"Pilots, Man Your Planes!"   
                                         WWII U.S. Naval Aviation Collector's Guide                                                                              

     The Well Dressed Aviator
Three variations of flight helmet, typically seen late in the war. They are presented from top to bottom, in chronological order. As with all the summer, intermediate and winter flight helmets produced with the improved earphone receptacles, Slote & Klein, Inc. was the Navy's sole contractor. Of course, as seen in vintage photos, the earlier M-450 series summer helmets and modified deck helmets remained popular as well.

Shown first is the AN-6542 summer flight helmet, made of Byrd cloth. As originally produced, it included buckles for the MSA "D" oxygen mask. In this case, they have been removed to allow the installation of snaps for the A-14 demand oxygen mask, which was a standard Navy item from late 1943 on. An added feature of note is the boom mounted lip microphone (one of two variations) in the "stowed" position. They saw limited service use in 1945.

Next is the green nylon tropical flight helmet, developed in conjunction with the tropical flight suit which was made from identical material. It is believed the green color was an attempt by the Navy at better camouflage, should a flyer be forced down on land, as the war in the Pacific steadily progressed toward the Japanese home islands. It was manufactured under contract N288s-26302, from October, 1944 through March, 1945. For this helmet, the oxygen mask buckles were eliminated (by this time the MSA masks were obsolete, having been replaced by the A-14 mask) and the chin strap was simplified. It was now sewn in place on the wearer's left and buckled on the right. Also, the snaps on the goggle retaining straps were repositioned from the top of the strap to the bottom of the strap, ala the AAF's AN-H-15 helmets.

Last we have the final wartime developement of the AN-6542, manufactured under contracts N288s-27405, from December 1944 through May, 1945 and N288s-30999, from April through October, 1945. All the improvements found in the tropical helmet were retained, however, the material, once again, was a khaki colored Byrd cloth. The lack of factory installed oxygen mask snaps necessitated their installation by the squadron parachute riggers for each individual flyer.

At some point, post VJ day, the leather reinforced oxygen mask snaps, common to AAF flight helmets, were incorporated into production. They can also be found on the final AN-6542s, made under post-WWII contract N383s-19458.
The Navy's late war version of the rubber framed single aperture flying goggle is seen here, worn by R.W. Baker of VF-6. Starting with the basic Polaroid M-1944 goggles, as used by U.S. Army ground forces, a chamois backing and an improved adjustable cloth and elastic headstrap were added. Early examples are dated 1944, marked "U.S.", and produced under contract N288s-25428. A second contract, N288s-32645 incorporated a simplified strap, now all elastic, as well as the 1945 date and "U.S.N." markings being molded on the frame.  Both clear and neutral gray lenses were provided with the kit which was issued in a green cardboard box marked "Goggles, Flying, U.S. Navy Type M-1944" with the stock number R37-G-3735.

Seen below, VF-40 pilots have just returned from their successful interception of Kamikazes that were attempting to destroy the screen of small radar picket ships protecting the fleet off the coast of Okinawa on April 13, 1945. Navy M-1944 flying goggles, nylon tropical flight helmet and suits are all being used here. The attachable signalling light worn by the pilot at left appears to be the red plastic model produced by Colvin Slocum (see photo at bottom of page three). Also of interest is their continued use of the "original" backpad kit (buckled over the life vest) when, at this time in the war, the M-592 kit or pararaft seat survival kits should have been available.