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 A-2 P.A.Q.

8AF Insignia

A-2 Previously Asked Questions

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(Updated: 25 April 2005)

This page of Previously Asked Questions is intended as a source for topics and details which, while pertinent, are not otherwise addressed in this Web site. The questions are compiled mostly from readers who have written looking for more specific information and this is a way of passing along the answers for the benefit of others. So, take a scroll down below and you may find what you are looking for. Corrections or clarifications are welcome by e-mail at jackets@acmedepot.com. Thanks.

Note 1: vendor sources are provided as a convenience and this does not necessarily constitute endorsement.

Note 2: due to the subjective nature of some of the questions and their answers, this page contains some of my opinions and these should not be confused with fact.

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1. There is a flight jacket I (bought) (might buy) and it has (description of details). Do you know what this jacket is?

If the jacket is not an A-2 or other common U.S. Army Air Forces jacket from WWII, there is probably not much I will know about it. You can send me details or pictures if you like, but my area of expertise is relatively limited.

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2. Can you answer a question about the G-1 flight jacket?

The G-1 is a jacket I don't have much information about, but I can pass on what I can surmise from a book called "Suit Up! The Flight Jacket" which, unfortunately, is in Japanese so I cannot fully represent what it has to say. At this point, I am not aware of a G-1 jacket Web site.

The first versions of the jacket we know as the G-1 were not called G-1 but instead were known by their design specification numbers. The first were in the 1930's when the jacket originated and were the M-422 and M-422A. In the 1940's there were two variations call the AN-6552 and the AN-J-3A. These latter two seem to have been less numerous during WWII than the M-422 versions. Around 1947 or so the jackets took on their G-1 label and the first specification was the 55J14. All of these versions (as near as I can tell) did not have the USN perforated in the wind flap (under the zipper) but had USN stenciled in paint on the underside of the collar.

All G-1's since around the early 1950's are the specification number MIL-J-7823. As small variations were introduced, the number was modified with a letter from -7823A through -7823E, so far. From what is in the timeline in this book, the E was the last model change and came out around 1971 or sometime in the 1970's. Now, somewhere in the range of the 7823 variations was where the flap perforations began, but I can't tell exactly where. There's not much to go by in this book, but it looks like the flap perforating may have begun in the 1960's.

The contract or manufacture year of G-1 jackets is noted on the spec label on a line beginning with "DSA" or "DLA" and containing two digits, often between dashes such as -68-, and usually followed by a "C". So, the -68- would represent 1968. This date notation only came into use during the latter part of the G-1's history, so you won't find it on the earlier jackets.

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3. What do you think of the "Brand X" reproduction A-2 jacket? Is it as authentic as they say it is? Who makes the best reproduction A-2?

These questions really lead to the main question, "Which jacket should I buy?" The answer to that depends largely upon what level of authenticity matters to you and how much money you are planning to spend. You get what you pay for and if you want the best you have to pay the most. High quality jackets should last a lifetime if treated properly, so a purchase can be thought of as a long term investment.

It has been very common for readers to write and tell me that they have bought jackets of lesser authenticity before they learned more about the subject and then later went on to buy a better jacket when they realized their "mistake." I like to help people avoid this if possible, but not everyone is as particular about the details to the same degree.

So, which jacket should you buy? I can't answer that here since there is no one answer which is right for everyone. Besides, jacket reproduction is a competitive business and I don't want to find myself in the middle of the fray. I will say one thing though. Of the people who have written to me, those who are interested in the highest level of authenticity have been the happiest with either Eastman or Real McCoy's jackets.

For those who are going through the process of gathering information to make a decision, I will gladly help with the analysis. I won't, however, tell someone which jacket to buy; that is up to them.

Here are some specific observations and opinions I have of A-2 reproductions.

  • Eastman offers some nice touches with olive drab thread and the possibility of getting new old stock Talon zippers. They are also offering a continually expanding catalog of original maker reproductions.

  • McCoy's nomenclature labels for their original maker reproductions (Dubow and Rough Wear) are the best I've seen (though I have only seen photos so I can't comment on the materials).

  • The horsehide of both McCoy's and Eastman have tended to be very smooth and almost grainless. Eastman has said that this is what most of their customers want. McCoy's has said that they can supply a jacket with more grain if requested. I prefer a nice grainy surface since I feel it gives the jacket some character and is also true to many originals. Also, Eastman seems to experiment more with their finishes and colors than McCoy's, so there is less consistency over time. On the other hand, the McCoy's russet horsehide could stand to be a bit more reddish for me.

    Lately, Eastman's latest horsehide stock, particularly the recent (year 2000) mustang hide, has much more grain in it. Eastman also states that their hides are now all made with a vegetable tanning process as was dominant with original A-2 jackets. Most leather garments today use other processes such as chrome tanning. One of the differences, at least by my assessment, between veg. and chrome tanning is that the surface of a veg. tanned hide is a bit more crisp or tight while the surface of a chrome tanned hide can have a bit more of a spongey feel. This may be mostly anecdotal, however, and not necessarily indicative of all comparisons as there is more to leather processing than just the tanning solution.

  • I give U.S. Authentic credit for trying, and they are a decent choice for limited budgets, but they could use a bit more attention to detail. A customer comment on their Web site, for instance, has pointed out that the epaulets on their A-2's are too wide. Update:U.S. Authentic has begun using more narrow and tapered epaulets which are more consistent with the wartime configuration, and they are also now sewing the diagonal reinforcement stitching at the bottom of the zipper.

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4. What do you know about the Willis & Geiger reproduction A-2 and their claims to the original A-2?

My opinion is that the Willis & Geiger jackets do not achieve the level of authenticity to put them in with the top tier reproductions, but they charge a premium price for the name and a claim to some historical significance.

Of the jackets I have seen, the hides were okay but not of the quality of original A-2's. The cut appeared to be of the more modern loose fit. Other details such as zipper, pockets, epaulets, etc., were also just not up to a high level of authenticity.

Historically, I am a bit uneasy in that there is an apparent lack of any evidence of their jackets, at least from wartime. Someone I consider to be the foremost expert in A-2's and who has done a great deal of research has never seen an A-2 made by W&G and can find no evidence of any contracts by them. This doesn't mean that there were no W&G A-2's, but I interpret their claims to the original A-2 to be making a lot out of very little and it's only so much marketing hype.

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5. What else should I think about when buying a reproduction A-2 jacket?

Two aspects to consider in addition to price and authenticity are what kind of hide you want and what color it will have.

The main hides to be found in reproductions are horsehide and goatskin, but I should say a few words about steerhide. Sometimes steerhide is available and it can be very similar to horsehide or even passed off as horsehide. It may be difficult to tell the difference without an expert examination. The use of steerhide in original A-2 jackets, I am told, may have been more prevalent than is often thought. So, a reproduction steerhide jacket would not be inauthentic, since they apparently did exist in originals, but by far the most classic hide was horse as was originally specified.

There is nothing wrong with a goatskin A-2 reproduction since there was a good number of original goatskin A-2's, but some purists insist on horse for two likely reasons. One, horse was the original specification. And two, there are too many cheap imitation A-2's made today of inferior goatskin and that just gives goatskin a bad reputation. Personally, I would have no problem with a high quality goatskin A-2 repro.

The differences in the grain between horse and goat could be described as being coarse versus fine, respectively, but there are also converse examples. The main difference is one I would describe as being a finer and generally more uniform pebbling in goatskin grain compared to a less regular and relatively more sparse pattern in horsehide.

In terms of longevity, my observation is that WWII vintage goatskin jackets have held up better over time compared to horsehide. The goatskin retains its finish with fewer scuffs, abrasions, and general signs of wear compared to horsehide. It just seems to be tougher and more forgiving. If you are applying this to your decision of what hide to have for your own jacket, I would say it probably doesn't matter much so long as you intend to treat your jacket with care. Then, you can choose based upon the look or feel you like. Goatskin may also be a bit more supple than horsehide.

Now, the topic of color. Most reproduction makers will offer at least the two basic colors being russet brown and a darker seal brown (which they may name differently). When I first set out to find an authentic A-2 I thought that what I wanted was the dark shade of brown, but I changed my mind to russet after further research. I thought darker was more correct since the old black and white WWII photos make the jackets look very dark and since the only reproduction jackets I had ever seen were the Cooper and Avirex and those jackets were dark brown.

As I learned more about original jackets and other Army leather goods of the WWII period, I came to realize that what I really wanted was the russet color. While it is the case that war time jackets did exist in darker shades, particularly if they were redyed, to me the russet was a long time classic leather color of that period, though it was eventually phased out by the Army. For that reason, and also to differentiate my jacket from the cheap reproductions, I decided that russet was the way to go for me.

Aside from the jacket itself, and concerning the process of buying a jacket, there are some considerations to make. It is very important to be clear about a vendor's return policy should you not like the jacket or should it not fit properly. This is especially critical when making any kind of special order, such as special sizing or the addition of patches or other insignia. Some stamps or insignia may come standard on a vendor's jacket, so be sure to ask about that in case you would prefer not to have them.

With respect to fit, each vendor uses their own patterns and you may find that your body shape is better suited by some patterns over others. This doesn't make any one jacket better overall, just better for you. Original WWII A-2's came in all kinds of shapes as well and they fit aircrew well or not well at all. If you do get a perfect fit, then consider yourself lucky. Further, don't get hung up on the size number on the label, since the only thing that matters is how the jacket actually measures out. What this means is that, aside from trying on someone else's jacket, the only people who will know what size will fit you is the jacket vendor. So, be prepared to discuss this with them carefully and have yourself measured by someone who knows what they are doing, like a tailor.

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6. Where can I get a pattern to make an A-2 jacket?

I don't know where to get any patterns for the A-2 and have not heard of the existence of any original patterns. My understanding is that Eastman, for instance, didn't have any real patterns when they started, but rather they dissected original jackets and made their own patterns from scratch.

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7. How wide are the epaulets supposed to be on an A-2?

There was a bit of variation in epaulet widths. Here are some examples from some original jackets shown in the Type A-2 Web Page.

The Bronco and Rough Wear epaulets are 1 and 7/8 inches wide at the shoulder attachment and 1 and 1/2 inches wide at the collar attachment.

The Poughkeepsie epaulets are 1 and 3/8 inches wide at the shoulder attachment and 1 and 1/8 inches wide at the collar attachment. These are fairly narrow.

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8. What kind of treatment should I use on my leather jacket?

A variety of treatments exist for leather, with some being better than others, and some people having different experiences with the same product. When trying a new product for the first time, it is best to test it first for results and side effects by applying it to a scrap of leather or to a hidden patch of hide on your jacket. One common side effect of using the wrong product is that the leather is darkened, although it is possible that this could be a desired effect.

  • A common leather treatment is called Lexol. It should be fairly easy to find at a leather goods store or even a shoe repair shop.

  • Connolly's Hide Food is used for Connolly leather such as on the upholstery of luxury cars.

  • Pecard's at www.pecard.com. I have heard that Pecard's darkens leather, but the Pecard Website states that it does not.

  • Bickmore at www.bickmore.com has a variety of products. They claim that Bick 4 Cleaner and Conditioner is fine for aniline dyed leather.

  • Eastman Leather Clothing sells a hide food product for their jackets, but they state that it should not be used for aniline dyed leather.

  • Horseman's One-Step (lanolin based) and Saddler's One-Step (which softens and gives a sheen without darkening) have been mentioned and recommended.

  • Neetsfoot Oil has been found to darken leather.

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9. Where can I get a modern Cooper A-2?

They can occasionally be found advertised in various magazines, but they are also available through Web vendors USWings and American Mystique.

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10. Where can I find reproduction squadron patches, leather name plates, and insignia?

The following sources offer a range of handmade artwork, insignia, and sometimes leather name plates:

I have a number of artists listed on this page in the A-2 section: Jacket art sources

Eastman Leather Clothing and History Preservation Associates offer a limited selection of embroidered unit insignia, along with rank insignia and leather name plates.

A small selection of insignia, including shoulder patches and also leather nameplates, is available from James Garcia Aviation. Web site at www.garciaaviation.com.

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11. Where can I find someone to restore a jacket or supply replacement knits?

Most makers of reproduction jackets can provide restoration service or supply you with replacement knits. For restoration, I would recommend asking about materials, techniques, cost, and experience to determine if a particular vendor will perform the job to your satisfaction. If you wish to match an original maker, it would be good to ask if they have materials to sufficiently match the original.

Replacement knits, and new old stock (NOS) zippers as well, can often be found for auction at eBay.

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12. Where can I find some information about leather processing, including tanning and aniline dyes?

Here are several links to web pages I have found useful, although much of the information is similar across the various sources, and most of it is not particular to jackets or garment leather.

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13. Are there any specifications for the size and placement of the various insignia on A-2 jackets?

Some specifications can be found, but evidence indicates that they were adhered to only loosely. Size, shape, and placement of insignia vary widely, often due to their handmade nature, and plenty of examples can be found in such books as "Art of the Flight Jacket" and "American Flight Jackets, Airmen & Aircraft," both by Maguire and Conway. There do not appear to be any strict rules, and what follows is a description based upon observation.

Shoulder sleeve insignia, typically the AAF wing & star or numbered Air Force insignia, were in the form of a sewn-on patch, were painted on directly, or were a decal transfer or stamp (for AAF wing & star). The Officer's Guide states that shoulder sleeve insignia for various garments such as shirts, service coats, and field jackets, are to be placed such that the top of the insignia is one-half inch below the top of the shoulder seam. This instruction likely extended to flight jackets as well as to enlisted men.

Sometimes two shoulder insignia were worn, for instance, with the numbered Air Force insignia on the left shoulder and the AAF wing & star insignia on the right.

Unit insignia, primarily at the squadron level, were based upon a five-inch diameter circular leather disk. The Class 13 Catalog of the U.S. Army Air Forces includes such a leather disk as a "Patch - Leather, Organization Insignia" and instructs that it is "to be stitched to jacket by user, after organization insignia is painted or affixed." Because of the great variety of insignia designs and also due to the prevalence of hand-made patches, the sizes and shapes of these insignia vary quite a bit. As an alternative to a leather patch, canvas oilcloth or other fabrics were also used as a base for painting. Sometimes the unit insignia was painted directly onto the jacket. The use of embroidered unit insignia, including the large loop chenille material, was widespread as an alternative to painted patches.

The location of the squadron insignia on the A-2 jacket is on the wearer's left chest, placed laterally about one to two inches (or perhaps equal to the width of the wind flap) from the vertical stitch line of the wind flap, and about one inch or so above the top of the pocket. These measurements are just guidelines and the best thing to do is to place the patch so it looks appropriate. You have to eyeball it a bit depending upon the size of the patch and to leave room for a name plate above the patch if desired.

Occasionally a group insignia is worn in addition to the squadron insignia. The group patch then goes on the right chest and is generally placed to be symmetrical with the squadron patch, but again should be eyeballed to see how it looks depending upon the size and shape of the patch. Sometimes a group insignia or a large numbered Air Force insignia is seen alone on the chest and, in this case, it is often found on the left side where the squadron insignia would be.

Name plates, also found in the Class 13 Catalog, were issued in leather strips of 4 inches by 5/8 inches and were pressure stamped with the wearer's name. Plenty of alternative and hand-crafted examples can be found of differing sizes, shapes, and printing methods and styles. The name plate goes on the left chest generally about a half-inch or so above the squadron patch (or where one would be if it is not worn) and generally centered above it or slightly off to the wearer's right. The inside edge of the name plate is then about 2.5 to 3.5 inches from the edge of the wind flap. Again, it should be eyeballed so it looks right.

Finally, rank insignia could be placed over the outer box-stitched area of the epaulets and was usually, but not exclusively, worn by officers. The Class 13 Catalog shows officers' insignia made of leather tabs with foil leaf applied rank. These were then sewn, or perhaps glued, to the epaulets. Alternatively, rank markings could be painted on directly or could be pinned-on metal insignia.

While the these descriptions cover the vast majority of configurations seen on vintage jackets and in period photos, plenty of others can be found in an almost endless variety. Clearly any regulations which might have existed for decorating A-2's or other flight jackets of the WWII Army Air Forces were subject to a great deal of inconsistency in practice.

If you are setting out to decorate your jacket with a degree of historical authenticity, you still have plenty of opportunity for personal preference. And as mentioned previously, there are many sources of historical examples to use for guidance or for validating both common and unusual configurations.

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14. Does Bob Crane wear a vintage A-2 in "Hogan's Heroes," and is it the same jacket as the one worn by Frank Sinatra in "Von Ryan's Express"?

Second question first: Yes, the jacket is the same, and this has been confirmed by Bob Crane's son Bob in interviews associated with the 2002 film, Auto Focus. In this film about Bob Crane, Greg Kinnear plays Crane and wears the original jacket, which has remained in the possession of Crane's son.

Now, for the jacket itself. It is not a vintage A-2, but was likely made by a costume department. While it is certainly reminiscent of original A-2 jackets, a close examination will reveal that it is not.

  • There is no throat clasp.
  • There are no collar snaps.
  • The lining is very dark and appears to be rayon. For the early part of the Hogan's Heroes series the lining over the collar stand is a contrasting tan color. This is later changed to the darker color, perhaps because the jacket was relined.
  • The wind flap over the zipper is much too narrow.

Furthermore, the leather appears unusually thin and soft, likely to improve comfort under film lights, the leather color is very dark and not like most vintage A-2's, and the shoulder decal, which does not look quite like originals, lacks the "Army Air Forces" text.

Update: Now that the first season of "Hogan's Heroes" is out on DVD, I have had a chance to examine the jacket which Bob Crane wears in the pilot episode (filmed in black & white). This jacket is distinctly different from what he wore in subsequent episodes and, while it is made of a heavier leather and looks more like a vintage A-2, I believe that it is either also a costume department jacket or a commercial copy. The knits have very heavy ribbing like athletic sox, the snaps on the collar are huge, the collar itself is pretty oversized, and there is no throat clasp. The AAF insignia on the shoulder sleeve also does not have the "Army Air Forces" text. Some other actors, however, do appear to wear vintage A-2's, and there are some nice B-3 jackets, B-15's, and other wartime jackets to be seen in this and later episodes.

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