A2 Flight Jackets - USAAF
Army Airforce Flight Jackets (A2)
Brief History and development
No other item of flight clothing epitomises the aviator more than the leather flight jacket; this is true for all airforces worldwide. From the earliest days of flying one of the first challenges faced by airmen was that of keeping warm at altitude. Aircraft were not heated or pressurised and temperatures at the heights flown were often below zero degrees Celsius. Aircrews required protective clothing to keep warm and also to provide protection from the scrapes and knocks that frequently occurred when operating in aircraft that were designed to carry ammunition guns and bombs - crew amenities and comfort was not reflected in aircraft design. Flight jacket design was born during the later years of the First World War and was developed between the wars with several variants produced for both the navy and army airforces. The variant produced for the Army Airforce was the A2.
Flight jackets were predominately made from 3 oz horse leather, although goat was on occasion utilised. The liner was constructed of light tan cotton or silk (examples differ between makers). The jacket did not have an inside pocket, nor side pockets but were adorned by two smallish hip pockets with snap closures. Collar snap down clips and a radio microphone clip were standard on all A2 jackets. A2 jackets were very stiff at first, however, after continual wear the leather softened, became supple and molded to the owners body making these jackets extremely comfortable and form fitting.
During the Second World War the number of servicemen involved in flight operations was immense. Open turrets and side bubbles in heavy bombers meant that adequate protection had to be given to air crew if missions were to be carried out successfully. Government contracts were given to a considerable number of clothing manufacturers to produce protective clothing. A design was issued and dependent on supplies at the times the design more or less remained the same, although leather textures, type, colour and jacket styles did vary between manufacturers.
Jacket art similar to aircraft nose art developed very quickly as a way of personalising the A2 flight jacket. Designs and motifs were varied and in many instances paralleled the wearer's personality. The art could be a reproduction of the aircraft they were flying in, a pinup, or a patriotic scene. Graffiti was also popular, although captions such as "murder incorporated" were frowned upon by officials. The Army Airforce patch was often worn on the left upper arm and squadron patches on the chest area of the jacket. Officers frequently wore their rank insignia on the shoulder straps (metal, cloth, bullion or leather insignia). Cloth wings and leather name plates could be worn if the wearer wished. Survival chits were often sewn into the inside linings of jackets to act as an inside pocket and to be used in case if forced landing. The chit was a pledge in a foreign language that offered reward should the flyer be returned to friendly lines.
Reproductions of flight jackets are abundant; some are excellent whilst others somewhat lacking. In the 1980's several companies made reproductions of the flight jacket which were superficially similar to the A2. These jackets became known to the general public as "bomber jackets" and are now known as "mall jackets". This style of jacket is not an A2, but rather an oversized modern version of the A2 or B3 with large pockets, hand warmers and duel inside pockets. Not only is the style incorrect but the material the jacket is constructed from is incorrect.
Original A2 designs were very form fitting (as were other garments worn during the period) and genuine A2 jackets were constructed mostly from horse hide, although goat hide was used depending on what was locally available. Several companies reproduce the classic A2 to varying degrees of authenticity: Lost World NY, M'Coys NZ, Aero Scotland, Eastman USA and Authentic USA to mention a few.
If you are interested in a reproduction A2 jacket, do your research and contact the various companies and ask for a leather swatch to be sent to you. All companies do not produce the same A2, so check out the various companies and select a company that reproduces the A2 style that you prefer. Also check their after-sales service as this is vital should you need to return the jacket if the size is incorrect.
For those of you that are observant you will have noticed in the photograph in the web section "Abpout Me"I am wearing an A2 jacket. This jacket was produced my Real M'Coys of New Zealand and is a reproduction of the Monarch A2 flight jacket used during the Second World War by the United States Army Airforce (USAAF).
LEFT: A friend in New York City wearing a Monach A2 (Real M'Coy NZ)
Evaluation of Real M'Coy Monarch style A2
This evaluation is based on the seal colour MONARCH A2 available from The Real M’Coy located in Christchurch, New Zealand.
I was impressed with their service and dedication to customer satisfaction and wanted to mention this on my site. Paddy was second to none in dealing with me (thanks Paddy).
The construction of the A2, leather grain and colour is excellent. I am not an expert on A2 styles, but I have been informed by a number of readers that the Monarch is a pretty good duplication of the original period style. I certainly have no regrets whatsoever in purchasing the Monarch. The workmanship is outstanding.
My sizing was problematic which resulted in trying on a size 44, 45 and 46. Despite my concern with regard to sizing, The Real M'Coy team were patient and very helpful. M'Coys even telephoned me (I live in Australia) to discuss the sizing. E-mails were promptly answered within 12 hours and all questions, no matter how silly and insignificant, were answered. My advice: really check and double check your sizing before ordering.
LEFT: Real M'Coy leave nothing to chance and attempt to replicate their A2 jackets to original specification which includes the manufacturer label.
One thing which I was told, which proved correct, is the arm length on the Monarch. They are always too long (unless your DNA is closer to that of a monkey than most). Make sure you provide a very accurate arm length. The arm tapering I found to be very firm when I took delivery of the size 44 Monarch. If you like looser arms then do not have the arms tapered as much as Real M'Coy usually taper. I found that with a little wear the arms became looser as the leather was worn in.
Another important point to remember is that leather when new is tight, stiff and uncomfortable. A new leather jacket feels like your wearing a cardboard cut-out. Sizing can be difficult to figure out when wearing such a jacket. Keep in mind that with wear and as time transpires, the leather will become softer and more supple and will actually become a lot looser.
If you are in the market for an A2, but have yet to decide on a jacket style and manufacture, I have no hesitation in recommending the Monarch A2 from The Real M’Coy New Zealand.
Check out John Chapman's web site and ACME Depot for many images of genuine and reproduction flight jackets including independent evaluations. ACME Depot provides an evaluation of the Monarch A2.
Two excellent books on flight jackets are: Art of the Flight Jacket by Jon A. Maguire and American Flight Jackets by Jon A. Maguire and J.P. Conway. For detailed book reviews check out Amazon.com.
The Jacket as at May 2011
I originally bought the above A2 in mid 2003. Now in May 2011 it is still going strong. The cuffs became damaged at one point and I had them replaced by Real M'Coy (May 2011). I don't believe this was undue wear and tear, but more a moth that ate dinner on my cuff creating a small hole which gradually became larger and larger until replacement of the cuffs was necessary.
I have worn my A2 and have not pampered it. It has become wet in rain, drenched in salt water, wrapped into a ball for packing in a flight case, and sunbaked in the sun. This jacket is excellent!
I will post some pictures of the A2 as it is today shortly.
BELOW: The Monach A2 produced by Real M'Coy (New Zealand) as received in mid 2003.
BELOW: Some period photographs of A2 and B3 flight jackets. Note the size differences between individual jackets. Some jackets have baggy arms whilst others are very form fitting.