Bomber Nose Art: A Veteran's Story (Along the Way)

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He's not your average artist and he's not producing your average art.

Buckle up as we take a ride on the story of Steve Barba, a man we met 'Along the Way" in Sturgis.

There's far more to this guy than meets the eye.

Barba says: "I worked B-52's 15 years as a Crew Chief and B-1's for 5 years as a Crew Chief."

Barba was based his entire career at Ellsworth Air Force Base.

Barba says, "The Crew Chiefs own the aircraft. The Pilots do not own the aircraft. Crew Chiefs own the aircraft. That's our baby. Pilot's borrow it for the day."

Serving from 1981 through 2001, passionate about airplanes, people, and their safety.

Artist Steve Barba says, " You know, Crew Chiefs are on the flight line, we're dealing with real world stuff. We're dealing with flight crews lives, we're dealing with assets worth millions and millions of dollars."

Growing up, he was fascinated by World War Two Nose Art. But by the time Barba joined the Air Force, Nose Art had been banned.

"I was like, that time has passed, you know, I was born 40 years too late," says Barba.

Turns out, he was right on time, a few years later the ban was lifted. and finally 1996, an artist, at heart, he got a shot.

Artist Steve Barba says, "I was pretty nervous doing the first one."

But he never looked back.

Artist Steve Barba says, "I did 19 when I was in the military and then 31 when I was out."

Filling the regulation size 3 by 3 foot squares, one dream at a time.

Barba says, "I just pinch myself every time I do it. Every time I do it, I pinch myself."

Honored to be carrying on a tradition.

Barba says, "I've painted 50 Nose Arts and I think I'm the only guy in the nation that's painted that many on active duty aircraft."

Still, he says, some World War Two artists, painted more than 100.
But Steve Barba knows more than nose art.

Barba says, "I love to cartoon, I love to exaggerate, love to push colors. I love to push tones."

He's been drawing these cartoons for a decade.

Barba says, "I can just fatten things up or make it my own."

It takes Barba about 20 hours per drawing, and as he flips pages, he launches one image after another.

With the help of a local printer he can do all sorts of things like resizing his sketches, and combining his drawings into cartoons like "Hawg Chow" : featuring the "A 10 Thunderbolt 2", affectionately known as the Wart Hog.

Artist Steve Barba says, "See the difference in color, what this guy can do, compared to what, you know, these get really dirty he can really clean them up"

But beyond the Nose Art and Cartoons, he unleashes the unbridled doors of this:

Barba says, "These things I have no plans, I just go."

The technical name is Assemblage Art, however, reality requires a second look. One sculpture named after Casey Jones, is named CJ's Hammer.

Artist Steve Barba says, "The train was a model kit. I threw the model together and started adding my flair to it."

The detail of his work is mind blowing. The train sculpture is covered with cows, settlers, you name it: you could look for a week and not see everything.

Another of his sculptures is named 'Freedom of Expression', not your everyday Eagle.
These are the nostrils on the Eagle's nose.

Barba says, "I love my little arms, love to stick arms in places, sticking out and legs sticking out."

The rest is whatever you want to see, like this guy sitting on top of a model airplane's carburetor.

Artist Steve Barba says, "I put a tank hatch on it, put him in there, and maybe he's driving the eagle."

So why does he do the art he does?

Artist Steve Barba says, "How do i know? I really don't know."

But why ask why, of a guy, whose art and imagination both fly sky high.

If you've met someone cool "Along the way", please e–mail or call us with your story ideas.

He says his first nose art took him days, now he can do it in a matter of hours.
As for the sculptures they can take up to a year and a half.

Barba is a member of the "Artists of the Black Hills" organization.