MA-1 bomber jacket
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The MA-1 bomber jacket (also known as the MA-1 flight jacket) was first developed in the mid-1950s. The MA-1 and its predecessor, the B-15 flight jacket, were needed at that time because the emergence of the jet age created new requirements for pilot performance, safety and comfort.
Prior to the invention of jet aircraft, fleece-lined leather jackets were issued to flight personnel. However, the new jets could fly at much higher altitudes and in much colder temperatures than propeller aircraft. If the heavy, bulky leather jackets became wet from rain (when the pilot walked to his aircraft) or from perspiration, the water would freeze at high altitudes, making the jackets cold and uncomfortable. Also, the new jets were more streamlined in design. Cockpits were cramped and filled with new equipment. Speedy, unimpeded access to and exit from cockpits became even more critical for safety. Rather than bulky leather, a sleek, lightweight yet warm jacket was needed for the new jet technology.
To meet these needs, a new type of flight jacket was developed from the existing B-15 jacket, which was initially produced in cotton, but later produced in the same pattern but in high quality nylon. The B-15 had a wool collar with pile (a little like fur) carried over from the earlier B-10 that was found to interfere with straps in practice. Nylon had been discovered prior to World War II but it was not used in flight clothing until after the war, possibly because the demand for nylon for items such as parachutes consumed the available supply during the war.
The first MA-1 jackets were issued around 1949 or 1950 to United States Air Force and Navy pilots and flight crews. Small numbers were also issued to Army flight personnel. MA-1 jackets first appeared in Europe in very small quantities in the mid-to-late 1950s probably on the black market and at sales of government surplus. In the early to mid-1960s more MA-1 jackets appeared in Europe as Alpha Industries began to export MA-1 jackets and other military clothing to European Air Forces and commercial customers.
The MA-1 was designed by the Air Force to serve as an intermediate weight flight jacket for use all year. This was accomplished by manufacturing the MA-1 from very high quality nylon fabrics and polyester interlinings. The light weight nylon design allowed the pilot in warm weather to wear the jacket open and be comfortable; upon entering the aircraft, the pilot could zip the MA-1 closed and be afforded ample protection against the cold conditions encountered in flight.
The MA-1 has undergone various design modifications during its long history of use, but its classic, highly functional design has remained basically the same. The original design was contained in U.S. government military specification "MIL-J-8279." Changes to the MA-1 jacket were periodically made by the Air Force. These occurred because of the introduction of new textiles, new sewing techniques or new aircraft cockpit design which required a change in the jacket design. The military specification was amended to reflect the changes, which was signaled by adding a letter to the Mil. Spec. For example, MA-1 specifications progressed from the original number Mil-J-8279, to J-8279A, J-8279B, J-8279C, etc. The most important revision, Mil-J-8279F, was issued in Nov 1978. However, the ultimate revision before MA-1 phased out from US Military is "Mil-J-8279G" and "Mil-J-8279G AMENDMENT-1" which introduced in Mar 1988 and Oct 1990 respectively. These two final revision are designated for ground crew only since US Military had adopted fire-resistant CWU-36/P and CWU-45/P for aircrew.
The MA-1 was initially produced in two colors: sage green and midnight blue. Blue was the original color used by the military, but it was soon replaced by green. During the Korean War, (1950–1953) mixing flight clothing from multiple time periods and colors was not unusual. Presumably, the green was eventually adopted because it blended more easily with the environment should the pilot need camouflage protection on the ground. During Vietnam War, there were variant commercial copies of MA-1 in camouflage pattern which purchased by US servicemen. Today, MA-1 style flight jacket is no longer with US military but still popular among many US-allied armed forces as uniform jacket. e.g. Israel, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Taiwan (ROC) and Thailand.
By the pop culture from US as well as Japan, MA-1 jacket becomes legendary icon in fashion industry. Many American clothing manufacturers, who used to be military contractors, make great business to market MA-1 jacket worldwide. Fashion MA-1's are commercially available in a variety of colors, including the traditional ones and black, red, blue, silver, grey, yellow.
Because the MA-1 Jacket not only keeps the wearer warm, but is highly comfortable, the jacket is very popular in Europe and Australia during winter. The jacket is also worn by many people in North America, where it is commonly known as a bomber jacket, especially in areas with cold weather. These jackets became popular in the late 1970s that were made popular by punk rock counter cultures mostly by the Mod and Skinheads that were known to incorporate the clothing in their traditional dress. During the 1980s the jackets had extensive exposure in style magazines such as The Face and i-D, often reimagined by clothes designers of the time.
The MA-1 is also in use in several police forces where cold weather is a part of everyday life. They were chosen over several other designs primarily for the sturdy construction, and the heavy insulation needed in extreme cold temperatures.
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- Imai, Kesaharu. SUIT UP!: THE FLIGHT JACKET. World Photo Press (Japan), 1993. 367pp.
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- Thompson, Leroy. UNIFORMS OF THE INDO-CHINA AND VIETNAM WARS. Blandford Press, 1984. 160pp.