History of the Flight Suit and How Nomex Material Changed the Industry

The aviator flight suit has evolved just as modern aircraft has over time. At first mention of the early aviator uniform, one might picture an image likened to the Flying Ace in full gearfeatured on the Red Baron Pizza box. The costume may consist of full-length, baggy trousers complete with a bomber jacket with awhite woolen trim, a leather helmet, and a red scarf wrapped around his neck. However, this only a somewhat accurate representation of a flight suit.

The first airplanes were open to the environment and flew at low altitudes. Therefore,
pilots took it upon themselves to have proper protectionfrom the atmosphere. For example, an aviator might wear a pair of goggles and a leather jacket. As the advancement of planes emerged, and their motors became more powerful, so did their capacity to fly at higher elevations, in addition to faster speeds.These new advances in aviation posed a greater threat to the US pilots because the cockpit was open without any protective covering. Pilots who flew during World War Ifound this to be a greathindrance and distraction while they carried out their mission. It is unfortunate that they were exposed to the elements while in flight. Some of the flight suits during this time were a one-piece garment primarily made of thin material that did not keep pilots warm, nor did it protect them from the bitterly cold air while in flight. Some pilots opted to wear a two-piece set that consisted of overalls and a leather jacket. Back then, the military did not have a determined uniform for pilots. But according to the website Aerosociety.com, a new flight suit was inventedin 1917 known as the Sidcot Flying Suit No. 5. The US pilots raved about this new uniform because it kept them warm during their mission. This was revolutionaryat this time in history. The new flight suit had three layers: one made of fur, another layer was made from airproof silk,and the outer shell was a thin, light Burberry material. (1.3.1 – The Sidcot Suit) This suit remained an essential part of the pilot’s gear until World War II when the US pilots flew in enclosed cockpits.

During World War II, airplanes flew at altitudes of approximately 30,000 feet which meant that the cockpits were still cold even though they were enclosed. So, electrically heated flight suits were introduced, except they were bulky and restrictive. It wasn’t until pressurized cabins were on scene that the cabins were warmer which meant that bomber pilots could shed the bulky uniform in exchange for a formal uniform and a flight coat.

On the other hand, fighter pilots needed a suit that they could wear within the confines of the cockpit. The AN-S-31 flight suit played a significant role in the US Army Air Corps. Some of its key features are the two pockets that buttoned on each side of the chest, as well as a button-down shin pocket on each pantleg. Not long afterward, the US Navy adopted their flight suit. The only difference was that the pockets were slanted on the material instead of positioned straight across.

In the early 1960’s, Dupont invented the first ever flame-retardant flight suit made from an innovative Nomex material. The Nomex flight suit was initially developed for the US Navy; however, the Nomex flight suits were, and still are suitable for all branches of the military. The makers at Dupontstate that,

“We know that military personnel face a range of threat levels, so we offer materials that can be further processed to help optimize performance attributes including protection level, durability, comfort, and aesthetics. This allows military clothing… the ideal performance for the threat, either confined space (mounted) of dismounted, whether from a fuel fire or an IED or RFG explosion.”

Today, the Nomex flight suit is a one-piece uniform that is worn by pilots and crew alike in most branches of the military. It is not only an incredibly durable fabric,but most importantly, the aramid fibers that are in the Nomex material are fire-resistant. Making sure our military personnel are protected from danger is Carter’s primary goal. We at Carter NY take great pride in producing the Nomex flight suit and making it readily available to the men and women who serve our great country. When the soldiers wear our product, they know that they can fully concentrate on their mission and can rest assured that they are wearing a fire-resistantsuit from a company that has their safety in mind.

As with the unique history of American Aviation, the history of the Nomex Flight Suit is intriguing and continues to not only meet military expectations but supersedes them as well.