I was asked the other day about the flight suits we wore, and how we dealt with differing climates, etc. I figured it might be interesting to the readership, or maybe not. However, it’s the little details that historians are interested in, so what the heck. Maybe someday this will help some kid’s report.
To put this into perspective: I am only going to discuss what I wore and why, and a few general details and observations. It pertains to P_3 flight crews only, as from platform to platform, the gear changes to reflect the particular needs and environment.
Anyway….. Navy flight suits (during the Cold War) started out as international orange. That was a good idea for crew who might be forced to ditch at sea, or bailout over water, especially in peacetime. When the country got involved in Vietnam, all that changed. Being seen from a distance wasn’t a great idea when those looking for you were more likely trying to capture or kill you.
The Navy switched over to sage green flight suits and equipment, the same basic shade as the Air force. It was a good all-round color, hid dirt and stains easily, and blended in with a lot of things.
I was issued my flight gear when I arrived at NAS Jacksonville, and reported to VP-30. VP-30 was the RAG, or Replacement Air Group, the training squadron for all P-3 crewmen. No matter your job, if you were P-3 aircrew, you went through VP-30 to learn your position and how to work as a team.
My initial issue was 2 flight suits, 1 pair of gloves, 1 pair of boots, 1 helmet, 1 leather flight jacket, and a helmet bag. Since Jacksonville, Florida, is a warm area, we were issued summer-weight gear. Navy regulations required that gear be issued according to the climate in the area where it was issued. Thus, even though I was eventually sent to Maine, I was still issued summer-weight gear, and, in most all cases, left otherwise to fend for myself when warmer gear was needed.
After the initial issue, my next stop was to an off-base tailor shop. This specialized in military clothing, and I had them sew a VP-30 patch and a US flag onto my jacket, and a US flag onto each of my flight suits. In addition, I purchased and had embossed, a leather name plate with a velcro back to go onto the left upper breast of my flight suit.
The flight suits and gloves were made of Nomex, so as to be fire retardent. They wouldn’t burn, but they would char if enough heat ws applied. The one thing that we all learned to demand was Natural Materials. In a fire, man-made materials and synthetics will melt and attach themselves to skin. That’s NEVER a good thing, so we stayed well away from those items and learned to check the labels of anything we bought.
Out of Brunswick, most of our missions were over the Atlantic, and especially the North Atlantic. Half the year in Maine is cold, too, so we learned to dress in layers. There was a two-fold purpose behind that. One was that layers of clothing protect better than one thick garment. The other was that occasionally, we might need to divert somewhere, and it would be nice to have some extra clothing with you, so why not wear it?
I started out with basic t-shirt, shorts, and a pair of 100% cotton socks and dog tags (yes, the Navy uses dog tags too). Those help to wick sweat away from your feet better than anything else. If you are going to be wearing a pair of steel-toed flight boot for 18-20 hours, you need to keep your fet as dry as possible.
Next, I would add a pair of long-underwear. Again, 100% cotton and just the lower part. Over the T-shirt went a red Flight Deck Jersey. These were heavy cotton, and since our squadron color was red, all the crews got them. Next, I put a pair of wool socks over the cotton ones. The inside of the P-3 is kept at around 52 degrees, so you can chill easily. It also added an extra layer of cushioning.
Next I’d put on my flight boots. I had these modified with a lace-in zipper to help me get them on and off quickly. Anyone who has worn jump boots or flight boots will know what these are. I also, like many flight crew, laced onto one boot, under the zipper, an extra dog tag. The reader should be able to understand the purpose.
Over all this went the flight suit. The suit is comfortable, and adjustable. There are two velcro tabs on each side of the waist to tighten or loosen the fit. The wrists also have velcro closures, and their are zippers at the bottom front of each leg so you can take your suit on and off without removing your boots. The suit has a number of pockets. There are pockets on the outside of the legs, thigh pockets on the front of each leg, a pocket over each breast, and a pocket on the left upper arm that also has slots for pens and pencils.
In those pockets I carried a number of items, some of which I still have. The lower left (calf) held a heavy clear plastic bag withing which I kept a copy of my shot card, and any special notes or materials for that mission. In the right calf pocket I put a bag of hard candy. Just in case.
The thigh pockets were normally empty, but there was a slim pocket beside one which held a shroud line cutter on a long lanyard. The right breast pocket normally held a small version of a composition book. I kept mission-specific notes there, as well as anything else I needed to write down. It also had a handkerchief. The left breast carried a thin wallet. Since we spent a LOT of time sitting at our stations, carrying a heavy wallet in a back pocket (for those who wore dungarees under their suits, some did) was likely to put pressure on the sciatic nerve and make things very uncomfortable after awhile. I bought a thin leather wallet, and put my ID card, a Credit Card, a Calling Card and some cash in there, just in case.
In the left upper arm pocket went a roll of antacid tablets, a small tin of Altoids, and, outside, a pen, fine point felt marker, and a mechanical pencil. This was my basic personal load. Over the top went the flight jacket, and the gloves were usually stuffed into the lower right pocket on the leg for easy access.
Helmet-wise, we were issued with standard white helmets. These are designed to absorb shock, and, as we joked, mostly so your casket could be left open. Regulations specified that 70% (or more) of the helmet surface had to be covered with reflective tape. This came in 1″ wide rolls, and you got it through the Paraloft. As long as it wasn’t obscene, you could put just about anything you wanted on it for a design. I drew out a checkerboard pattern on the visor cover, and made a white & yellow pattern there. On the back, I used orange reflective tape to make an arrow pointing down the back of the helmet to it’s base, with blue letters saying “Dig Here”. The skipper thought it was funny, at least. The helmet had two visors, one clear, and one tinted. One or both could be used at the same time. There was also a square patch of velcro on the upper right part of the visor cover. This was used to attach a salt-water activated strobe light, incase you had to go into the water. It kept the light above you and out of your eyesight. The helmet also had headphones and a cable to connect to the ICS system, though, except foe the pilots, we had to use hand-held microphones for talking.
The helmet came in a zipper-topped bag that was padded for protection. In addition to the helmet, it also carried my NATOPS manual, a my checklist, and usually a couple cans of soda and a travel coffee mug.
Before flight, we donned our LPA’s. These were like a tactical vest, and had leg straps that attached in front. This vest carried all your survival gear, as well as floatation bladders at the neck and on each side at the waist. These bladders were activated by pulling on cords when you got into the water, and they inflated FAST. The pockets held a knife with compass in the handle, a plastic pint flask for water, shark repellent, dye marker, a strobe light, a pencil flare gun and flares, Waterproof matches, and a pocket for a sidearm and ammunition. I carried a .45 and 3 magazines rather than the issue .38.
This then was the basic gear for your humble author. In wintertime, we were cold. In summer time, we were hot. But every crewman learned to adjust his load so as to be most comfortable for him. After awhile, it became second nature, and if not comfortable, at least tolerable and efficient.
I’ll get back to ASW soon. Promise!