The Leather Flying Jacket – History of the A-1 Style Jacket
The A-1 leather flying jacket was conceived in 1922 and was standardised for use on November 7th 1927. The Type A-1 jacket was technically referred to as the A-1 Summer Flying Jacket. The jacket was also manufactured as Navy issue from November 1927 to 1931.
The A-1 leather flying jacket was non-standard after May 9th, 1931, being replaced by Type A-2 jackets in the U.S. Army Air Corps and by the G-1 in Navy service. The final procurement contract from the Air Corps was AN6501 in 1931. The A-1 could however still be found in limited use during WWII and was finally taken out of service on September 29th, 1944 after stocks were exhausted.
The Type A-1 has 5 central buttons for closure with 2 buttons for neck fastening. This was due to the fact that the zipper had not yet been invented. The knit collar, a variant of the baseball jacket type, was designed to secure snugly around the pilot’s neck and keep out the cold wind of the open style cockpit found on most aircraft of that era. Leather button-up collars can also be found on some A-1 spec jackets.
The original jacket was made from a variety of leathers depending upon military contract specifications. Some were made of fragile lambskin (South African Capeskin was specified in the 1926 contract), others from horsehide and some from goatskin. Originally, the A-1 specifications stipulated that the jacket be made from olive drab cape leather, however the few existing examples that can be found today are always a chestnut or russet-brown shade.
The jacket had a cotton lining with wool knitted cuffs and waistband. Earlier jackets had buttons at the base of the waistband whilst later jackets incorporated snaps. The pockets were often rather small in proportion to the jacket. On some jackets the pockets are high up on the chest, on others they sit closer to the waist. Sleeve seams show two common designs, one being a triple-stitched cut seam and another being a basic folded and top stitched seam.
The jacket is a close fitting style and photos show pilots in cold weather wearing their A-1′s under a long leather-flying coat. The A-1 was also the very first of the windcheater-type flying jackets, a design that was to set the basic outline for flying jacket styling to this day. The A1 is the predecessor to the better known A-2 and it is easy to see the resemblance in the design.
Aviation heroes, including Jimmy Doolittle, Ira Eaker, Carl Spaatz and Hollywood’s famous Motion Picture Stunt Pilots are just a few who wore the A-1 style or variations of it. High detail replicas, essentially historical reproductions, can cost anywhere from $800 to $1,200. Modern versions in hide can be purchased for around $400.