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The U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2024’s official painting features five elements that represent cadets’ four-year experience.

The U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2024’s official painting features five elements that represent cadets’ four-year experience. (Painting scan by Sara Scrapchansky/U.S. Air Force Academy)

As the sun sets over the Colorado Rockies, a trio of F-22 Raptors soar over the U.S. Air Force Academy.

This vivid image is depicted in the Class of 2024’s official painting, created by realist artist and Casper College, Wyo., drawing and painting instructor Justin Hayward and unveiled Thursday during the academy’s 100s Night.

The U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2024 official painting was unveiled during the 100s Night Dining-in, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, at Mitchell Hall.

The U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2024 official painting was unveiled during the 100s Night Dining-in, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, at Mitchell Hall. (U.S. Air Force)

The painting features five elements that represent cadets’ four-year experience at the academy. This includes the three F-22s, which represent the fact that the Class of 2024 will be the 66th to graduate, according to a news release from the academy. The colorful sunset behind the Raptors is itself another theme.

“A lot of us remember our cadre pulled us aside during Basic Cadet Training to look at the city and told us, ‘These are the people you’re protecting.’ ” Cadet 1st Class Sara Scrapchansky, Class of 2024 painting project cadet in charge, said in the release. “We looked around at the mountains and this amazing world we were in. The mountains at sunset is when the Academy is its prettiest.”

The construction of the Cadet Chapel, which began during the Class of 2024’s freshman year in 2019, is also displayed, as well as the renovated Air Garden, another project begun during the class’s freshman year. Stars in the sky symbolize cadets who will join Space Force upon graduation.

Class paintings have been an academy tradition for 50 years, but the Class of 2024 is only the second class to take an active role in selecting the artist for its painting, the news release said. Hayward was chosen from among about 25 applicants.

“It was difficult because there were so many things that needed to be included in the painting,” Hayward said. “I like how everything came together. I did not always know how I was going to be able to get all the symbolism in the painting, but it turned out exceptionally good. It is special for the class to remember their time at the academy this way. I was just an outsider having fun watching the full process.”

The U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2024 official painting was unveiled during the 100s Night Dining-in, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, at Mitchell Hall.

The U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2024 official painting was unveiled during the 100s Night Dining-in, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, at Mitchell Hall. (Justin Pacheco/U.S. Air Force)

Brian McElhiney is a digital editor and occasional reporter for Stars and Stripes. He has worked as a music reporter and editor for publications in New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Oregon. One of his earliest journalistic inspirations came from reading Stars and Stripes as a kid growing up in Okinawa, Japan.

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