B-17 gunners wearing bulky sheep-shearling flying clothing to protect against the deadly cold at the altitudes typically flown in Europe -- at 25,000 feet, the temperature could drop below -60 degrees Fahrenheit. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Flying uniforms also varied in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater. Here SSgt. John Underwood, a crewman on a Tenth Air Force B-25 in Burma, is only wearing his summer service dress uniform, a Mae West life vest, and radio headphones. The patch on his lower right sleeve identifies him as a radio operator. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Aircrew testing cold weather flying clothing at Ladd Army Air Field, Alaska, in 1941. The technical sergeant second from the left is wearing the most common arctic flying uniform early in the war, which in severe conditions would be supplemented with a heavy sheep-shearling jacket and a fur cap. (U.S. Air Force photo)
During World War II, U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) aircrews fought in a vast global war from the hot, dry deserts of North Africa to the dangerously frigid wilderness in Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska. The type of flying clothing and service dress they wore varied greatly due to environmental considerations, aircraft type, crew position, and personal preferences.
Aircrews in the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) generally wore light flying gear due to the warmer climate and the lower altitudes where they usually flew. The B-29 navigator on display is wearing khaki summer service dress, which many aircrews wore on missions. While early B-29 operations were conducted at high altitude, by early February 1945 they had switched to lower and warmer altitudes between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. Furthermore, the B-29 was pressurized and had an effective heating system for crew comfort.
This navigator is carrying his bag containing maps, charts, a slide rule, and other instruments, and over his left breast pocket is a navigator's wing badge. On his head is the famous and widely-used "50 mission crush cap," which was a service cap with the stiffener removed. Army regulations approved this modification to allow flyers to wear radio headphones over the cap.
Aerial Gunner This experienced 5th Air Force staff sergeant in winter service dress is on the way home after the surrender of the Japanese. He has five horizontal overseas stripes, each one indicating six months of overseas service, and one diagonal service stripe, which indicated three years of service in the USAAF. He is identified as an aerial gunner by the wings above his left breast pocket, and on this pocket is a marksmanship badge for aerial gunnery and machine gun proficiency. Above his right breast pocket is a "ruptured duck" patch, which was worn while traveling home after being discharged from active duty service.
Aircrews in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) generally flew at higher altitudes and wore warmer clothing than their counterparts in the Pacific. While many aircrews in the ETO wore flying suits, this fighter pilot also has the famed A-2 flying jacket for added warmth. He has a yellow Mae West life jacket in case of a water landing, and his face mask provides oxygen needed at high altitude. To communicate, he has a flying helmet that holds his radio headphones and a throat microphone around his neck.