"Pilots, Man Your Planes!"   
                                         WWII U.S. Naval Aviation Collector's Guide                                                                              
                   The Well Dressed Aviator
Above:  Pilots from VF-6 discuss their recent air combat and rescue operation, subsequently known as "The Battle of Kagoshima Bay", March 29, 1945 (more details and some artifacts from this event will be included in a future article). As was common at this stage of the air war in the PTO, the fliers are wearing a mixture of early, mid and late war clothing and equipment. The lightweight tropical (green nylon) flight suit and USN specific M-1944 flying goggles were common items at this point.
Some squadrons continued to use a combination of the M-592 backpad kit (shown above) and the AN-6520-1 (or AN-R-2A / AN-R-2B) pararaft (shown below), although the PK-1 pararaft kit was developed and did see limited service before VJ Day. 
Above:  A transition between the AN-6520 series and the PK-1, that also saw limited service, was the Model A pararaft kit shown above, which used components from both the M-592 and the AN series raft kits and was packed in a gray, treated canvas, carrying case. Here, Marine parachute riggers from MCVG-2 show the kit's bottom side with survival components (opened with a zipper),  the closed case and, with its top raft side, (secured with snaps) open. Photo above courtesy of Adam Lewis at Plane Fun.
   
Above:  A parachute rigger from VF-86 attaches the pack opening elastics on a QAS pack in this photo from the Air Group 86 cruise book. This air group was deployed aboard U.S.S. Wasp in the Summer of 1945, operating off the coast of Japan. Of note is the seldom photographed PK-1 pararaft kit, in its carrying case, attached to the parachute pack. The top of the kit container, out of its carrier, can be seen at right above. This photo is courtesy of the collection of the late Luc Ristor, a Naval Aviation collector, warbird pilot and good friend who is sorely missed.


Below, left:  The April 1, 1945 issue of Naval Aviation News, provided a check list for air-sea rescue equipment, with the note that "delivery of the PK-1 to supply points is scheduled for April".


In the following video clip, from a 1945 Navy training film, we have the opportunity to view a PK-1 raft being deployed after a Corsair pilot is forced to ditch at sea. One of the cameras was conveniently, for us, located below the water, so we get an excellent view of him opening the kit, inflating the raft, and, as he pulls himself aboard, we can see the inflation tube of his anti-G Z suit. By the time a PBM Mariner "Dumbo" arrives to execute his rescue, we  also see that he has assembled and installed a radar reflector on the raft's stern.
 
Above:  Pilots (possibly from VF-5) suit-up prior to a combat air patrol, Summer of 1945. The absence of  M-592 kits under their QAS harnesses would indicate that they are equipped with either Model A or PK-1 pararaft kits, which would be waiting for them in the pilot's seat of their aircraft, attached to their QAS parachute pack. Of note are the reinforcements on the lower front of the right hand pilot's Mae West. These 4" x 4" patches, made of rubberized life jacket material, were applied to vests at a squadron level to cut down on the excessive wear that could result from the chaffing of the aircraft seatbelt's heavy metal buckle against the vest's fabric where it covered the co2 bottle containers. First suggested in Naval Aviation News (see below), this later became an official modification spelled out in a Technical Order. Easily overlooked here is another late war item, the 1945 dated yellow plastic signal whistle hung on this same pilot's vest. Whistles in green (pilot on left) or black plastic are more familiar. Three pilots, standing from left to right, also appear to be wearing the M-668 summer flight suit, as indicated by two chest pockets, button adjustable waist band (as opposed to a belt) or a pencil pocket on the left upper sleeve (not visible here).

Below:  Harder to spot in vintage photos, but a common modification, was the addition of pockets, between the cells of the life vest, to hold distress hand smoke signals. This was also done by squadron riggers, following BuAer specifications. It appears, in most cases, that rubber material from surveyed life rafts was used, however, the gray canvas intended for parachute packs has been found as well. For further information, please refer to The 'Chute Shop on page 10.