The Terrible Towel® “Takes Flight” as Nose Art on Military Aircraft
The Terrible Towel inspires more than the avid Steelers fan. The towel has been a part of the nose art of military aircraft, based in Pittsburgh, for years. On July 24, twenty-nine representatives from Merakey Allegheny Valley School (AVS) were guests of the 171st Air Refueling Wing. They attended the unveiling of the third iteration of The Terrible Towel image on the nose of a KC-135T military aircraft, just as they did in 2006 for the first. Guests included Elizabeth and Danny Cope, children of the creator of The Terrible Towel, Myron Cope.
While both the aircraft and Merakey AVS are located in Coraopolis, there is more to the story than just a shared location. In 1975, The Terrible Towel was created by the late Steelers broadcaster Myron Cope to inspire and engage fans in a playoff game against the then-Baltimore Colts. Mr. Cope, who passed away in February 2008, was involved with Allegheny Valley School for more than a quarter century when his son became a resident there. In 1996, Mr. Cope gave the ownership of The Terrible Towel trademark to Allegheny Valley School.
“Since then, the royalties from the sale of all officially licensed ‘Terrible Stuff’ (including towels, ties, ornaments, lapel pins, and more) have come to Merakey AVS to help cover costs such as equipment, program development and renovations to our facilities, to improve the quality of life for the individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities we support. We are eternally grateful for the legacy Myron Cope has entrusted to us,” Merakey Allegheny Valley School’s Executive Director, Development & Communications Dorothy Hunter Gordon stated.
So, it seemed natural for The Terrible Towel to become part of another venerable tradition, one that inspires duty and service.
“Nose art on aircraft is a time-honored tradition designed to inspire crews,” explains MSgt Gil Ruffing, Imperial, Pa., current crew chief at the 171st.
Col. Gary A. Jeffries, the JAG at the base in 2006, convinced his artist and sister-in-law, Donna Pitaro Mrdjenovich of Kennedy Township, to take on the assignment to paint the nose art. Since then, she has painted nose art on 81 aircraft, most for the 171st and some for the 911th Airlift Wing also in Coraopolis.
The KC-135T, described as a flying gas station, refuels allied aircraft in midair for the Department of Defense and NATO. The aircraft’s tail number 58-0117 means it left the production plant in 1958 and has been involved in most major campaigns since.
To fully appreciate the capacity of the KC-135T, consider these analogies. A gas station pump operating steadily for 24 hours would not pump as much fuel as the tanker pours through its air refueling boom in eight minutes. And the total fuel carried on a single flight would be enough to last the average driver 46 years.
“I bet my dad would be proud and amazed by how much mileage has been derived from his idea for the benefit of so many people in Pittsburgh and around the world,” said Elizabeth Cope.