New 37J1 Model - The "Tophatter's Jacket" - 37J1 Pre-contract Test Jacket


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We have a new unique flight jacket model in the works. Actually it has been a very long process which started about a year ago. Dr. H. from the forums approached me to make a custom reproduction of this jacket. I had seen the jacket before but never dove into the history or tried to research it. We made a few cool discoveries together that got the ball rolling. The project ended up falling through and the jacket was not made. I continued the research though however, because I discovered some monumental details on the jacket and I thought that I may want to make the model in the future. A few months later, a regular customer of mine who had been interested in this jacket as well, ordered one. That put this jacket in line in our queue and now we have reached it's place and have started constructing it.

While researching this jacket, it did not take long to ascertain that the jacket was a predecessor to the 37J1 Jacket. It was also clear that this jacket was made before the Specifications existed for the Contract 37J1. A true Test Jacket as some of the details were kept and used in the specs, and some were changed. Here are the different features not found on the other contract 37J1 jackets:

1. The pockets are Welted style pockets not Patch pockets - Every other contracted 37J1 has patch pockets.
2. 6 main buttons - All other contracts have 5.
3. No reinforcement on the collar snaps . The collar is also taller and the snaps are further up on the knit- All other contracts have the reinforcement tabs.
4. Single line of top stitching on pocket flaps, cuffs and waist - All other contracts have a double line.

Luckily in the period film "Hell Divers : 1931" Wallace Beery wears an original and we can identify a lot of features from his jacket in the film.


These features also help with identifying the maker of the jacket. At first we thought it may be SAT because it looked like the Button Holes were hand made. When we got higher res photos and reviewed the film, we found that the button holes are machined. In addition, SAT is not seen before 1930 as a major jacket maker and this jacket was made before 1927.

There was a maker in the 1920's that had the materials, know how, and means to make these jackets. In fact they were already a US government contractor providing flight helmets and leather fight clothing to the USAAC and the USN Department of Aeronautics. They even provided test jackets to the USAAC for the A-1 Test program and there is a great chance that they were one of the companies that won a contract.

This company was A.G. Spalding & Bros.

Adding to this theory is the fact that Spalding was producing similar jackets at the time for the civilian market. Some of these jackets had matching features such as:

1. Welted pockets
2. Single line 1/8" wide stitching on pocket flaps
3. Machined button holes
4. Angled pocket flaps
5. Seal colored wool knits
6. Capeskin Leather

I believe this is quite enough evidence to attribute this jacket to A.G Spalding. This is our label layout for the jacket. It would have not has a spec tag yet so we went with a layout seen on other such test clothing.

The liner will be chocolate brown not tan. It can be seen in the movie that the liner was much darker than tan on the jacket. There is evidence of tan cotton liners in later contracts but this jacket had a much darker shade of liner.

I will post photos of the completed jacket after it is finished.

Best Regards,


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Hey Jay,
Are you basing your design on the jackets worn by Wallace Beery and Clark Gable in Helldivers?
If so, how do you know Wallace Beery is wearing an original? Studios often had jackets custom made by the wardrobe wardrobe dept for their stars so they'd look their best.

Just curious, thanks
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Great question grant! The short answer is no.

I have seen pictures of this jacket over the years from a few different sources. The most well known is this image from the 1931 Air Races. The men in the jackets that are posing with Lindbergh are the USN High Hats precision flying team. They were the Blue Angles of the time. They were drawn from the Tophatter's squadron and the jackets have the top hat emblem of the Squadron.

The jacket is based on Hi Res images like this one. The movie jackets are real though. No doubt about it. So the movie provides a great insight into these early 37J1 Jackets. Some of the close up images are pretty cool jacket wise. That movie is a must see. It was done in close cooperation with the USN so there is a lot of real footage.

The Tophatters aboard the USS Saratoga were the first carrier fighter / bomber attack squadron. They established and perfected carrier flight operations and were the best USN pilots of the day. I believe that the new flight jackets that were being developed were issued to these top pilots first, which is why you find the 2 earliest versions, or predecessor jackets primarily among this squadron's pilots.



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Cool Jay, looking forward to seeing what you guys come up with.
The Top Hatters began carrier operations flying TS-1's off the USS Langley in 1926 and are the oldest continuous active squadron in the USN. Pretty cool record!


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Lindy with Lts.(jg) Frank O'Beirne, l, and Fred Kivette, r, of the High Hats.
Lt. Les Gehres was the third member. He was later captain of the ill-starred USS Franklin, retiring as a rear admiral in 1948.
O'Beirne and Kivette both retired as vice admirals. O'Beirne was Commander Naval Air Forces Atlantic, Kivette was Commander of the Western Sea Frontier.

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I didn’t see it any where unless I missed it but is it made from the smooth Capeskin Hide? I’m thinking yes .


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Very interesting, never seen this jacket before. With the success of this project, I would not deny myself the pleasure of buying one with the correct patch.
Jay, how deep these pockets are?


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Would be a nice touch if the added patch could be an option.
Yes it would! I have plans for that but the problem is that it is not a patch, it is painted on.

I need to find a Noseart Artist in the USA that can do it. Any suggestions? Anyone?


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OK guys, we got some early photos trickling out of production. I'm excited!

Here we have the pocket design. Note the interesting fold at the top of the flap. This was the only 37J1 type jacket I have found with this feature. I think the boys in production really nailed this one:

Also check out the grain. A close match to the original Capeskin.

More to come......