APRIL 2011 – Ever since military pilots began flying, they have needed to carry supplies in case they crash landed or bailed out.In WW1 it was ratherrudimentary but by WW2 it was becoming advanced due to the nature of warfare.

Over the last 70years , when USAAF/USAF pilot/aircrew have had to bail out, forced landing or eject they have required specific equipment and tools to survive in various environments ranging from cold oceans, hot desert,impenetrable jungle to freezing arctic climates.

Floatation vests such as Mae West, B-5 and LPU-9 series are examples of life preservers for water, but what about the tools/supplies needed to keep a person alive in desert, jungle or snow after leaving the aircraft?

Part of the USAF and US Army survival system from mid 1960s until recent was the SRU-21/P vest. This was a 2nd generation survival vest and followed on from the C-1 vest of WW2 USAAF use.

The SRU-21/P replaced the WW2 era issued C-1 which was designed and put into service in 1943. The C-1 was still used up until the mid 1960s in service use.
The C-1 vest was designed from dark olive tackle twill.
It was suited for use in arctic and tropical regions best.

It was one size fits all and had 3 adjustable straps at the back as shown below.

It carried a USAAF stamped colour emblem. The labels details were always for USAAF items very well produced even down to the small print.

The C-1 vest had numerous pockets and printed onto the pockets were instructions to find the items. It weighed 11lb when loaded to provide enough supplies for a pilot/aircrew to survive until hopeful rescue
Due to use in Korea and Vietnam, the vest was after nearly 20years becoming by the mid 1960s rather worn out and obsolete.

A newer survival vest for warfare in the 1960s was needed.

The new SRU-21/P survival vest was introduced in the mid 1960s. The vest is made from Sage Green aramid fireproof mesh fabric to “breathe” and had numerous pockets on outside and inside which could be used to store survival equipment.

Early versions of the SRU-21/P vest continued the USAAF WW2 C-1 vest theme which had snap button closures on all the pocket. With introduction of velcro in early 1960s to ALSE designs, the snap buttons were made redundant and velcro became the more common closure method.
The main large pockets on the front all had zippers on them to make them secure. The other minor pockets had velcro snaps.

The vest’s popularity was soon wide spread due to its easy to use layout and well designed lightweight components. It was ideally designed for the humid, hot and wet environment as found in South East Asia.

Many USAF jet fighter bombers, propeller bombers, transports and USAF/US Army helicopter pilots and crews began to wear the vest by the late 1960s. The popularity saw the vest even used by US Army ground units such asSOG.

This article will show photos of the vest in use in Vietnam and what supplies was typically found in a issued vest.

Here we see examples of USAF / VNAF in Vietnam wearing the SRU-21/P vest. Note they are bulky due to the urge to pack them full…as pilots could and in some cases spent up to 21 days in North Vietnam on the ground escaping….until been rescued byCSAR.

Here we see a A-1 Skyraider pilot in 1972 with a fully packed SRU-21/P vest. The Sandy pilots needed all the could carry as they went shot down were normally deep inside North Vietnam.

Well know ex USAF pilot and writer, Ed Rasimus leaning on his F-4E Phantom in 1973 just after Linebacker2 had ended. Note how his pockets are fully packed and he has sewn on 2 clips of ammunition for his pistol in usein case of self defence / attacked by North Vietnamese troops.

<img style=”width: 471px; height: 567px;” class=”img” src=”; alt=”From the F-4 days at &&
Seen a few years earlier is a F-105F Thunderchief Wild Weasel crew with fully loaded SRU-21/P vests. These crews (like Ed above , who was also a F-105D Thunderchief pilot in a earlier war tour) needed every bit of survival equipment when they were shot down deep inside Vietnam
The SRU-21/P vests were not just used by pilots going North into Vietnam but also needed by aircrew flying in the slightly albeit just slightly safer airspace over South Vietnam. Here we see USAF and VNAF F-5 Tiger pilots with SRU-21/P vests.
More VNAF pilots in a revetment wearing the SRU-21/P survival vest.

This SRU-21/P vest is a slightly later model than the Vietnam war, due to the radio pouch layout was changed in the late 1970s-80s from horizontal to vertical instead for easier access to the radio. The items are more of a 1970-80s era kit fit out.

This link will assist in learning what goes into a SRU-21/P vest – all the different contents.
The contents in the vest were changed at the instructions of the Wing or Base commanders i understand , who decided what was appropiate for units to carry.

SRU-21P Aviator’s Survival Vest Contents listing

This is a listing from the national stock number and description of the contents

NSN Description
8465-00-177-4819 Survival Vest
6515-00-383-0565 Tourniquet
5820-00-782-5308 AN/PRC-90 Survival Radio
1305-00-301-1692 .38 caliber tracer ammunition
1305-00-322-6391 .38 caliber ball ammunition
1005-00-835-9773 Revolver, .38 caliber
9920-00-999-6753 Lighter, butane
6350-00-105-1252 Mirror, signaling
6545-00-782-6412 Survival kit, individual tropical
1370-00-490-7362 Signal kit, foliage penetrating
6230-00-938-1778 Light, distress marker, SDU-5/E
8465-00-634-4499 Bag, storage, drinking water
5110-00-162-2205 Knife, pocket
4240-00-300-2138 Net, gill, fishing
6605-00-151-5337 Compass, magnetic, lensatic
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