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Home > Curator's Corner > September 2009 > “Sense Pamphlets” for Navy Aviators
“Sense Pamphlets” for Navy Aviators
Intrepid Teens Blog
Posted: 9/23/2009 9:53:42 AM

This month the Curator’s Corner would like to introduce an article written by one of our volunteers, Andrea Walton. She has spent the past few months assisting us with organizing our archive collection, so we thought it would be appropriate for her to share with you some of the items she’s discovered during this process.

“Sense Pamphlets” for Navy Aviators

Of the many treasures in the archives of the Intrepid, I was delighted to come across three pamphlets produced during World War II (published in March, April and May of 1944) in the “Sense” series illustrated by graphic artist, satirist, and author Robert Osborn (1904-1994). These appropriately named instructional pamphlets provided common sense safety rules on naval aviation topics. Published by the Aviation Training Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, each pamphlet’s topic was captured by Osborn on the front and back covers with delightful illustrations accompanying the essays. The drawings are rendered in the rapid and fluid easy line of a cartoonist/satirist sensibility which invites the reader to open the pamphlets.
Shark Sense - Private life of a coward (March 1944)

The front cover depicts a pilot’s greatest fear when forced down in tropical waters – coming in contact with sharks. But the more he knows the less there is to fear.  A wild-eyed pilot, mouth agape, tongue hanging out is shown barely keeping his head (and rear end) above water. In the cartoon balloon of his imagination we find a ferocious shark with teeth bared (mirroring the pilots own gaping mouth). But just what is triggering his imagination?  A small goldfish, unseen by our hero, is nibbling his toe! On the back cover a man holds a fearsome shark balloon and through the use of continuous narration, the balloon of his fears has now burst after reading this pamphlet.  As the final page of advice tells the reader, you cannot win in a biting match, but you can win in a thinking match.

Manners Sense – Gentlemen, be seated (April 1944)

The naval officer on the cover embodies all the attributes associated with a lack of manners coupled with arrogance: hands thrust in his pockets, nose literally in the air, eye closed, dangling a cigarette from his lip and cap seemingly thrust back on his head. He is obliviously stepping on the toes of both a smaller civilian gazing up at him and an officer who is “flipping his lid” in the air in frustration. Set against a blue background, the front and back covers suggest two contemporary connotations of the word “skylark”: the naval term for goof off (on the front) and the popular romantic song, “Skylark,” written in 1942 by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael (on the back).  The back cover reveals the same blue sky against which now we see the naval officer escorting and gazing into the eyes of a feminized plane. After reading the pamphlet, the officer is “on board” with his manners - water is lapping next to the couple. Now an officer and a gentleman, in the words of the accompanying text, “he’s even considerate of his plane!”

Security Sense – Zip that lip, brother! (May 1944)

The covers are wonderful illustrations of contemporary jargon: “the walls have ears” and “singing like a canary” on the front and “zip your lip” on the back. Disembodied, multi-eared smiling heads with beady eyes wide open surround a little sailor shown on his toes in profile with his arms stretched out and up, head thrust enthusiastically back in song. Note that his profile is enhanced by feathers and both he and the heads are conspicuously yellow, a color also associated with cowards. The “yellow” theme is continued on the back where a pilot determinedly stands with his arms folded against a yellow background. He has exaggeratedly large lips literally shut closed with a zipper, something he is reminded to do after reading this pamphlet.

Reading the advice and recommendations written in the language and tone of the everyman, it is striking how what was considered common sense in 1944 continues to be the right thing to do in 2009. You may want to check out Support Aircraft Sense currently on exhibit in the Intrepid Museum’s hangar deck exhibition.

For more information about Robert Osborn and his career both inside and outside the Navy go to the following: