Page last updated 15th November 2015

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USAAF Officer's Flight Uniform Buyer's Guide
 

Another alternative form of military outfit for the re-enactor to consider is the USAAF flight uniform. This was the clothing that a USAAF aviator officer wore under his flying suit and survival gear and consisted of the A-2 leather flying jacket with several alternative choices of trousers, shirts, caps and footwear. It was the uniform typically worn on the base and around the flight-line. USAAF aviators, particularly officers, were allowed a great deal of leeway regarding their choice of working uniform. I would recommend this rig for wearing at an early or late season 1940's event as the flying jacket is quite warm. This is a nice comfortable casual outfit that also looks authentic and smart.

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  A-2 Jacket  
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




 

 


This is possibly the most iconic of all US clothing items of WW2. In service from 1931 until the late '40s, the A-2 flying jacket was the unmistakeable symbol of the US aviator during WW2. Veteran pilots who continued their active service into the Korean War clung on to their treasured A-2 jackets in preference to more modern flight clothing available to them. A-2 jackets were produced in hundreds of thousands by dozens of manufacturers throughout the war but all were made to the same standard pattern. Anyone interested in learning more about the A-2 can't do better than to obtain a copy of 'The Type A-2 Flight Jacket Identification Manual', the authoritative book by Gary Eastman of Eastman Leather Clothing, one of the foremost manufacturers of reproduction A-2 jackets.

Reproduction A-2 jackets are readily available from several sources including Seal Military, Soldier Of Fortune, Eastman Leather Clothing and Diamond Clothing Company. The prices range from the sublime to the truly astounding, but you do get what you pay for. My own current preference is for the Eastman Leather Clothing A-2 jacket (see left) because the quality and authenticity is unbeatable even though the price might appear a trifle eye-watering!

Please bear in mind that not every A2 jacket was decorated with squadron or group insignia, nor with garish artwork painted across the back! In fact, from my extensive period photo collection, quite the opposite appears to be true. There's nothing wrong with having a squadron patch on your A2, but do your research first and make sure that you use a patch that is not only authentic (there are plenty of eye-catching bogus designs out there) but is also correct for whichever Army Air Force or theatre you are portraying. With regard to rank insignia, these could be either the standard metal rank badges pinned to the A2 shoulder straps, or the so-called leather badges (actually flat metal cut-outs mounted on leather) sewn on to the shoulder straps. Pilot's wings and other aircrew insignia were the standard metal badges pinned to the upper left breast of the A2 jacket.

An affordable and authentic alternative to the A2 jacket is the M1941 Field Jacket (see left), otherwise known as the Parsons Jacket after the US general who originally came up with the concept. This is a lightweight zip-fastened wind-proof jacket with a warm blanket lining. Although not issued as items of flying clothing, there is plenty of photographic evidence to show that these field jackets were commonly worn by USAAF aircrew.

 

  Trousers  
 

 

 

 

 

 








 


USAAF aviation officers had the choice of wearing one of several different pairs of uniform trousers. The most popular were the M1937 Wool Trousers. Khaki-green in colour, these were the standard field trousers issued to US Army enlisted men for combat use prior to 1943 and, in the absence of their own equivalent, were also adopted by officers. As they were warm and hard-wearing, they were ideal for aviation use. They were also smart enough to be worn around the base without offending military sensibilities. The best source I have found for these trousers is Soldier Of Fortune whose version is manufactured for them by Kay Canvas.

Many officers elected to wear their Class A 'pinks' in the cockpit. These certainly do look smart with an A-2 flying jacket. In my opinion the best version currently available is still that from Seal Military. These are very well made indeed.

Alternatively, What Price Glory stock the correct pattern of Class A OD51 trousers (see left) in authentic wool elastique. My recently purchased pair worn with an A2 flight jacket or an M1941 'Parsons' field jacket, or even just with a khaki shirt and tie in Class B dress creates an authentic appearance as often seen in period photographs (see the example below in the Tie section).

Another option is to wear khakis with the A-2 jacket (see lower left). This was not just confined to the Pacific Theatre, pilots of the ETO often acquiring a pair of khakis, or retaining them on being posted from the PTO to Europe. The khaki trousers available from What Price Glory are the best of which I'm currently aware.

 

  Shirt  
 




 


The choice of shirts mirrored that of trousers. The officer's chocolate shirt (see left) was popular  for reasons of comfort and durability. Soldier Of Fortune and What Price Glory stock authentic replicas of the OD51 olive drab ('chocolate') shirt.

Officers had their own version of the enlisted men's M1937 wool shirt. Although it was broadly similar to that of the enlisted men, it had some added refinements such as satin-lined collar and shoulder straps. Soldier Of Fortune stock an excellent version of this shirt made by Kay Canvas (see below left).

The third option is the officer's khaki shirt. often described as 'tan'. This is essentially the same pattern as the chocolate shirt described above. One of the best versions available is that made by Seal Military (see below).
 


 

Updated
12th December 2015

Tie


Prior to September 1942 the standard uniform tie was made of black worsted. These were briefly replaced with a dark olive drab pattern but shortly thereafter the colour was changed to light tan or pale olive drab. However, some officers continued to wear their traditional black ties throughout the war (see the images below for examples of the variations). Some retailers offer a supposedly reproduction chocolate brown tie but these are completely wrong as this colour was never issued or authorised. Note that ties of the period were tied with a small knot rather than a large modern Windsor-style knot. The original issue tie for officers was made of mohair or wool worsted, but almost every repro example I have ever seen has been in gabardine or similar material which is really too thick to permit a small knot. Also, almost all reproduction ties tend to be too long - they are sized as per modern civilian ties whereas the originals were shorter to allow the ends of the tie to be neatly tucked away inside the shirt between the second and third buttons. Tie colour was usually chosen to contrast with the shirt being worn, but the tan tie was commonly worn with the light khaki shirt.

What Price Glory stock a very nice pale khaki wool worsted tie intended for use with their Class C summer/tropical uniform, which is sufficiently lightweight to allow a nice narrow knot and looks pretty good with a Class A uniform. Otherwise, there is really nothing to choose between the online retailers when it comes to ties, not even the price. If your preference is to wear a black tie, perfectly acceptable modern alternatives are available from ebay and Amazon. However, please do get a proper woollen tie and not one of the shiny modern ones of some man-made fibre or other - apart from the fact that they look awful, they also tend to loosen their knot very quickly.

     
 

 

 

 






 

  Headdress

 

 


















 

 

 

 



 

 

The Service Cap was affectionately known in the USAAF as the 'Crusher'. The US bomber pilots wore their service caps on missions over Europe and, in order to accommodate the needs of wearing headphones, they removed the inner wire stiffener from the crown which gave their caps a crumpled and crushed appearance (also known as a '50 mission crush'), hence their nickname. Nothing better expresses the individuality of a USAAF re-enactor than the character of his 'crusher'. The aforementioned 'Silver Wings, Pinks & Greens' devotes a whole chapter to the subject of the service cap.

An important consideration when choosing a cap is the range of sizing. Some stockists only carry quarter sizes, that is to say 7", 7" and 7". However, I recommend ordering an ⅛" size larger than your normal hat size, just for comfort. Military service caps are not generally known for their comfortable fit (I still remember mine from my Army basic training days - it was like wearing a crown of thorns!) and if you are attending a Forties event for any length of time you really don't want to feel like your head is in a vice. Another thing to bear in mind is that new hats tend to be round in shape whilst the human head is somewhat oval. The best way that I have found to make the one fit the other is to use a good hat stretcher. This not only persuades the hat to adopt a more head-like shape, but it also keeps the hat in shape. In fact, my several military hats are all kept on stretchers whilst not being worn. There are a few hat stretchers available from online retailers but the one I prefer is from Neal Hall in the USA. Not only is it reasonably priced, even including the usually exorbitant US postage charges, but importantly it can accommodate hat sizes from 6 to 8.

The first service cap I bought was from Epic Militaria of Aberystwyth. It was nicely made and well-priced, but unfortunately the colour was closer to dark khaki than olive-drab. Worn with 'pinks' and tan shirt as a Class B uniform, or with a leather A-2 flight jacket, it would be passable, but would never come close to correctly matching the colour or texture of a Class A tunic.

What Price Glory win the prize for stocking the only reasonably-priced service cap made of authentic wool elastique that matches their own Class A jacket. This cap also matches Seal Military's Class A Jacket perfectly. It even has the same authentic leather back-strap found on certain WW2-era brands of cap such as Luxenberg. I'm happy to say that they also carry eighth-inch sizes. If there is one criticism I can level at WPG's service cap, it is that the stiffened band around the circumference of the hat is too tall with the result that the cap takes on a slightly exaggerated appearance. Pity, because otherwise this would definitely be the one to buy.

Seal Military have a nice range of service caps in olive drab wool and tan/khaki, both their own repro versions and Luxenberg copies, at very reasonable prices. I have just acquired two of their Luxenbergs, one in olive-drab and the other in tan, and can highly recommend them. The quality and fit of both is excellent and the olive drab version is a good match for Seal's and WPG's Class A jackets.

The absolute Rolls-Royce of service caps are without doubt from the Diamond Clothing Company who hand-make beautiful replicas of four of the most famous WW2 cap brands, Bancroft, Collett, Knox and Luxenberg. These caps are available in the correct shades of gabardine and wool elastique, and in both standard eighth-inch and custom sizes. Be warned, the prices are not for the faint-hearted, but the product is fabulous. I personally own a replica Collett and a Bancroft cap from Diamond and really can't recommend them highly enough for comfort and authenticity.

An alternative to the service cap is the uniquely American 'garrison' or 'overseas' cap (see left). First issued to U.S. "doughboys" in World War I, the hat was called the overseas cap as it was only worn by troops sent to France who were given the French type forage cap as they did not have their wide-brimmed campaign hats with them. The garrison cap was issued in several different guises but the correct pattern for USAAF officers in the ETO was dark olive in colour with black and gold piping to denote officer status; Brigadier Generals and above had solid gold piping on their caps. The wearer's rank insignia is worn on the left side of the cap only, with no insignia displayed on the right side. However, I have seen some period photos showing the USAAF winged propeller insignia worn in place of rank. The best source for this cap is What Price Glory whose version is not only the right colour but is also made from wool elastique that exactly matches the fabric of their Class A and Ike jackets.

 

  Footwear  
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 








The correct forties-pattern officer's footwear was the Shoe, Low Quarter, Russet. This was a plain-fronted (no toe-cap) lace-up shoe in a reddish-brown leather. What Price Glory offer their own version of these on their website and I can personally recommend them.

An alternative suggested by Seal Military is the classic 'Monk' shoe which is a plain-fronted buckled shoe and which appears in one of the many photos in 'Silver Wings, Pinks & Greens'. Seal carry a beautiful pair by Loakes, a well-known English manufacturer of high-quality shoes, but if you want something a little more affordable another English outfitter, Samuel Windsor, stock their own version of the Monk shoe in their 'Prestige' range which I find perfectly acceptable, and at a third of the price of the Loakes. Samuel Windsor also stock a plain-fronted lace-up Prestige Gibson shoe which is an excellent substitute for the original officer's low-quarter pattern at a very reasonable price, and thoroughly recommended.

Another popular form of footwear with pilots was the standard russet-brown service shoe (see left) which was actually an ankle boot. Durable and hard-wearing but comfortable, it was the ideal footwear for aircrew. Soldier Of Fortune stock an excellent reproduction of the service shoe which I can thoroughly recommend.

Socks can be any plain beige, olive green or light brown pair. A favourite of mine are the so-called 'Invincible Extra' socks from Orvis - their tan colour is perfect, they are comfortable and guaranteed to outlast any other socks. Alternatively, the Eastman Leather Clothing sell a superb reproduction of the 1942 G.I. olive-green woollen socks in 2-pair packs (see left). I can also thoroughly recommend these for both comfort and authenticity.

USAAF officers, particularly aircrew, enjoyed considerable freedom in their choice of footwear, as can be seen in the period photograph shown below. No two of the group of aircrew officers appear to be wearing the same pattern of shoes, most of which don't look like standard issue.



 

  Insignia  
 

 

In March 1942 the US Army Air Corps became the US Army Air Forces. Whilst not breaking away entirely from the US Army, the USAAF did enjoy complete autonomy. As part of this evolution, the USAAF drew up new regulations regarding insignia and markings. In November 1942 it became mandatory for all USAAF clothing to be clearly marked with either the USAAF insignia (see left), or that of the parent Army Air Force (e.g. 8th AF, 9th AF, etc) to which personnel belonged. All A-2 leather flying jackets had the USAAF insignia stamped, or applied with a decal, on the upper left sleeve. In addition, many USAAF combat groups and squadrons had their unit insignia applied to the upper left breast of their aircrew's A-2 jackets. There was also a certain tradition of individual pilots having nicknames or other devices painted on the back of their flying jackets, but although this was generally tolerated it was completely unofficial.

USAAF personnel were also required to wear the appropriate insignia on the upper left sleeve of their shirts. Again, this could either be the USAAF insignia or that of their parent Air Force such as the 8th or 9th, etc (see left). This insignia was usually embroidered on a cloth background.

Until 1942, it was the custom for USAAF aircrew officers to wear miniature qualification wings above the left breast pocket of their shirt when in Class B dress, but thereafter it became more common for full-size wings to be worn.. In my opinion, the suppliers with the biggest and best range of badges, patches and insignia are Seal Military and Soldier Of Fortune.