The narrative of how the flying jacket first came to be known is fascinating. It was first developed as a long leather coat to protect those riding in horse-drawn carriages which was the mode of transportation used in the eighteen hundreds. When cars made their appearance, these long leather coats were still considered “de rigeur” not only as a society proclamation, but one still needed to keep warm.
Along came the first airplanes with their open cockpits and leather, goatskin and lambskin became more of a self-preservation article than a fashion statement.
In 1915, 12 years after the first flight in North Carolina by the Wright Brothers, British Royal Flying Corpsmen were wearing long leather trench coats to take to the air. Staying warm was difficult enough but the length of their coats caused difficulties, as can well be imagined.
The U.S. labored on the quandary and designed instead waist length leather jackets for their airmen. Thus was the Flying jacket born.
The Royal Air Force kept developing flying jackets and as aircraft began to soar higher, lower temperatures were encountered, thus the leather jackets were lined with fur. This is why flying jackets, and other flight jackets are sometimes named RAF jackets. Later, fur was substituted with wool. These were known as Shearling jackets. Shearling jackets are a very superior lightweight item of clothing made with the best wool-on-lamb pelts. The soft suede acts as an excellent windbreaker, while the natural wool inside the jacket functions as nature’s preeminent insulator. A B-3 Shearling jacket is what made some call a flying jacket a “bomber jacket” instead.
Time marched onward, as more and more different designs of flying jackets were introduced, however the G-1 flying jacket was created circa 1938 to answer a special need for the US Navy. Lambskin was found to be too delicate to withstand the rigors of piloting a plane in daily use, and thus instead of lambskin, goatskins were used. Quality began to suffer during WWII, as makers of the jackets resorted to many deceptions in order to lower cost and increase production. The superb wool collars were replaced with synthetic synthetic-wool blends, and goatskin was no longer used. Rather, a cheaper, and less warm cowhide replaced it. In order to retain the “look” of goatskin the cowhide was embossed with the markings of goatskin.
Collectors of such jackets know the difference and look at not only the hide, and the lining of the jacket but also at the cut, pattern, fit and design. Things like authentic hidden pocket designs are often used to tell the dissimilarities between originals and fakes. Diverse years of production are identifiable in this manner provided the person is an expert of such clothing.
Today, the military specifies embossed cowhide in its orders for G-1 Flying Jackets, and various synthetic materials have found their way into the lining of such jackets. However, these jackets were and are rated “cool” by the wearers, and will always stand for virility and manhood.
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