Recently a painting of an SR-71 Mach 3 jet was added to the stairwell in Duke Centennial Hall. It is the latest creation by Peter Tkacik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and engineering science in the William States Lee College of Engineering.
Tkacik’s artistic pursuits are a hobby, but he sees them as a source of inspiration for engineering students as they learn more about their future profession. His other images include an oversized canvas of the largest gas turbine, built by Siemens in Germany, and a Ferrari engine. He also painted a 48-by-72-inch version of a micro-electric circuit and a four-foot-wide, six-foot-tall version of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge in Charleston for the Electrical and Computer Engineering and Civil and Environmental Engineering Departments, respectively. These two works are displayed in EPIC.
“I sketched growing up, and I’ve found it to be a valuable skill as an engineer,” said Tkacik. “I say that I do pencil CAD; I can draw a design in three-dimension so others can see it.”
The SR-71 Mach 3 jet painting, at 54-by-108 inches is the largest work created by Tkacik to date. To hang it 40 feet above the marble floor of Duke Centennial Hall, so it is visible at the third-floor level, was an achievement itself. Tkacik, with the assistance of graduate student Jerry Dahlberg, and facilities management personnel Toby Boan and David Elledge, rigged special pulleys and ropes to hoist the painting to its location 18 feet above the third-floor stairwell. They built a 16-foot drill to install the hooks that support the stainless steel frame.
Tkacik’s rendering of the SR-71 is based upon several photographs of the long-range Mach 3 reconnaissance aircraft. The plane is depicted high above the Earth with stars in the background. An amateur astronomer, Tkacik included the constellation Orion on his painting.
According to the engineering professor, the SR-71, with a top speed of 2,100 miles per hour, is an engineering marvel and the ultimate jet. “At around Mach 3.2, the SR-71 switches from jet engines to ramjet being powered by air and shock waves,” said Tkacik.
Before embarking upon his large format paintings, Tkacik worked in watercolors and did illustrations of North American vines that were included in his unpublished “Field Guide to Woody Vines of North America.” Several of his watercolors are displayed in Duke Centennial Hall, too.