Newfoundland’s mountainous coastline. However, the weather was so dismal and overcast that the navigator could not make use of the sextant to check their true position. Strong tailwinds rather than forecasted headwinds caused them to unknowingly reach Newfoundland 90 minutes ahead of schedule. During the crew’s last minutes, the plane flew straight and level at 800 feet with a groundspeed of 202 knots, through sleet, drizzle, fog, and visibility of less than 1/8-mile. The B-36 Peacemaker slammed into an 896-foot cliff at Burgoyne’s Cove and broke apart, creating a large fireball, scattering wreckage over a mile, and killing all 23 crewmembers on impact.
That same night a Boeing SB-29 Superfortress search and rescue plane took off from the Ernest Harmon Air Force Base at Stephenville in Newfoundland to search for survivors. It too failed to return from its mission, crashing beyond the runway in the fog and killing all eleven crewmembers. Despite an extensive search and dredging of St. George’s Bay, the wreckage of that plane was never found.
The B-36 Peacemaker wreckage was deemed unrecoverable and left behind as a memorial for the crewmembers. One propeller blade is mounted atop the cliff, overlooking the wreckage below, and bearing all the names of the crew. The site is frequented by locals and tourists who comment on the beauty and peacefulness of the scenery, and the solemn, sobering nature of the wreckage.
This was an unusual subject for me to paint. I’ve written before how my artistic eye is drawn to images that contain contrasts of shapes, textures, colors, and natural versus artificial elements. This painting takes the contrast of nature and man-made to an extreme. The plane broke apart against the immovable force of nature but in turn reduced all surrounding greenery to ashes. In the ensuing decades, is nature winning the battle? Much of the wreckage has been pierced, absorbed, or hidden by the lush trees and undergrowth that regenerated upon scorched ground. And yet, the yellow-orange undergrowth recalls the heat of the original inferno, while many ribs of that broken vessel defiantly persist. Even its tail number (51-13721) remains visible after all these years.
My thanks to Lisa Samways for taking the main reference photo. I was in there with camera slung around my neck, and so I needed one of my photos to recreate sections obscured by my presence.