The flight jacket, bomber jacket, or bombardier jacket refers to a garment originally created for the pilots. They eventually became part of popular culture and apparel.
The history of the Flight Jacket has had a long and colorful history from it’s inception during the early 1900’s. During World War I, when pilots flew by airplanes which did not have enclosed cockpits, they were quick to wear whatever they could find and afford to keep them sufficiently warm. In 1915 while serving in Belgium and France, the Royal Flying Corps pilots begun wearing long leather coats – the trend caught on. In September 1917, The US Army established the Aviation Clothing Board and began distributing heavy duty leather flight bomber jackets with high wraparound collars, snug cuffs and waists, zipper closures with wind flaps and some fringed and lined with fur. The American Flight Bomber Jacket was born.
As aerospace technology later improved, the altitudes at which aircraft operated increased. Most heavy bombing rides in Europe during World War II took place from altitudes of at least 25,000 ft, where ambient temperatures could reach as cold as -50 °C (-58 °F). The cabins of the planes were uninsulated, hence a warm and thick flight jacket was an essential piece of equipment for every member of the crew.
The first classic sheepskin flying jacket was designed and manufactured by Leslie Irving. He set up a manufacturing company in the United Kingdom in 1926. Since then he became the main supplier of flying jackets to the Royal Air Force during World War II. However, the demand for the jackets was so great during that period that he engaged sub-contractors and that explains why there are so many variations of design and colour that can be seen in early production of Irvin’s flying jackets during that period.
During few decades few various designs of the flight jackets were born.
The A2 type was a waist length leather jacket with two front patch pockets and webbing attached to the bottom of it and the end of the sleeves to close out the air in addition to shoulder epaulets.
The Type G1 was somewhat different than the Type A2. Its’ body was more form fitted with a longer waist webbing at the bottom and a Mouton Collar. Where the A2 used metal snaps on the front patch pockets, the G1 used buttons. The Type G1 also featured a By-Swing Back for easier arm movement.
1940’S B-10 Series
The B-10 was the first of the non leather jackets to become popular with pilots and air crews. The B-10 was far lighter and much warmer than the Type A2 issued leather jacket which came with just a thin lining that did not offer the pilot much warmth at a high altitude.
The B-15 was issued in late 1944 and soon replaced the B10. Styles of the period ranged from the cotton twill B-series and the standardized flight jacket of the Navy, the CWU-series. The material selected for the jacket was a high quality nylon. The B-15 was similar to the MA-1 except that it had a mouton fur collar.
The first MA-1 are known as “Jacket Flyers”, Man’s Intermediate Type MA-1. The MA-1 was perhaps the most popular of all flight jackets developed. The original MA-1 was designed with a high quality nylon outer shell and a nylon lining with a double faced wool material. After a few years, the wool interlining was replaced by the newly developed polyester fiber filling instead. The polyester made the jacket much lighter and provided warmth. Also the MA-1 discarded the mouton fur collar of the B-15 as it interfered with the parachute harness worn by the aviators. In later models, the MA-1 jacket was made reversible and added a bright Indian Orange lining. The reason being if the plane crashed, the pilot could reverse the jacket to the orange side to signal rescue personnel.
Early models of the MA-1 contained a front tab where the pilot could clip his oxygen mask when not in us. The early models had also sewn loops to hold the wires running from the radio to the pilot’s helmet.
The MA-1 in Popular Culture
Today there are millions of people wearing variations of MA-1s daily throughout the world. The item has been adopted by subcultural movements and in particular Mods and Skinheads.
1970’S CWU-36/P and CWU-45/P
One of the problems associated with the older MA-1 was the discovery that with the nylon materials used on the jackets, they had a propensity to melt on the wearer when subjected to flames encountered during an aircraft fire. This problem was corrected with the new flight jackets. The predecessor to the 36/P and 45/P was the CWU-17/P developed around 1973. In 1977, the jacket was renamed the CWU-45/P (military specification MIL-J-83388A) and the detachable signal pocket that the feature of the CWU-17/P (military specification MIL-J-83388B) was reduced in size. In 1980, the lip of the collar was reduced slightly. Moreover, the rear action pleats where reduced in size (military specification MIL-J-83388C). In 1984, the stitching of the collar was simplified (military specification MIL-J-83388D). So you can date these jackets by the different military specification designations.
Here at Harper and Lewis we’ve got more than 600 flight jackets for you to hunt through. Find a perfect one with its own history.
Credits © Kinga Leftska