WW2 USAAF FLIGHT GEAR

MAY 2010 – In WW2 the USAAF – US Army Air Forces – used a large variety of flight helmet gear for aircrew protection. In later parts of the war in, 1944-45 this large variety was reduced to a few models to help standardise and make it easier for spares to be sent to the field.

In my articles below i will be showing the 2 standard flight helmets used in the late part of WW2 by the USAAF. I will also be showing flight gloves as used by fighter pilots in Europe and Pacific

A-11 Leather flight helmet

The USAAF had used leather based helmets for a long time and saw the benefit of high altitude flight and warm produced by leather. With a large variety flight helmets by 1944 the USAAF was deciding to reduce the many types and standardise on a few designs. One of the chosen designs was the A-11 type helmet

The A-11 model flight helmet which was introduced in 1943,was made by a variety of different companies – as were mostly every item in the war years to help spread out the massive manufacturing demands.

The A-11 flight helmet was mainly used in Europe by USAAF crews, where it was ideal for the temperate climate and winter environment. It was used at times in Pacific campaign but leather was not so suited to the humid and hot weather.

The A-11 helmet is recognised by the external leather material and has various snaps and clips on the outside.
The clips are designed to accommodate the oxygen mask, which seen in my display is the late war common A-14 type. (Various oxygen masks were developed in WW2 era and will be seen in a future installment of my blog).
The snaps at rear of helmet used for clipping down the B-8 USAAF version of the M-1944 goggles.







These B-8 goggles and the A-14 mask combined gave the pilot a near complete protection from forward facing wind or fire hazard as they all sealed together well by overlapping as shown in the photos.

In 1943 the new type of radio headset elements with a low impedance was introduced as the ANB-H-1 earphone.This new earphone element became the standard type – made again by numerous companies in WW2.
These elements were fitted onto the A-11 flight helmet by fitting into the external part of the hard black rubber earcups with some serious hard handwork and leverage.
The earphones are held in place by the special shape of the rubber mould. The elements are are wired together as shown by the external communication cord. The cord ends in a red coloured PL-354 jack, which is then hooked into the aircraft radio system to enable the pilot to hear radio communications.

The interior of the A-11 helmet followed on from other designed by have chamois lined padding and the earphone cushions in the same material. The fitting of the kapok filled earphones cushion was a common feature in WW2 helmets as kapok was a easily acquired soft material ideal for padding. These features meant this helmet was a popular design as it was snug and comfortable.

The chin strap was of a buckle and tightening design. It was secured by placing the strap into a sleeve on the strap.

ANH-15 flight helmet

The ANH-15 flight helmet was used in Europe and the Pacific in the later parts of WW2. It was introduced into service in April 1943 for use by USAAF crews.
It was an improved A-10 flight helmet design using basically same features.
The ANH-15 was best suited for summer environments like the Pacific campaign where leather was not deemed so suitable due to the humid and hot weather.







The ANH-15 model flight helmet was made by a variety of different companies – as were mostly every item in the war years to help spread out the massive manufacturing demands.
The ANH-15 helmet is recognised by the canvas material and has various snaps and clips on the outside.
The clips are designed to accommodate the oxygen mask, which seen in my display is the late war common A-14 type. (Various oxygen masks were developed in WW2 era and will be seen in a future installment of my blog).
The snaps at rear of helmet used for clipping down the B-8 USAAF version of the M-1944 goggles which was introduced to service on October 1943.
These goggles and the A-14 mask combined gave the pilot nearly full protection from forward facing wind or fire hazard, as they all sealed together well by overlapping as shown in the photos.

In 1943 the new type of radio headset elements with a low impedance was introduced as the ANB-H-1 earphone.This new earphone element became the standard type made again by numerous companies in WW2.
These elements were fitted onto the ANH-15 flight helmet by fitting into the external part of the hard black rubber earcups with some serious hard handwork and leverage.
The earphones are held in place by the special shape of the rubber mould. The elements are are wired together as shown by the external communication cord. The cord ends in a red coloured PL-354 jack, which is then hooked into the aircraft radio system to enable the pilot to hear radio communications.

The interior of the ANH-15 helmet followed on from other designed by have chamois lined padding and the earphone cushions in the same material. The fitting of the kapok filled earphones cushion was a common feature in WW2 helmets as kapok was a easily acquired soft material ideal for padding. These features meant this helmet was a popular design as it was snug and comfortable.

The chin strap had a soft padding of chamois on it to provide comfort to the wearer.
The strap was on one side hinged and sewed onto the helmet and other side had a snap system to allow the helmet to be taken off.he helmet.

Both the A-11 and ANH-15 helmet saw extensive use in WW2 along side other flight helmet designs. These helmets even saw use in Korean war early stages where leather/canvas helmets were in squadron issues.
These were soon replaced generally by the USAF P-1 / P-1A flight helmets.

My 2 USAAF flight helmets are well looked after and are a large size which is hard to find nowdays. Many collectors seek the these types of helmets, so there is high demand for these. Collectors who do reenacting use them for airshows and museum displays a lot in the US and UK.

In an interesting offshoot – thousands of these flight helmets were made in WW2 and are nowdays used by collectors to restore the P-1A flight helmets series as the earcups used were same type. Sadly by using these WW2 flight helmets in the restorations of the P flight helmets, it mean the ANH-15/A-11 helmets are forever destroyed in some cases.

FLIGHT GLOVESRayon inner liner and B-3A flight gloves

In flying the higher you rise into the atmosphere, the colder the surrounding air becomes. The ability for the human body to function dramatically drops as the cold reduces the flow of blood to various organs and external parts like feet and hands. Special warm flying gear is required.

Early on in flying in the 1910-20 period, the hands were found to be quite easily exposed to cold and frostbite if not protected. Gloves were devised from heavy lined fur material and same was done with flight suits.

By WW2 the technical and technology available for designing new flying gear – involved with the protection of pilots – was still rather rudimentary. It was not advancing as no one flew high or fast.

In 1940 the flight gear in use by the USAAF was of a poor safety standard as technological use of flight gear had not advanced far since the 1920s.
As WW2 grew larger and expanded across the globe, a rapid development was required by the USAAF to ensure it could fight into the cold atmosphere above 15,000ft.

During 1940-1945 many new items were designed, tested and introduced into service
One area was flight gloves.
The gloves were needed so a pilot or aircrew member could turns dials, hold flight column and do other tasks.
Problems were found in that the old style gloves made of furr restircted the ability to do these tasks.

The USAAF wanted better gloves that worked in cold/mild weather and could be of a warm nature but made from a thin material. After extensive testing a new material was used called rayon. It was warm but allowed easy use of the hands. The fitting of the rayon gloves were tight so to insure insulation against the cold air.

As like flight helmets various manufacturers made both gloves in WW2.

RAYON INNER LINER GLOVES

The rayon gloves were issued in 1943 and they were worn inside the B-3A flight gloves and other flying gloves. It enabled a pilot to take the outer glove off and still be protected by the rayon insulated lined glove. The rayon gloves i have are rare and hardly found nowdays in a good condition as the rayon has broken up over time.

Shown below on left is the B-3A leather glove and on right is the rayon inner gloves.

B-3A FLIGHT GLOVES
The main flight gloves used in WW2 by the USAAF were the B-3A flight gloves introduced in July 1943. These were made of brown seal leather and had a USAAF stamp on outside and manufacturing details on the inside of the gloves. They were made in various sizes to fit the wide scale of human sizes.

The B-3A gloves were tight fitting and offered protection to the hands in case of a fire. They were ideally suited to mild winter/summer flying weather. In humid summer weather tho they became quite sweaty after a long flight.
The B-3A gloves continued on after WW2 in USAAF/USAF service and were still front line issue into the late 1960s. Commonly seen in photos from Vietnam war. New flame resistant type Nomex gloves came into use in 1968 and have since the became standard flight issue for pilots and aircrew.

The gloves i have displayed are of actual issue. Collectors nowdays can buy reproduction gloves of the B3 type, as the WW2 era B-3A leather material can be fragile and worn out. It takes a experienced collector to spot the difference.

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