"Pilots, Man Your Planes!"   
                                         WWII U.S. Naval Aviation Collector's Guide                                                                              
 
It's A Mystery To Me!
We were watching a short film clip recently and spotted an, as yet, unknown parachute harness being worn by this Hellcat pilot, some time in 1945. The clip is less than a minute long, but shows him helping his plane captain apply kill flag decals to the cockpit side. It looks like he was an ace-in-a-day. This harness is unlike anything we've seen before, but is obviously a QAS type. In the frame at left below, showing a rear view, the leg straps are unbuckled, pass through and are hanging from a large metal "D" ring on each side of the harness. By the second photo, for no apparent reason, both leg straps have now been buckled. Whether this is an example of a one-of-a-kind rigger made item, or possibly an official, but experimental design, we can't say. The double wide seat sling, however, is reminiscent of what is typically found on a back style parachute harness. The most notable features here are the apparent single point, or quick-release, chest buckle (which does not look like the familiar AAF "bang box" of the period) and the metal "D" rings (for lack of a better description) that the leg straps thread through before buckling to that chest release. The Japanese parachute harness does come to mind and may possibly be a design influence here? We'd love to hear from you if anyone has any further knowledge to share about this interesting variant, or better yet, has a surviving example.

The eagle-eyed amoung you will have already noted the Aviator's Individual First Aid Kit on the waist strap of the plane captain's Mae West. It was a late war developement which you don't see in period photos too often.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
Below:  Two additional photos have recently been uncovered that also show this strange QAS harness in use. While we can now eliminate the possibility that this was a unique "one-of-a-kind" rigger-made item, we are still left with many unanswered questions.

At left below is CDR James Julien "Pug" Southerland, II, skipper of Air Group 23 when this photo was taken on May 11, 1945, aboard U.S.S. Langley. On this date, Southerland led a flight of Hellcats as the air group flew its last combat operation,  a ground support strike on Okinawa, before Langley set sail for Pearl Harbor. Prior to April 21, 1945, he served as CO of VF-83 aboard U.S.S. Essex. This harness would appear to be part of his personal flight gear. An Aviator's Individual First Aid Kit is worn on the waist strap of his B-3 life vest and partially blocks our view of the harness "D" ring, but from this angle we can see more of the circular pad for the quick-release chest buckle.
 
At right below is a mannequin display from the parachute room of the Pensacola Survival Exhibit which opened in January of 1945. This photo shows us how the QAS pack was attached to the harness' "D" rings at waist level, rather than at the chest as on the conventional QAS harness we are more familiar with. Unfortunately, there was no descriptive caption with this photo (which was provided by Dustin), so we still don't have an official name for this QAS variant, but we will let you know when we have more information to share.

Bottom:  A screen capture from a video that included the May 1945 photo of CDR Southerland gives us an even closer look.


We are all familiar with this photo as it has been widely published. None the less, it does have several interesting details. It also has a mysterious "anomoly" we recently spotted. We are refering to the goggles worn by the fighter pilot seated at center, looking at his chart board. You will note in the closeup below, that he appears to have attached a set of split goggle pads to the back of his one-piece goggle pad. We are stumped to explain what possible purpose this could serve. If anything, it would appear to decrease the pilot's field of vision. We seek your opinions on this and would like to know if you have a logical explanation or have ever seen it done elsewhere.