Apr 8

On This Date in Naval Aviation History: Aviation Greens Make A Comeback

Thursday, April 8, 2010 12:30 AM

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Ah, Aviation Working Greens – my absolute favorite day-to-day uniform to wear during Norfolk winters and guaranteed way to get a non-aviator’s head to explode in the pre-Lehman years. Lots of mythology and conjecture as to how we came to acquire (a) the green uniform and (b) the accompanying brown shoes, so maybe this will help – some… – SJS

8 Apr 1925–Almost two years after the special aviation uniform had been abolished, new uniforms of forestry green for winter and khaki for summer were authorized for Naval Aviators, Observers, and other officers on duty involving flying.

This picture of the first class of naval aviators at Pensacola is a good example of the early special aviation uniform.

When naval aviators first took to the air they actually used a variety of civilian clothes – chiefly because flying then was a dirty, greasy business (and for those stalwart wrench-turners and box-swappers keeping us in the air today, it remains a dirty, greasy business). The problem was that the officer uniform of the time was a blue tunic with gold striping – or white with shoulder boards. OK for ship and shore – not so for aviation. Enter the Marines — sometime during the winter of 1912-1913 naval aviators began using the Marine’s khaki uniform and high-topped shoes (brown) for their workday uniform with some slight modifications (no belt and , dyeing their white covers in the process. This was, in fact, the uniform used by aviators at Vera Cruz in 1914. Winter and open cockpits called for something of more substance and again, the Marines provided the solution with their heavy weight woolen forest green uniform. This picture from 1919 attests to the working and dress uniforms worn by naval aviators of the period:

The crew of the NC-4 with SECNAV Daniels and Asst SECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt

Being an organization where no good thought or solution was left unmolested, in 1922 the Navy banned the special aviation uniform as it sought uniformity within its thinning ranks. Like most bureaucratic decisions, it had its comeuppance a few years later when recognizing both the growing number of naval aviation personnel and aviation’s special requirements the Navy authorized a new uniform, based on the original khaki (single breasted) uniform, but with a rolled collar vice the “choker” style of the earlier one, affording more comfort. Bronze vice gold buttons and black vice gold braid used to avoid tarnishing. The cavalry style “puttee” pants and brown high top shoes were retained. For winter, the predecessor’s same woolen forest green material was retained.

The new Aviation Uniform, circa 1925

With minor modifications (e.g., change to traditional trousers and shoes), the uniform remained basically unchanged through the years. In 1931, the khaki uniform was adopted by submariners (pin-on devices also authorized for both services) and by February 1941, an ALNAV was released permitting the wear of Khakis by all officers at the CO’s discretion (shoulder boards replaced stripes on the jacket that May). During WWII and Korea, ribbons were permitted with the aviation greens, but by the 1960s, it was back to a working uniform. Since their uniforms followed Navy’s, the Coast Guard also permitted wear of the aviation green uniform:

Some localities tried to discourage wearing the greens, but since it was retained in the uniform manual, it was not banned outright. I picked up my first set in 1979 for the kingly sum of $20 at the local navy Relief after a tip from a fellow JO and having spent a freezing SDO watch in the drafty seaplane hangars east coast VAW’s were relegated to at the aptly named Breezy Point (NAS Norfolk). At the time, khakis were not authorized year-round and come winter we had a choice of SDBs, Winter Working Blue or Aviation Working Green. The fact that an authorized variation allowed you to wear your leather flight jacket and the soft cap with it was bonus material.

Channeling William Holden, as it were…

William Holden in "The Bridges at Toko-Ri"

I continued to wear that uniform through command and subsequent duty on IKE as ‘gator (if the hangars in Breezy Point were cold, try the island of a cold iron CVN in mid-winter…). Unfortunately, while inflicting the new digi-blue working uniform on the service, Task force Uniform also purged the greens from the inventory and despite appeals to the contrary, it looks like this bit history is well and truly headed for the museum attic – and that’s a pity…

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