Updated: Jan 27, 2020
From Tactical to practical! These leather, nylon and sheepskin military garments evolved from originally being protective outerwear for pilots and enlisted aircrews into being classic staples of fashion in popular culture.
The popular garments known as #flightjackets trace their roots back to the dawn of aviation at a time when primitive aircraft offered no protection from the elements.
This particular G1 US Navy Flight Jacket is my own. Photographed by me in Helsinki Finland 2014.
Leather was the material of choice because of its durability, breathability, ease of repair and light weight. Its hard to imagine now, but flight jackets were designed to function much in the same way as a modern shell jacket would be used today. Outdoor athletes such as rock climbers, skiers, hikers an off course military personnel often use a lightweight jacket that is breathable but not too heavy. This garment's main purpose is to keep cold wind off the wearers body while layers underneath actually provide warmth.
Origins of the Flight Jacket Design
The first flying jackets ( as they were called) were developed in Europe during World War 1 by the British, the Germans and the French and would look to a modern person more like a thigh-length, buttoned leather coat, featuring large lapels, a belted mid section at the waist and oversized flappy collars. This design would go on to inform British motorcycle jackets for decades while advancements in aviation would see the #flightjacket evolve into the slender and fitted form so well known today.
By the 1930's flight jackets had become more fitted in order to not interfere with the safe operation of aircraft from those cramped, inclosed cockpits. The previous designs loose fit and coat-like construction would literally catch onto the various controls and switches of the inside of an airplane when a pilot was being pushed around inside the cockpit by the airplanes G forces. This early A1 style leather flight jacket is very close to how the design would evolve over the next couple of decades, the only difference being a much smaller and shorter collar and the use of buttons instead of zippers.
World War 2 would see the classic US Army Air Corps A2 flight jacket and the US Navy M422 ( soon to become the G1 ) flight jackets be developed and inter military service with both aviators and air crew in all theaters of the war.
The famed Tuskegee Airman ( 332nd Fighter Group - which consisted of 4 full fighter squadrons ) Photographed around 1944 wearing A2 Flight or Flying Jackets
My own G1 flight jacket is very special to me! I acquired it during my service onboard the US Navy Aircraft Carrier Abraham Lincoln! I own several flight jackets but this one is the most sentimental to me.
You see me here wearing my authentic G1 as a sort of heavy wind breaker,.which is really in line with its design purpose. Its the outer layer thats keeping the wearer warm by preventing the cold air from getting to the skin. Its the layering underneath, thats helping your body keep in the heat it generates.
World War 2 also saw the first use of high altitude bombing in modern warfare. This required aircrew to be issued even heavier cold weather garments that could protect them from the dangerous extremely cold conditions they faced while flying nearly as high as a modern jet airliner in an aircraft that was not climate controlled.
These fine gentlemen are members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen! Wearing shearling B3 bomber jackets (which are heavy coats made from sheepskin ) sometime in 1953-44. #B3shearlingbomber
This is my replica B3 Shearling Bomber jacket in a photo taken of me while living just outside Rome Italy where I purchased it. Behind me is my beloved electric guitar which also kind of shows how these garments have entered popular culture. #vintagestyle #model #ruggedstyle
The period of time between World War 2 and the Korean conflict saw further advances in both aviation and the gear pilots were being issued for flying military missions. The MA-1 joined the list of various types of flight jackets the American military was issuing. It forgo the normal leather for lighter and arguably warmer nylon and although it doesn't develop the same characteristic beautiful patina which leather over time,.its the version of the famed flight jacket which has resonated the most with trend setters in popular culture in recent years. In fact this jacket is usually and inaccurately referred to as a "bomber Jacket" in modern fashion!