Jacket Evaluation: Aero A-2 by Transatlantic Clothing Company(Filed: 26 June 2000)
(Amended: 27 June 2000, 23 January 2003, 20 December 2003)
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Maker: Aero Leather Clothing Company, Transatlantic Clothing Company
Model: A-2 (two samples), russet horsehide and seal brown horsehide
Date of manufacture: April/May 2000
Date of evaluation: June 2000
[December 2003: since the time this evaluation was published, the product line of Aero jackets has expanded. Many of the jackets have incorporated design and construction modifications, some which address some of the concerns expressed in this report. Despite this, however, no new evaluations of Aero jackets will be forthcoming. This report will remain as a reference, but readers seeking information about new Aero products will need to look elsewhere.]
While the Transatlantic Clothing Company of Scotland has assumed the trade and product name of the Aero Leather Clothing Company, the A-2 jackets they produce are not specifically modeled directly after the A-2's originally manufactured by Aero Leather Clothing of Beacon, New York or of any other particular maker.
The philosophy of the new Aero is to produce an A-2 based generally upon historical originals, but incorporating design and construction details taken from the best of all historical A-2's as well as from their own considerations for quality and durability. These features and differences will be described in their respective sections below.
Aero supplied two jacket samples for review, both size 42 Regular. One jacket is a russet brown version with with a full color AAF shoulder insignia. The other is a seal brown version which has, in addition to the shoulder insignia, several other adornments.
Fit/cut/proportionThe cut and fit of the Aero A-2 is consistent with original A-2 jackets. For fit reference, I am 5'10", 180 lbs, wear a size 42 suit jacket off the rack, and take a 34" shirt sleeve. These particular jacket samples are slightly big for me, however. Based upon measurements provided by Aero for their sizes 40 and 42, the 40 appeared to be snug in the body with good sleeve length while the 42 appeared to be proper in the body but with a bit long sleeve length. These observations bear out and for my fit preference I would probably want to be in between in the body size and want the sleeve length of the 40.
As it stands, the size 42 still has an authentic look as worn. With an average weight shirt underneath, the jacket is comfortable and has room for layering. The shoulder seams do slide off the edges of my shoulders a bit more than I would prefer and this extends the perceived sleeve length. That's just an effect of being between sizes.
The sleeves measure out a just a little longer than other jackets of similar size. This, together with the shoulder seams extending further than I'm used to, makes the sleeves too long for me. The result is a combination of some compression in the sleeve itself, since the leather is fairly compliant, and also some compression of the knit cuffs up into the sleeve. If I pull the sleeve down as far as I can with my arms at my side, the end of the leather extends past the break in my wrist and the end of the cuff is at my first set of knuckles. If I then pull the shoulder seam upward, the sleeve length is more appropriate.
What all this says is that sizing, as usual, can be a challenge as much as a personal preference.
The first construction difference to be encountered is in the body of the jacket where the side seams are found to be top-stitched on the forward facing side of the seam rather than the historically used rearward side of the seam. The reason given by Aero for sewing the seam this way is that the edge of the seam won't catch on something when the wearer is moving forward. Aero has responded that they will construct a jacket with the reverse seam construction upon request. [23 January 2003 -- recently I have found that the very unusual A-2 of contract W535-AC-23383 and the more typically constructed A-2 of Spiewak did apply this peculiar side seam reversal.]
Hide[NOTE: More so than any other component of an A-2, the hide may vary from jacket to jacket and so not all of the observations from these examples will necessarily be consistent with other individual examples, nor will they be representative of the effects of time and wear.]
The Aero A-2 jackets are of vegetable tanned horsehide. The finishes used are more matte in appearance and are not heavy as with some repro jackets, so the fine detail of the grain is very apparent. In thickness, weight, density, and appearance, the leather of these jackets is consistent with originals. The leather is comfortably soft and will require little breaking in. Beyond these aspects, the two jacket samples are very different in character.
The russet jacket has a very nice and historically authentic color. The grain pattern is quite clear and sharp, and is very reminiscent of originals, with lots of variation over the jacket. Within the grain pattern are distinctly seen follicles and a complex web pattern of crease lines superimposed on the fine details. The depth of the patterns is not as great as often seen on originals, but this may develop with wear. Handling of this jacket exhibits a low volume leather creak which is quite pleasant.
The seal brown jacket is very dark in color and similar to the seal brown of other repro makers, but perhaps a bit less black. Like the russet jacket, this one has sharply defined follicles in the surface pattern, but except for some sparser and very shallow wrinkles, the follicles are the only details in the grain. The surface, then, is very uniform with virtually no variation and none of the web pattern of the russet sample. The feel of the jacket is also just slightly different and is very silent with no creaking coming forth.
Aero has chosen to line their A-2's with all silk material as per the original A-2 specification and for added durability over cotton. There is a standing debate today about the use of silk and cotton in the lining material of original A-2's, and I don't intend to open it here. For the purpose of this report I will simply describe the silk lining.
The weight, feel, and weave of the silk lining is similar to originals on hand, notwithstanding the difference in age and in not specifically knowing the material used in the originals. Cotton and silk textiles can feel very similar, and testing for content is non-trivial.
Specific to the feel of this lining, if I had not known beforehand that it was silk, I probably would not have had a reason to think it so. The mention of silk conjures thoughts of fine neckties, but this lining feels more like a fine cotton with just a bit of slickness to it. This underscores the difficulty in determining the content of the lining in an original A-2. I expect that the construction of the yarn and the weave of the material contribute substantially to the feel.
Another observation of this silk lining is that it does not seem to take to wrinkling as immediately as the cotton linings.
The color of the lining, rather than being one of the many shades of brown as seen in originals, is a rust shade. I've never seen this shade on any original A-2 even from some early samples dated 1932, 1933, and 1937, but Aero states that this shade was taken from an issue garment.
KnitsThe knits overall are authentic in color and weight compared to originals. Aero offers two colors of knitting, a medium brown typical of many original A-2's and a rust color typical of many jackets made by the original Aero of Beacon, NY. The standard configurations offered by Aero place the rust knits on the seal brown jackets and the brown knits on the russet brown jackets. Reversing these combinations also looks very good and Aero will accommodate this on request.
For the stated purpose of added durability Aero makes use of single weave knits on the cuffs rather than the double weave typical of original A-2's. Aero states that the single weave is less prone to stretching out and tearing. Original A-2's used double weave cuffs having a larger and more sparse ribbing in the top third or so of the cuff (for photo examples, see the Knits description in the A-2 Details section). The single weave cuffs do look visibly different from the double weave in how their shape evolves from the sleeve attachment as well as in the knit pattern itself. Aero has responded to say that the upper portions of the single weave knits will expand out a bit over time.
ZipperThe zipper is a modern make and style brass Talon zip. Talon zips on original A-2's were predominately nickel.
There is a triangular reinforcement stitching at the bottom of the puller side of the zipper, but not on the other (left) side. Aero states that the reason for the absence on other side is that the stitching, which would need to pass through the knits, weakens the knits and can be a source of tearing.
Consistent with abstaining from stitching through the knitting, there is another small construction modification whereby the bottom few inches of stitching through the left side zipper tape goes through the leather tab extension of the wind flap and not through the adjacent knitting. This tab extension is also made of two pieces rather than being folded up from the bottom. See the photos below for a better description. While it appears that original A-2's were constructed with the wind flap extension being of either one or two pieces, the examples on hand all exhibit stitching through the knits in the back regardless of tab construction.
SnapsThe snaps are the larger ring style fasteners and have a good similarity to originals, with only some minor design differences. The collar and pocket snaps are the same size.
Underarm ventilation grommetsThe underarm ventilation grommets are visibly larger at 3/8 inches versus 5/16 inches measured on originals.
Throat hookThe throat hook is a nickel hook and eye, reasonably good in shape and size compared to originals. The rivets, however, are closer together vertically than on originals and are of an atypical yellow metal (originals are either nickel or black anodized). The rivets are also rather bulbous in the back end compared to originals. Aero has responded that they do have smaller rivets of nickel color available and will now use them.
StitchingThe thread used is a khaki shade on the russet jacket, and a medium brown on the seal brown jacket.
The number of stitches per inch averages about seven and appears a bit sparse when accustomed to the more typical eight, but seven can be found on originals. Aero states that seven is chosen for appearance preference.
Top stitching placement from seamTop-stitching is placed a typical 1/8 inch from the seams.
CollarThe collar is authentic in size and shape. The tips of the collar measure 3-3/8 inches from their attachment and span an angle of 65 degrees. The collar is a simple attachment with no collar stand.
EpauletsThe epaulets are representative of original A-2's but with rather large box-stitching. Aero states that they use the large boxes so the free center section of the epaulet won't ride up so much. The width of the epaulets is 1-3/4 inches at the shoulder and 1-1/2 inches at the collar. The spacing between the twin stitch lines on each side is 1/4 inch.
Wind flapThe width of the wind flap is 1-1/2 inches.
SleevesThe sleeves are consistent with originals in shape but look to taper a bit less to the wrist so they are a bit fuller in the forearm. The undersleeve (the narrower of the two sleeve sections) is wider on these jackets than I've seen, so that the top-stitched seam on the sleeve rides further forward around the arm and up to the shoulder.
PocketsThe pocket flap shape is angular with a slight curving to the sharp center point. This is very reminiscent of the shape used by the original Aero.
The size of the pockets are by appearance and measurement a bit larger than average originals in width and height, measuring 6-3/8 inches wide and 7-3/8 inches high. Part of the extended height is the higher than usual attachment of the flap over the patch. Examples of original pocket measurements from similarly sized jackets are 5-3/4 to 6 inches wide and 6-1/2 to 6-3/4 inches high.
Relative to the front center of the jacket, the pockets are placed a bit closer than typical originals but are within original bounds and not as close as some much lesser reproductions.
The stitching of the pockets is authentic. The reinforcement stitching at the top of the patch portion of the pocket is unusual but several variations did exist on originals.
Hanger loopThe leather hanger loop is a typical box-stitched style, but only the sides of the boxes are sewn through.
TYPE A-2 DRAWING No.30-1415 CONTRACT No.39-1410P AERO LEATHER Co. PROPERTY AIR FORCES. U.S. ARMYThe label is a reasonable representation with the usual information and is made of yellow threads woven into a black panel. Each line of lettering is the same size, something which is only rarely encountered on original A-2 labels. The period after "AIR FORCES" is a little odd; a comma or no punctuation would be preferred.
The 39- order number, indicating a 1939 fiscal year (1938-1939), in conjunction with the property notice makes for an anachronism in two ways. First, the property notice was not added until the U.S. entered the war and, second, the designation of Army Air Forces did not exist until it superceded the designation of Army Air Corps on June 21, 1941. Aero has stated that they will address this issue in a future label design.
One might assert as well that the AAF insignia markings on the jackets are out of time step with the 1939 date. This would be true of the jackets as new back then but the insignia could have been added later. For reference, there is a Technical Order No. 13-1-12 of February 1,1944, which directs the marking of gear with the AAF insignia.
Pocket labelWhile no labels appeared on the two evaluation jackets, Aero does insert a label in the pocket under the back of the snap press stud (Aero supplied the photo below). The label has hand-written on it a jacket number, size, and the name of the person who constructed the jacket. Original wartime A-2's often had a label with lot number or jacket number along with the size, but this personalized touch by Aero is unique.
Inspector stampThere is an AN inspection stamp on the lining near the label. The design of the stamp is suitably authentic to originals, but the size of the stamp is a larger 3/4 inch diameter compared to 5/8 inch diameter measured on originals.
Both jackets have full color AAF wing&star insignia printed on the left shoulder. Because these markings include the ARMY AIR FORCES line, they would appear to be representative of the original decal transfers and not of artistically applied renditions. On this basis, the designs are similar to but not quite the same as the originals, with particular differences seen in the wings. The size of the mark also differs from the specification, available in Technical Order 13-1-12. The specification calls for a 2-1/2 diameter, while this version measures at 2-1/8 inch diameter. The size of the lettering scales to the rest of the marking and is also specified in the T.O.
In the lining of the russet brown jacket is a black ink stamp version of the AAF insignia. Aside from coloring and a different wing design, it has the same size as the shoulder marking. Also, the label reads "FORCE" instead of "FORCES" as in the spec and as seen on the shoulder mark. Aero replied that they will address this discrepancy.
On the inside surface of the wind flap of each jacket is a small version of the AAF insignia printed in white. Originals of these existed in both decal transfer and printed versions. The design is consistent with the design of the stamped version on the lining and differs primarily in the wing details from originals. The size of the mark, at 3/4 inch diameter, also differs from that specified in the T.O. at 7/8 inches. Once again the label reads "FORCE" rather than "FORCES."
Other adornmentsThe seal brown jacket sample was further dressed to include a name plate and layered leather unit insignia on the outside. Inside is a blood chit sewn into the lining as a pocket, and name and hump flight markings are stamped onto the lining. There is also a brass Acme Thunderer ditch whistle hanging on the throat hook. Photos of these are available below for viewing.
Summary and overall impression
There is no mistaking the heritage of the Aero A-2, and it is a fine jacket in the spirit of the originals. Fused with that spirit is Aero's interpretive influence, evident in a product which reflects a unique combination of construction and detail features. The result is a jacket which steps away from conventional historical authenticity and presents an alternative archetype.
What does this mean for today's jacket buyer? Depending upon one's interests and preferences, it can imply a more complex process of decision making. Because the Aero A-2 will be priced in some markets in the range of many detailed A-2 reproductions of original makers, comparisons can be more challenging.
Broadly speaking, quality differences will be small. This is a well-made jacket of high grade components. I would like, however, to see nicer looking rivets on the throat hook and a greater adherence to specification on the sizes of the AAF insignia markings. Other feature characteristics of the Aero A-2 will likely fall into the realm of personal preference. One's attention will need to be directed to assessing the real and perceived design, construction, and durability differences offered by Aero against other jackets which in detail and appearance are more like those worn so many years ago.
Then again, it's quite possible that the red rust silk lining will be all it takes to open the purse strings.
For more informationSee the Aero Leather and Transatlantic Clothing site at www.aeroleatherclothing.com
Other images from the seal brown jacket.
Copyright © 2000, 2003 Marc D. Weinshenker. All rights reserved.