The History of Leather Part 17 – The Type A-1

Posted on 26/07/14

A1, the English-Norwegian dance pop sensation (1927)

Wait…That was a different A1.

The A-1 flying jacket is a strange beast. It’s strange, not in the sense of being unusually designed or of having a bizarre origin story, but strange in terms of what happened to it during its lifespan. It’s a jacket that has been largely forgotten, partially because original examples of the jacket are scarce, and partially because it was quickly superseded by the standard issue A-2 (hence why we’ve had to settle for an image of Charles Lindbergh in a jacket that’s reminiscent of the Type A-1, rather than the definite article). That said, the A-1 did see limited use during World War II, and wasn’t fully decommissioned until as late as 1944.

Though originally conceived as a civilian jacket for hunting, golf and the like, mysteriously, no one knows who designed the civilian A-1, and who made them – all we know is that the Army Air Corps standardised the A-1 model flight jacket in 1927. I think this is the point where we make the rational assumption that the civilian A-1 jackets are either safely hidden away at Area 51, or being hoarded by the Illuminati before they kickstart their New World Order. That’s what people on the web do isn’t it? I might have been reading too many YouTube comment threads though…

Like the Irvin jacket, because A-1 jackets were made by a number of contractors, design details do vary between jackets, but the core design remained the same – capeskin leather, button-down, waist-length and a knitted waistband with knitted cuffs. The A-1 was the first windcheater-type flight jacket to sport a knitted waist and knitted cuffs, in fact – and these design elements persist today.

The A-1 was extremely popular, and its relative simplicity in design cried out for customisation by individual squadrons. That said, the button-up design wasn’t without its detractors. The buttons, though perhaps easier on the eyes than a heavy-duty zip, were well-nigh impossible for pilots to button and unbutton while clad in their heavy flying gloves. This led to the introduction of the A-2 only four years later.

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