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USN 37J1 - The Navy's First Lightweight Leather "Bomber" Flight Jacket

Skyhawk

Well-Known Member
What do we know about these elusive jackets? I have been researching these rare jackets for a while now and have made some discoveries that are interesting. Part of what makes these research projects fun for me is it is like a walk through history. You see the photos and read the documents and get a sense of the times in which they were produced, as you piece together the puzzle.

There are just a few surviving jackets to look at to get the details that you can't see in the black and white photos. Like colors and close up details. I have photos of Admiral Ballentine's jacket on file. These are some of the only color photos I know of in existence. Many of you have seen these photos before.

This was in the first set of Auction photos released. It gives the appearance of low pockets but is only an illusion from the fold of the jacket. A later shot shows that they are mid pockets like other 37J1 models.
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From these photos we can see Seal knits, brown button and snaps with silver hardware, machined button holes, top stitching, and much more. The 2 sets of photos are a treasure trove of details.

One of the biggest finds is the color of the original Capeskin used. There is luckily an area where the original color can be seen. It is similar to the A-1, a dark russet, chestnut type color.
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The inside shot shows an original tan cotton liner with Bone backing buttons. The liner extends to the edge on the button side, but ends at the inside leather panel on the other side.
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The back of the jacket, another interesting point. Some have misidentified the shoulder style due to the photo that was first released showing hanger damage. It appears that the shoulders are swept back. When you see the later photo you can see that it is not the case and the shoulders are a standard straight style stitch.
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Next we will look at some different versions of the 37J1 jacket.
 

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Skyhawk

Well-Known Member
I believe we have identified the first version and it may have been one of the test jackets for the 37J1 contract program.

This photo was given to me by our own Dr H. from here on the forum. We discussed this photo in great length. At the time we were planning a reproduction but the project ended up not materializing.
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When I studied the photo blow ups, I noticed a big feature. Inset button holes. Handmade not machined like seen on the later early A-2 jackets. Who did that in the 1920's? Security Aviation Togs that's who. I ran this by Dr H and he agreed SAT is the likely maker. The other unique features, inset pockets, and no snap reinforcements on the collar.

These features are so different then the later jackets I believe this is a test jacket that was issued to a few Pilots to test. These pilots are a great choice to test out the new jackets. The Navy's precision flying team of the 1920's, The High Hats.

Another jacket I believe was a test jacket before the specs were hammered out is a jacket that was recently posted on the forum. This jacket also has no collar reinforcements which all contract 37J1 seemed to have had later on. The pocket flap shape and the button holes with the squared off tails suggests A.G. Spalding and Bros. as a likely maker. They supplied helmets and other gear to the USN and AAC. They also made test jackets for the A-1 program about the same time as the 37J1 jackets were being made. The pocket flap shape was later simplified to an angled design for the contract jackets. Still made by Spalding? Possibly.
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Skyhawk

Well-Known Member
There seems to have been 2 contract models of the 37J1 produced. The angle pocket and the flat pocket flap style. The flat pocket flap jacket had slightly bigger pockets but seems to have identical features otherwise.
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Here are some photos of both contract jackets in use at the same time in Quantico 1931
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zoomer

Well-Known Member
IDs: first b/w pic is not, as one might assume Ballantine, but Cmdr. Richard Burke, USCG, pioneering air-sea rescue pilot.
Second b/w pic is Chas. Lindbergh with the Navy Top Hatters (ed: High Hats) aerobatic team, l-r, Lts(jg) Frank O’Beirne and Fred Kivette and Lt. Les Gehres.
 
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Skyhawk

Well-Known Member
Thanks Zoomer, yes that is CMDR Burke. Shows a good view of that style of 37J1. It is not the same jacket as Ballentines, just the same contract.

The precision flying team was named "The High Hats". The Top Hatters were an operational squadron not a exhibition team. A different squadron altogether that came later on I believe.
 

dmar836

Well-Known Member
So Jay, there were that many variations even in the prototype jackets? Seems odd with inset vs. patch pockets, tapered vs. straight pocket flaps, and welt buttonholes vs. machine stitched buttonholes all on prototypes? This also begs the question, how many prototype jackets would have been issued?
Interesting research for sure! Thanks for sharing.
Dave
 

zoomer

Well-Known Member
FHS and Jerry Jerome of VF-9M appear to have not only cloth 37J1As, but some sort of prototypes of that jacket, without the inverse pleat pockets or storm flaps of the production model.
 

zoomer

Well-Known Member
Always wondered whether any 37Js came with brown knit originally, or whether it was fitted when they were reissued to cadets after 1940. Only the M-422/A, with its brown knits, would still have been in production by then, so any available spare knits would have been brown...but is this the right color brown?

Too bad no one’s ever flipped up a pocket on one of these, as Jay did. It might reveal whether the tan was a faded green or its own color.
 
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Lebowski

Well-Known Member
What do we know about these elusive jackets? I have been researching these rare jackets for a while now and have made some discoveries that are interesting. Part of what makes these research projects fun for me is it is like a walk through history. You see the photos and read the documents and get a sense of the times in which they were produced, as you piece together the puzzle.

There are just a few surviving jackets to look at to get the details that you can't see in the black and white photos. Like colors and close up details. I have photos of Admiral Ballentine's jacket on file. These are some of the only color photos I know of in existence. Many of you have seen these photos before.

This was in the first set of Auction photos released. It gives the appearance of low pockets but is only an illusion from the fold of the jacket. A later shot shows that they are mid pockets like other 37J1 models.
View attachment 10254
View attachment 10253

From these photos we can see Seal knits, brown button and snaps with silver hardware, machined button holes, top stitching, and much more. The 2 sets of photos are a treasure trove of details.

One of the biggest finds is the color of the original Capeskin used. There is luckily an area where the original color can be seen. It is similar to the A-1, a dark russet, chestnut type color.
View attachment 10257

The inside shot shows an original tan cotton liner with Bone backing buttons. The liner extends to the edge on the button side, but ends at the inside leather panel on the other side.
View attachment 10255

The back of the jacket, another interesting point. Some have misidentified the shoulder style due to the photo that was first released showing hanger damage. It appears that the shoulders are swept back. When you see the later photo you can see that it is not the case and the shoulders are a standard straight style stitch.
View attachment 10252
View attachment 10258 View attachment 10259

Next we will look at some different versions of the 37J1 jacket.
Thanks a lot for such detailed research, very interesting and really helpful! My sincere respect to you Sir!
 
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