The mystique of the bomber jacket endures, and if you've caught the fever and are shopping for one, then it's time to take some notes. The bomber, or flight, jacket as it is sometimes called, is nearly one hundred years old. You can trace its beginnings to World War I and those early, open cockpit flyers who braved sub-zero temperatures, wrapped up in just about anything they could find.
The European Royal Flying Corps started wearing long leather jackets in 1915, but for Americans, there was no officially sanctioned jacket available, other than the standard, military-issued uniform. 1917 saw the formation of the Aviation Clothing Board and with it, the leather flight jacket was born. These early bomber jackets, featured wrap around collars, wind flaps, cuffs and a waistband. What distinguished these jackets from later models, were buttons. The so-called barnstorming jackets of the 20s featured a 'tunic-styled' angular flap that buttoned up to just under the right collar. Later, the Navy issued, A-1 flight jacket brought the buttons to the center and featured a wool rib knit collar, cuffs, and waistband.
In 1931, the A-2 flight jacket was adopted by the Army Air Corps. Original specs included: One piece back, 2 piece sleeves. Talon nickel finish zipper with leather puller tabs, single entry pocket with curved shape flaps. Epaulets boxed stitched, 1 3/4" tapering down to 1 1/2". Stand up collar, snapped down collar tips. Reinforced pocket corners and wind flap. 100% cotton lining and 100% wool knit cuffs and waistband.
To many people though, the classic bomber jacket is defined by the B-3. Originally issued in 1931 for high altitude open cockpit flying, the B-3 bomber jacket was sheepskin-lined with a wide collar and full epaulettes. Although most B-3 replica bomber jackets today, feature hand warmer pockets, the standard issued B-3, had only a single map pocket.
Also issued in the 30's was the G-1, the official flight jacket of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corp flyers. This bomber jacket featured pleated shoulders and double gussets under each arm, allowing for easier movement. The G-1 also sported two front pockets, a fur-lined collar, wool knit cuffs and waistband and a map pocket on the inside. Its predecessor, the G-8 flight jacket, was similar in design, with the exception of its zipper cuffs and leather collar and waistband. The G-1 further differentiated itself from the Army's A-2, with a form-fitting shell and longer waist webbing, not to mention the use of buttons, a long naval tradition.
In the mid-40s, bomber jackets that were manufactured with a blend of wool and nylon began to appear. Most notable were the B10 and B15 bomber jackets that proved to be as warm as their leather counterparts, without the bulk and weight. The MA-1 nylon flight jacket was first developed in the mid-50s. It featured a 100% water repellent nylon shell with a quilted nylon lining. The knit collar, cuffs and waistband with side arm pockets, give the MA-1 jacket a distinctive athletic look. No doubt, high school and college letter jackets found inspiration from this military bomber jacket.
In 1943, the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron merged with the Women's Flying Training program, to form WASP: the Women's Airforce Service Pilots. Over 1000 WASP pilots flew a variety of missions on 78 different types of aircraft, between 1942 and 1944. WASP accounted for more than 60,000,000 miles of operational flights.
If you've got a touch of the Amelia Earhart in you, then look for the Signature Series Goatskin WASP A-2 bomber jacket for women. It sports all of the classic A-2 features, but with a fit designed specifically for women.
The Bomber Jacket legacy endures, due in no small part to, Hollywood. Whether you're a Top Gun or Indiana Jones fan, the popularity of those movies has helped maintain the vintage military clothing industry. There are several reputable manufacturers with both a retail and online presence that offer a full lineup of authentically reproduced bomber jackets. Knowing a bit of bomber jacket history, savvy shoppers can look for manufacturers that feature jackets with all the original, military-issued details.
The best part of shopping for a replica bomber jacket is that most manufacturers also offer updated improvements to the original specs. Look for double entry front pockets; a range of materials from cowhide and lambskin to American bison leather; and antiqued, hand-aged leather that has the look of a vintage bomber jacket, without the need of a 'break-in' period.