Combat Flying Equipment: U.S. Army Aviators’ Personal Equipment, 1917-1945

The Book

A thorough and fascinating work.” – Air Power History

“It takes more than a flight jacket to outfit an aviator. This book describes the development and characteristics of every item of personal equipment used by Army pilots from World War I through the end of World War II.” -Air Force Magazine

Personal anecdotes give meaning to the absorbing background story of research, testing, laboratory work, and combat experience. Why parachutes were issued to German airplane crewmen in World War I while none were available to Allied pilots? Who really was responsible for the design of the first modern, free-fall, back-type ripcord-operated parachute? What the secret wartime antigravity developments were that gave American fighter pilots an advantage over Axis flyers? What caused the failure of the AAF full-pressure suit program in 1943 and what ingenious alternative was successively introduced?

Over 160 photographs illustrate the myriad types of oxygen equipment, parachutes, armor, pressure suits, and other flying equipment and survival gear. A detailed glossary, comprehensive index, and extensive notes make this book a definitive reference work packed with facts and information. Flyers, historians, aviation buffs, veterans, and aviation-memorabilia collectors will find Combat Flying Equipment an indispensable source.

The Author

A consultant to the Air Force on flying clothing and personal equipment, C. G. (Glen) Sweeting was the curator of flight material at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, from 1970-1985.

My Thoughts

Published by the Smithsonian Institute Press, this book is a delight for historians, collectors, and preservationists interested in military aviation.

With my dad and four uncles involved in aviation during World War II, I was especially interested in the items they were issued.

Among Lt. Dan Wilson’s effects. The ID number was before his commissioning.

It’s amazing what it took to attempt to keep air crews flying and as safe as they could be even when in combat and in emergency situations. Oxygen equipment, parachutes from well before WWI, armor, anti-G and pressure suits, vests, rafts (plus what they could carry), parachutes and emergency kits, survival and sustenance kits, even signal pistols.

One of my uncles and other P-38 pilots enjoyed their signal pistols on New Years Day 1945 at their base at Triolo, Italy.

The book also includes notes, a glossary, bibliography, and an index.



  1. Thank you for sharing this book Joy. This one goes on my to be purchased list. I think it would make a great Christmas gift for my older brother too. (The pilot that just retired Navy)

    • These have been especially interesting since my dad and four uncles were WWII pilots–all in different places in the world–New Guinea, India, Europe–and different times of the year, so the people designing everything sure had challenges to work with

  2. This is only one of the reasons why I’m always telling people that it takes an Army to keep one combat soldier on the front lines. There are so many minute details that need to be taken care of.

    • You always remember that they need fed and armed, and the large equipment (planes, tanks, etc.), but I never thought about clothing an other details until Danny Wilson had to deal with high altitudes during the winter.

      • Too many people said to me, “Oh I only did this…” or “My father was only here or there during the war.” It bothered me. I kept stressing that the military is a very large chain and each link is important or they become weak and inefficient.

  3. I live near an air base which was converted to Air National Guard in the 70’s so it doesn’t have as much activity as Air Force bases but I still childishly marvel at the pilots when I meet them, lol. I’m in awe of someone who simply flies every day. I’ve talked to several of them over the years and it sounds quite difficult to actually become a pilot. To have so many in your family is a feat!

    • It’s hard now, but during WWII they took these kids without college degrees and ran them through as quickly as they could, especially in the early years. All five were farmers. Dad and his brother returned to the farm. Dad never flew again, partly because Mom was paranoid about it after losing three brothers in planes. As soon as Dad had his wings, he began teaching advanced cadets! That wouldn’t happen anymore.

      • Yeah I’m sure if there was a great need for pilots all of a sudden the regulations would mysteriously become more lax. Haha

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