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Electrically Heated Flight Suits

LION Apparel, in conjunction with General Electric, worked with the U.S. Government and the military during World War II to design and manufacture the first electrically heated flight suit. These suites made it possible for airmen to survive the brutal cold of high altitude flying. Without these suits and gloves, flesh would freeze instantly to any metal the airman touched.

The web site of the 303rd Bomb Group has excellent pictures and detailed descriptions of the suits. The “High-flying Wardrobe” of the F-2 version of the heated flying suit included:

F-2 Heated Flight Suit Components

  1. Jacket
  2. Jacket insert, heated
  3. Trouser
  4. Trouser insert, heated
  5. Helmet
  6. Shoes, felt
  7. Shoe insert, heated
  8. Glove, heated
  9. Rayon glove inserts
  10. A-12 [or A-9] mittens
  11. Scarf
  12. Lead cord
  13. Woolen shirt
  14. Light socks
  15. Long underwear

Please check the 303rd Bomb Group’s site for pictures of the actual articles of clothing.

History of the Heated Flying Suit

The Army Air Corps developed the first electric heated flight suit in 1918, and some further development work was done in the 1920’s. The “unsatisfactory” C-1 model was standardized in 1938, due to renewed interest in long-range, high-altitude bomber development. At this point, there were a number of problems: inadequate materials – particularly wiring, unreliable temperature controls, and insufficient aircraft power output. Damaged wires could cause injuries to the suits’ wearers. In 1943, up to 75% of frostbite was caused by electric garment failures.

In the mid-1940’s, LION Apparel and General Electric developed new heated flying suits, the E-1 for the B-24, B-25, and B-26 with their 12-volt battery system, and the F-1 for the B-17, with its 24-volt system. Both were one-piece coverall-type garments worn under the standard two-piece winter flying suit. Electric heated gloves and shoes were also included. Like an electric blanket, the wires were sewn into the wool fabric. Each suit had a 2-foot power cord and a 6-foot extension cord. Gloves and shoes had electrical connectors. These version 1 suits experienced wiring breakages. Wired in a series, a single break would cause the entire suit to lose power.

In a B-17, the number of suits that the aircraft could support was governed by the aircraft’s power system. The priority went to tail and ball turret gunners, and if the aircraft could supply ample power, to the waist gunners as well.

The F-2 electric heated flying suit was standardized in August 1943. It was comprised of four main pieces – electric heated jacket, electric heated trousers, unheated outher jacket, and unheated outer trousers. The inserts were made of OD (olive drab) wool blanket material and incorporated more flexible wiring than in previous suits. It was wired in parallel, rather than in a series, to eliminate failure problems with breakages. Without current, the suit was comfortable down to 32°F. With current, it was comfortable down to -30°F. It also had a connection to plug in a B-8 goggle or oxygen mask heater. The F-2A suit added thermostats to control the heat in February 1944.

The F-3 suit was a further improvement, providing comfort at -60°. The F-3 improved on the electrical controls and fittings and the parallel wiring system, which still supplied half the heat if one of the two circuits failed. The F-3A continued to improve the electrical controls, fittings, and wiring.

Notes

Thank you to the 303rd Bomb Group for posting such wonderful pictures and information on their site.

Source of historical information was  “US Army Air Force (1)” by Gordon L. Rottman.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015

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