MAY 2012 – A rare seen and interesting insight to the flightgear as once worn by Royal Australian Navy (RAN) fighter pilots aboard the former aircraft carriers – HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Sydney. The last RAN aircraft carrier to have operational aircraft was HMAS Melbourne which was retired in 1982.Since 1984, the RAN has been a helicopter force only effectively. This could change with 2 new helicopter carriers coming into service in next few years which may have the ability for F-35 aircraft to fly off…
From late 1940s to mid late 1960s, the RAN flew the ultimate in British fighters from HMAS Sydney – the Hawker Sea Fury fighter bomber. RAN pilots were active in the Korean War flying from 1951-52 off the coast of Korea providing air support which saw the Sea Fury and Firefly involved heavily in the air war.
At HMAS Albatross the RAN’s flying base at Nowra, NSW is the well set up FAA museum preserving the RAN heritage which has a large collection of aircraft on display. Below on display is the Fairey Firefly and Hawker Sea Fury.
Part of this display has some flightgear, which has a Korean War era pilot wearing a rare flap type Mae West, flight suit, Type C flight helmet and H oxygen mask.
At this time they wore RAAF/RN flightgear setups for the Sea Fury operations. The photo below supplied shows WW2 Mae West life jacket, flight suit and Type C flight helmets with Type H oxygen masks.
After the Korean War ended in 1953, the RAN’s flightgear evolved from leather helmets into hard bone dome such as the Mk.1 helmet which provided much more safer protection in a crash. The WW2 era Mae West life jacket was replaced and upgraded to a new design from Frankenstein in the UK.
The image provided below came from a unusual shootdown in 1955 of a pilot-less Auster which the RAN shot down off Sydney….shows the Mk.1 silver flight helmets and the internal G helmet liner. The pilots wear Frankenstein LPU over flight suit and service dress uniform
By the 1960s the RAN had evolved into modern jet operations and this saw the Sea Venom replace the Sea Fury and then the A-4G Skyhawk replace the Sea Venom. The A-4 Skyhawk brought a change of flightgear as well in that the flightgear was now American instead of British issue.
Here we see a RAN pilot climbing into a very snug and cosy cockpit while on HMAS Melbourne in the 1970s. He wears a APH-6B flight helmet with MS22001 oxygen mask. The helmet has a style of high visibility tape to ensure the pilot could be found if ejected or crashed at night time. The helmet has a dual visor with side sliding knobs which was preferred at this time due to centre track visors hit the top of the canopy, where as the side operating had a lower profile. He wears a US Navy issued MA-2 harness with a what seems to be a MK.3 LPU attached. He wears a Mk2 G suit over a RAN flight suit.
This photo shows a later development of the RAN flightear with APH-6 flight helmets , MS22001 oxygen masks, MA-2 harnesses, LPU-23/P LPU and nomex flight suit and gloves. This was the final version of the RAN flightgear with some variations including RAAF P type oxygen masks as well modified for RAN setup.
This is a flightgear display at the museum showing a pilot wearing APH-6 flight helmet, MS22001 oxygen mask and a Beaufort LPU. The LPU is believed to be incorrect as this was only issued to RAN helicopter pilots.
A future flightgear article will review RAN helicopter flightgear as worn by Seahawk and Sea King crews.