Russ Day -- Consummate Artist And Cartoonist

Posted September 19, 2003

By Bill Dixon with Russ Day

Russ Day – officially, P. Russell  Day -- a TWA Captain who retired in March,1988, always has had two vocational loves in his life. One was to fly airplanes and the other to draw pictures. He is fully into art now.

He probably was destined for stardom in some category, being born in Hollywood Hospital, March 8,1928. Shirley Temple first saw life in the same hospital a month later. When five months old, his family moved to New York City, and then to Bergen County, N.J. for the next sixteen years.

"I was always drawing," he reports. "My parents learned this when they found all their bridge score pads would contain scribbling whenever they sought to play. Since I was an only child, they very easily figured out who the culprit was!"

In grammar school he always was the class artist -- the one the teachers would assign to make the backdrops for the school play, decorations for history projects, and anything else they could think of. During this time he also was very interested in airplanes, making many rubber-powered flying models. He remembers his best ones were the WWI biplanes -- SPADs, Sopwith Camels and a 1925 Army plane called a P6E.

A harbinger of things to come, in the 8th grade he had to make a report on "Airline Jobs" for a vocational guidance class.

"In the middle of the WWII,  my father relocated to Dallas, Texas and  I was able to weather the culture shock fairly well," he confesses. "I recall having bitter arguments with my American History teacher … she thought the South should have won the Civil War. I tried out for the football team, which was a complete disaster. I was tall, skinny and not very good at age seventeen, so I became a reporter and sports cartoonist for the high school newspaper and yearbook."

Russ said his main hero during his last years in New Jersey was cartoonist Willard Mullin of the New York World Telegram. His work can still be found at a website featuring famous cartoonists. "I tried to pattern my cartooning and general drawing on his style. My collection of them was lost in the family's next move," Russ relates. "Later, I was able at a art show to buy four of Mullin's originals, which I would not trade for almost any other piece of art in the world."

Flying-wise, he went to the University of Texas for two years to prepare for his military obligation and entered flight training in March, 1948, at Pensacola, Florida. In advanced training, he qualified in an old lumbering seaplane called a PBM, but found that handling the beast quite a challenge. He ended at a base in Trinidad, British West Indies for a couple of years flying the PBM . He then was assigned to the Naval Air Station at Corpus Christi, Texas, still instructing, and then to Kodiak, Alaska.

Assigned to a desk too much, he got out of the Navy and returned home in 1956 to begin bombarding the airlines with application forms.

"TWA was the first to give me a hiring date. What I liked best about TWA was that it flew both domestic and international. I regret I remained in the Navy so long I was rather junior for my age with TWA, but I did keep active in the Navy Reserve until I got the required twenty years service credit."

Based in New York, with two short exiles to Newark, Russ made his first flight on TWA in a Martin 202, Oct. 2, with Captain Bill Halliday. Russ saved his sarcastic drawings, especially against the Scheduling Department, until his probationary year was up! Time went on, and Russ began drawing cartoons for the Skyliner and started posting the route of flight on the cockpit door with appropriatly drawn destinations like a "Big Apple" for New York. With the advent of felt tip markers, he could work in color.

"The jets came in" Russ explains,"and could do two or three propeller airplanes amount of work. The situation worsened to the point I got a letter saying I could expect to be furloughed by February of 1961 or ‘62. I was already back to being a "second officer" in the heart of the inter-union battles for the third seat on jets."

"Luckily," Russ continued, "my furlough never came and I was having a field day drawing cartoons of the new jets and the pilot union versus the flight engineer union battle for that third seat. About this time Bill Dixon, who was Director of Flying, hired me to draw cartoons for Flight Facts, the Flight Operations newsletter. I was the only one on the staff that got paid in addition to my TWA salary.  Bill was the original editor.

"He asked me to dream up a comic strip character related to flying that was humorous but also offered a lesson; thus I thought up 'Pembroke' a Canada goose with a flair for making mistakes. I drew Pembroke, plus other cartoon spots for Flight Facts working with about 6 different editors until  retirement 26 years later"

Russ got to drawing some cartoons on the 880 when he was a second officer, which led him into trouble. He drew fat, old fang-tooth-mean captains terrorizing young copilots and flight engineers. Finally, the chief pilot in LAX saw one of Russ's masterpieces and raised hell. When the correspondence on the flap got to NY, they had Russ on the carpet in five minutes. His only punishment was to bid the Convairs as second officer until he personally got the so-called "blight" erased.

Russ eventually escaped punishment and started flying captain on Constellations in 1966. "All  this time I was drawing and cartooning various activities in the airline. I was elevated to instructor pilot at JFK for a year and then went back to the line. There was a speakers program involved and since I am a natural 'B/S' artist, I volunteered. About this time the pilots instituted the 'Go' program since the company was in trouble financially (Weren't we always in trouble)."

In 1972 it was back to college in night classes until finally, as he puts it,  he earned  a BA in Fine Arts in 1975.  A series of cartoons he drew for Bill Dixon's retirement party in 1978, all neatly framed, were entitled: "The Captain as Seen by  -- his wife, the copilot, the FAA, the Flight Attendants, etc. Russ says the theme was an old one, but his drawing and interpretations were all original. The drawings hang in a place of honor in Bill's apartment in San Jose, California, with copies at his late son's.

Russ's final trip was to Munich, with a stop in Brussels, in March 1988 on a Lockheed 1011. His favorite aircraft was the 747, which he flew generally only in the summer time on International.

In retirement, Russ has become involved in the computer age and all that goes with it, such as digital cameras. He reports that he still skis and sails, but the old body is starting to break up (an all too familiar story to all us old pilots), but he will never give up the artwork.

Bill Dixon (1936-1978 ) started as a Ticket Agent and served in the News Bureau and Flight Operations. Russ Day also served in Flight Operations.


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