The Type A-2 leather flight jacket — commonly called the “bomber jacket” — was standardized in 1931 as the jacket issued to U.S. Army Air Forces officers upon completion of basic flight training.
The distinctive jacket represented an airman’s elite status, and was worn and decorated with pride.
Airmen emblazoned their A-2s with rank insignia, squadron patches and even elaborate embroidery or painted-on artwork. The jacket’s back, made of a single piece of horsehide leather, was a perfect canvas for pin-up girls, cartoon characters and bomb decals for each successful mission.
These photos from the National Archives show just a few of the jackets worn by the pilots, gunners, bombardiers, radio operators and navigators of the 401st Bombardment Group, each one featuring the nickname of the wearer’s trusty aircraft.
Billed as “the best damned outfit in the USAAF,” the 401st crewed B-17 Flying Fortresses in 254 missions over Europe, earning two Distinguished Unit Citations and nearly 12,000 individuals awards and decorations.