THE TALE OF TWO JACK­ETS

A VERY DIF­FER­ENT RES­CUE

Flight Journal - - TREASURE HUNT -

There is a cer­tain broth­er­hood among naval avi­a­tors. It is an un­spo­ken code that has at its core this thought: “I will cover your six.” It cov­ers a variety of sit­u­a­tions, but in the case of this story, it took on a very dif­fer­ent mean­ing.

There I was in the an­tique store in down­town Ok­la­homa City, in my busi­ness suit, af­ter work hours, in full search mode for those trea­sures that can be found in such en­vi­ron­ments. On an ear­lier mis­sion, I had found a Dou­glas Air­craft globe lapel pin and a gen­uine Pan Amer­i­can Air­ways cir­cu­lar slide rule, a pre­cur­sor to the mod­ern E-6 nav­i­ga­tion tool. It was a tar­get-rich en­vi­ron­ment: mod­els, books, lapel pins, even flight gear from an ear­lier time.

As I rounded the end of an aisle, I came upon a tan­ta­liz­ing tar­get set: two pris­tine Navy flight jack­ets, fully out­fit­ted with gen­uine “I’ve been there” patches; the “Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club” and sev­eral cen­tu­rion patches, documenting 100 traps each in the RA-5C Vig­i­lante jet, proudly dec­o­rated them. I thought, “What a find!” Sali­vat­ing at the price of $40 each, I was ready to buy, then the broth­er­hood spoke to me. Whoa!

These trea­sures could only be here for two pos­si­ble rea­sons. First, the owner had passed away and his fam­ily had no re­gard for his ser­vice or the value of these trea­sured ar­ti­facts, or sec­ond, they were stolen from him. I leaned to­ward num­ber two. With the name John Carter on each, it seemed that it would be im­pos­si­ble to find the owner, his true story, and the real deal on these trea­sures. I am a “big air­plane” kind of avi­a­tor, not a Tail­hook guy, but here I was find­ing a fel­low naval avi­a­tor’s lost trea­sures. As I was still stand­ing right there in front of the flight jack­ets, I called an­other fel­low naval avi­a­tor who had flown the Vigi.

“Oh, sure,” he said. “John Carter, call sign ‘Big Bird,’ was one ‘Sierra Ho­tel’ pi­lot, who went to the air­lines af­ter all those traps. He lives in Norman, Ok­la­homa. Don’t have his phone num­ber but here’s his email. I think he is in good health.”

I bought the jack­ets and re­solved to con­nect with Big Bird and re­turn his trea­sures forth­with. He was out of the coun­try, un­for­tu­nately, and did not see his email for days on end. Fi­nally, I got his “OMG” email response. “Yes. Those are stolen! Tell me how I can get them back.” We agreed on meet­ing dur­ing my next trip to OKC.

To make a long story short, he and his wife Di­ana bought my din­ner that night, but I would not take pay­ment re­im­burse­ment. I later paid a re­turn visit the an­tique store and chewed them out, only to hear, “We just buy stuff and re­sell it. We don’t ask where it came from.” Clearly, you have to be in the broth­er­hood to un­der­stand the deep-seated at­tach­ment to such trea­sures that rode along with you hour af­ter hour in the jet and made all those car­rier land­ings. As I al­ready men­tioned, there is a cer­tain broth­er­hood among naval avi­a­tors. It is an un­spo­ken code that has at its core this thought: “I will cover your six.” So that day, my brain said “Big Bird, I’ve got your six.”— Capt. Vern Lochausen, USN, Re­tired

Re­pro­duc­tions and Re­pur­posed Ar­ti­facts: A Vi­able Al­ter­na­tive

Let’s face it, even though there may have been hun­dreds of thou­sands of leather flight jack­ets made and sim­i­lar num­bers of uni­forms, belt buck­les, etc. pro­duced, WW II is three-quar­ters of a cen­tury gone, so the sup­ply of al­most ev­ery­thing vin­tage and orig­i­nal is lim­ited. This, cou­pled with the ris­ing in­ter­est in avi­a­tion his­tory and the re-en­ac­tor move­ment, has given rise to a grow­ing in­dus­try in pro­duc­ing ac­cu­rate repli­cas of the more pop­u­lar items from by­gone eras. The leader in that area is the leather flight jacket, which started the re­pro­duc­tion move­ment.

Al­though it is dan­ger­ous to point to an in­di­vid­ual or com­pany that ac­tu­ally launched the 1970s’ rein­tro­duc­tion of the leather fly­ing jacket, cer­tainly Jeff Cly­man and Avirex (now Cock­pit USA) were in on the ground floor. Re­port­edly, in the mid-’70s, Cly­man, who flew a T-6 Texan and al­ways wore his dad’s old A-2 leather jacket, rec­og­nized a mar­ket in the in­or­di­nate amount of in­ter­est air­show­go­ers paid to his jacket. As a col­lec­tor and trader in such jack­ets, he rec­og­nized the de­mand and also rec­og­nized that the sup­ply of orig­i­nals couldn’t pos­si­bly keep pace with it. The so­lu­tion? Be­gin man­u­fac­tur­ing those jack­ets him­self, and a com­pany, which has lasted the 40 years since, was born. In the process, Cly­man pi­o­neered pro­cesses of pro­duc­ing the ex­act tex­ture and fin­ish of the var­i­ous leathers used in the orig­i­nals so that they ap­pear, well, orig­i­nal. As would be ex­pected, Cock­pit USA’s suc­cess didn’t go un­no­ticed, and oth­ers jumped into the replica jacket fray, un­til to­day, all one needs do is search for “leather fly­ing jacket” on the In­ter­net to get a be­wil­der­ing ar­ray of sup­pli­ers.

To­day’s sup­pli­ers, such as flight jack­ets.com, sup­ply more than fly­ing jack­ets and, in fact, not only can pretty much clothe the flight crew but also of­fer items like the unique caps and sweaters main­te­nance crews wore. If it was worn dur­ing WW II, some­one, some­where is re­pro­duc­ing it. This even in­cludes wood pro­pel­lers as mar­keted by avi­a­tion­art hangar.com and asim­pler­time.com.

The pur­pose of re­pro­duc­tions of any kind is to of­fer less ex­pen­sive but still us­able ver­sions of items we now see mostly in yel­low­ing pho­to­graphs. At the same time, the mem­o­ra­bilia mar­ket fea­tures dec­o­ra­tive items, such as wall clocks and air­plane mod­els, that re­call the era if not the de­tail.

Vir­tu­ally ev­ery jacket com­pany has the leg­endary A-2 in its line, but some are more au­then­tic than oth­ers. (Photo cour­tesy of Cock­pit USA)

What’s cooler than desk or wall clocks that look like an al­time­ter? (Pho­tos cour­tesy of sportys.com)

Re­pro­duc­tions of the B-2 fleece-lined hat are per­fectly wear­able to­day, as are some of the leather fly­ing hel­mets be­ing pro­duced. (Pho­tos cour­tesy of flight jack­ets.com)

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