When you see a bomber jacket, what do you think of? Some may think of the military origins, others may think urban fashion, rebellion, sports or perhaps a flash of Tom Cruise from Top Gun appears in your mind. Flight jackets have an extensive history, passing down through different classes, sub-cultures and professions. Let's start at the beginning, the military flight jacket.
A-1One of the first instances of the iconic flight jacket design we know today, the A-1. As it turns out, flying at high altitude in a rather breezy cockpit is a sure way to freeze to death without the proper clothing. So, in 1927 the US Navy issued the A-1 flight jacket to their pilots. It was crafted from sheep leather with a cotton lining and a knitted wool waist, collar and cuffs. Despite the release of the A-2 in 1931, the A-1 still saw some limited use during WWII.
As with the first iteration of any new product, it often leaves much room for improvement. The A-2 flew into production in the 1930's with a more durable goatskin or horsehide construction. In addition to the upgraded fabric, the buttons on the front of the A-1 were replaced with a heavy duty zip.
While the US Air Corps was busy flying around in the A-2, the Navy developed a counterpart jacket, the G-1. Perhaps the most iconic leather flight jacket ever produced. The G-1's popularity in mainstream civilian fashion was boosted from its appearance in the Hollywood film, Top Gun. This fur-collared jacket was first known in the US Navy as the M-422 which was produced in 1940. Officially, the first jackets labeled "G-1" were in 1947. Even in contemporary times, the G-1 maintains fundamental aspects of the original, such as the goatskin fabric and wool trim.
In the 1950's, a new flight jacket was issued to the US Air Force and Navy, the MA-1. At this point, the jacket had substituted the leather for a nylon construction and knit collar. Many contemporary designs are based on the MA-1, cementing it in history as one of the most famous flight jackets. These jackets were sent to forces in Europe and were eventually sold commercially. This helped to spread their popularity as they propagated through different fashion groups and sub-cultures.
Today, the US Air Force issues the CWU-45P (Cold Weather Uniform) and CWU-36P flight jackets which are made out of the fire retardant fabric, Nomex. A much welcome upgrade from nylon which would melt to the wearers skin in a fire. The -45P is winter weight and the -36P is summer weight. Both retain the classic waist-high cut with wool collar, cuffs and hem.
From 1927 to the present day, flight jackets have stood the test of time. Once an essential jacket for pilots, now a highly qualified piece of urban outerwear. The bomber has transcended its military origins to bring a practical and timeless jacket to civilian fashion.