Art of the Flight Jacket: Classic Leather Jackets of World War II
By Jon A. Maguire & John P. Conway
Published by Schiffer Books
Review by Mike O'Hare
Art of the Flight Jacket is the second volume on the subject by Conway and Maguire, the first being American Flight Jackets: Airmen & Aircraft. While the first covered a wider range of subjects, this book focuses on American Army jackets of WWII and Korea. Initially this may seem a relatively limited subject, and one with even more limited appeal, but it is actually surprisingly fascinating and with great depth - in a sense, this is three books in one. On the surface, it's eye-candy: a beautifully illustrated coffee table book for aviation enthusiasts, chock full of amazing examples of period jackets. It is page after page of incredible period art: wonderfully painted jackets, tooled leather badges, bullion patches, and embroidered unit insignia. It's the kind of book virtually anyone could flip through and enjoy. For the modeller, it also provides valuable insight into the minute details of the various styles of flight jackets - what patterns were worn, subtle differences in jackets produced by different manufacturers, how they weathered and the kinds of things airmen personalised them with. It could elevate a figure modeller to the next level, as it is almost a one-stop reference for flight jackets, clearly illustrating precisely what modellers should try to achieve. On a deeper level, however, this is raw history of the most personal kind. These were effects held near and dear to the fighter pilots and bomber crews of the time, decorated to show their pride and valour, and as such in viewing them, one can better appreciate the mindset and lifestyle of the WWII airman. While aircraft nose art is most commonly thought of as a way for the young air crews to show their individuality and tell the stories of their war experience, the jackets in this book in a sense delve deeper, displaying personal flourishes and showing the heavy wear from heavy use. From the many distinct renditions of rank insignia, to name badges produced in countless manners, both official and unofficial, one can gain an insight into the young warriors and how they were effected by and dealt with the war they were involved in. At the same time, every nick, scrape, cut and patch speaks to the often less than glamorous day-to-day labours. Each jacket tells the story of its wearer in a remarkably potent manner.
The bulk of the hardcover work, roughly 90 pages, is dedicated to jackets from the European, African and Middle Eastern campaigns, with some 50 more dealing with ones from the Pacific campaign and a relatively short 33 pages illustrating Korean War era and other miscellaneous jackets. The book is packed with full colour photographs, text being limited to the brief introduction and foreword, as well as captions to the countless pictures. This is not a wordy, literary tome - it is a coffee table book, meant to be looked at and enjoyed. As such, there is little discussion of the why's and how's of the jackets depicted, and this is perhaps the book's only fault, however Maguire and Conway are highly knowledgeable about their subjects and the captions do an excellent job of explaining the intricacies and unique aspects of what each item is.
It truly is an excellent work, and a worthy follow-up to their first release. Because of its execution, it's more than just another WWII-themed book, and its more than just another modeller's reference. This is the kind of reference book that you can leave out when friends drop by without fear of looking "geeky". It's the kind of reference book that anyone with even a passing interest in aviation, or history, or militaria or Americana could find interest in and enjoy.
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