Apr 8

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

Thursday, April 8, 2010 12:30 AM


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…


  • Andy (JADAA)

    Amen, brother Steel Jaw. Wore mine aboard a pier side Gator on a necessary business visit once upon a time, much to the puzzlement and worry of the embarked Marines. (“WTF izzat?”) I can tell you it wore well in damp Rota, brisk Whidbey, even January in Alameda and it was worth it’s weight in green gabardine six months out of the year in Minneapolis! Folks were amazed when I told them that next to the choker whites, it was the longest unchanged officer uniform we had. Here’s hoping that with the return of SDK the greens will be back. (Once we blue digi-cam to Davey Jones’ Locker)

  • Andy (JADAA)

    Amen, brother Steel Jaw. Wore mine aboard a pier side Gator on a necessary business visit once upon a time, much to the puzzlement and worry of the embarked Marines. (“WTF izzat?”) I can tell you it wore well in damp Rota, brisk Whidbey, even January in Alameda and it was worth it’s weight in green gabardine six months out of the year in Minneapolis! Folks were amazed when I told them that next to the choker whites, it was the longest unchanged officer uniform we had. Here’s hoping that with the return of SDK the greens will be back. (Once we send blue digi-cam to Davey Jones’ Locker)

  • UltimaRatioRegis

    Nice Barney Greenwald pic. Other than the Benson-class destroyer/minelayer and the superb cast, Jose Ferrer’s aviation green uniform is the star of the show. What the he** would ever possess the USN to drop uniforms like those and the trops?

  • Stevo

    Those weirdo aviation working greens are the best. There just so wacky and uncalled for. I guess that’s why I love ’em!!! I wish aviators could wear them still. It’s a shame because in about three months the AWGs are gone… Kapoof… replaced by the dumb digi-cams.

  • Mordy

    I inheirited a set in 1999, from a RADM that I worked for. He still had LCDR stripes on it. A few call to the uniform support shop got me the green combo cover top and garrison cap. I have worn them several times a year since then, always to numerous compliments and questions. Another call to the uniform shop for black CDR stripes in 2007. I am wearing them right now at a COCOM staff in Colorado and will continue to wear them until a NAVADMIN tells me to stop.

  • I found my greens in the Navy Relief Thrift Shop at Moffett Field. Since they came striped for LT I never wore the blouse until I made LT, but I wore greens with my leather flight jacket at North Island as a JG. Wore them often as a LT, had ’em restriped for LCDR and wore them at Norfolk. I wore the cap with my flight suit for my entire career. I loved that uniform. I remember when some woman aviator asked the Uniform Board why there were no greens for women in their periodical message and they said there was no pattern for the uniform, and on the cover of the next month’s Naval Aviation News was a picture of a WWII flight nurse in aviation greens! This was a distinctive and attractive uniform and we’ll all miss it.

  • Captain S

    Having transferred from the Marines in 1984, Aviation Greens were a natural for me. It quickly became my favorite uniform. I was truly saddened by its removal from the uniform regs. Currently in DC, I have worn it every week when I brief our Director. Since we switched to winter uniforms this year, I have worn it every day.

    Today, 30 Dec 2010, I put them on for what may be the last time. With luck, it will only be a hiatus. Hopefully before I retire, we’ll rescind the silly, downright stupid uniform changes of the last few years. Until then, I’ll just switch to Dress Khakis!

  • Byrdman

    I retired in Oct 2007 w/ 30+ years . . . and my SECOND SET of aviation greens still sit with CAPT stripes in my closet. I wore greens when I promoted to LT, rating a big BZ from my “old school” skipper. As a flight instructor LT at P-cola in the ’80s, I wore them to motivate my Navy students when I wasn’t wearing a bag. When I returned to a Fleet squadron as a LCDR DH, my COs and XOs started scouring the Navy Relief thrift stores. And as an exchange guy with USAF as a CDR in the ’90s, they bemused my light blue suit colleagues (who confided that they wished they had something that looked that sharp). Even my USMC buddies loved it, saying I looked less like a “squid” and more like one of them (I just needed to get a [email protected]*^in’ haircut!).

    Given the Steeljaw comments above, I was the N3 and later EA/CoS to a Hawkeye flag officer and Steeljaw alum (c/s “WF”) during OEF and OIF. Just before OIF, we had returned to MacDill AFB from the “sandbox” and had an official function w/ CENTCOM and a bunch of Coalition officers that night. DCUs were the precsribed uniform, but mine all looked like crap from being stuffed in my kit bag for the past 36 hours. So I wore my greens. As I walked into the MacDill O Club, the CENTCOM J3, a USAF A-10 2-star I had worked for in two previous joint assignments, says, “Byrdman, what the hell uniform is that?” And before I can get a word out, my admiral boss replies, “The greatest uniform in Naval Aviation history!!”

    I’ve wore my greens from San Dog to P-cola, from Va Beach to Jax, to Air War College and Joint Forces Staff College, on joint and Fleet staff tours, on multiple WESTPAC and LANT/MED cruises, and at all points in between. And never once did I ever hear a negative comment!

    In Jan 2004, I was still on the NAVCENT staff. WF had detached, and the 3-star (another NFO mentor) in Bahrain asked me to be his LNO to CENTCOM in Qatar. That summer, I screened for major aviation command on my last look and informed I was headed to be a Commodore on the west coast. . . and it was also my first inkling of TF Uniform’s effort to kill off Aviation Greens.

    I sent a note via NIPR to TF Uniform, advising I was forward in the SWA combat zone, that I’d just been selected as P-COMO of an aviation command, and expressing my displeasure over what I heard were TFU efforts to kill off this historical, and OPTIONAL, uniform!

    I get an email reply from a submariner CNOCM. If that rating thows any of you, it stands for “CNO-Directed Master Chief” . . . minions of the CNO and the MCPON who act like they are slightly above the Fleet and Force Master Chiefs. Most of them tend to reside in OPNAV N1. The reply is along the lines of, “Well, Captain, we’re just trying to reduce the seabag requirements for our young sailors, E-6 and below, and we think this a good idea, etc., etc., etc.”

    Now as the son and son-in-law of Navy CPOs, I’ve always held the Goat Locker in high regard, but in this case, I was so exasperated that I immediately replied, “Master Chief, you’re just not getting it! This is an OPTIONAL uniform for E-7 and above in Naval Aviation!” I didn’t hear much after that, although I did wear my greens throughout my major command tour.

    So where do we go from here? Last I heard, both The Tailhook Ass’n and the Ass’n of Naval Aviation are trying to reverse this decision and have the uniform reinstated as Aviation Service Green. I suspect Lex “Neptunus Lex” LaFon has also weighed in. But given that the current CJCS, CNO and N1 are all shoes and the current MCPON is a bubblehead and shoe, it may take awhile.

    But consider this: in the mid-1970’s, service dress khakis were tossed, summer khakis w/ribbons were eliminated as an off base uniform and demoted to an on base working uniform with no ribbons, and brown shoes and brown flight boots were eliminated. And from 1979 until early 1981, we even discontinued issuing G-1 leather flight jackets at P-cola.

    In Spring ’81, per SECNAV Lehman, G-1 jackets started getting reissued, and we could put ribbons back on khakis and wear them out in town again. We could even start wearing our flight suits from home through the main gate. In ’86, brown shoes returned. In 2004/2005, brown flight boots started reappearing. And now Service Dress Khakis (which are VERY similar to the design of Aviation Greens) have returned.

    In the meantime, we can keep pushing for Aviation Greens to be reinstated . . . and hope that we eventually get a CNO with a 1310 or 1320 designator and a sense of “tradition” (which is NOT a dirty word) . . . and maybe even a SECNAV who is a retired or Reserve airdale!

    V/r to all,

  • Child

    I love this uniform! Ever since seeing my grandfather (Naval Flight Surgeon Class #13 and Pearl Harbor survivor) in a pair of greens in a photo taken in Pensacola (with A.C. Reid) in the spring of 1942, I wanted to have a set.

    I got my first set greens off of ebay from a CDR Tomcat RIO during my JO tour, and wore it at Point Mugu for SDO duties in the winter. Then during my first shore tour, I convinced the Superintendent of the Naval Academy (three-star aviator) to allow it to be worn in Annapolis as a motivator for midshipmen to go Navy Air. (Later during my disassociated sea tour aboard REGEGAN, I ended up working directly for that same Tomcat RIO–a tremendous guy and it was an honor to carry on his greens.)

    After completing medical school and being selected for dual-designation as an NFO/Flight Surgeon, I treated myself to a brand-new set from Abbotts in the hope that TFU would come to its senses… apparently not.

    Thanks for the optimistic post, Brydman. Hopefully, Admiral Pat Walsh (former Blue Angel and current PAC FLEET) will get the tap for CNO next. Until then, we need to keep up the good fight. AWG need to return in 2011 for the Centennial of Naval Aviation.

  • DJK

    My all time favorite . My WW2 era Dad showed me a set in an old Blue Jacket’s Manual. After I graduated from AOCS, I found a used set in my size at Abbot’s in P-cola. They kept me warm and unique at Point Mugu, Christchurch NZ , Pensacola and North Island. Every command I served in resulted in the Chiefs soon dragging theirs out, not to be outdone in saltiness by an “O”. You sure could snap a black-shoe’s pencil-ly neck in that rig. Marines always found it amusing and one USAF 1lt asked me what I flew in the RAF ( retarded AND color-blind ). The abolition of this uniform will never be worth the re-hatching of the Khaki Blouse. The MCPON and the rest of the revisionist mob that dreamed up that unusable NWU will NOT be well-remembered. 100 years of Naval Air … no Greens, no call signs, no cursing… what’s next?

  • Charlie Joseph

    I was a Chief from 1968 until retirement in 1976. Loved that uniform. Had two sets bought from a retired CPO friend. Still have them tucked away somewhere. Couple of funny stories. In 1969 while squadron was loading aboard JFK (CVA67) at pier 12, Norva, a couple of young sailors saw me. Since not many were wearing it, I heard them whispering to each other -“what is he?” “Maybe a marine?” “I bet he’s a corpsman with the marines”. Apparently they hadn’t seen many airdales. Later in 1971 attending language school in Crystal City, Va (just ooutside DC), I wore them a lot. I was one of maybe 2 or 3 airdale CPO/Officers in a class of well over a hundred, mostly blackshoes. We liked to remind them we were airdales. Good memories.

  • Greenchecker

    Nice history Byrdman. I was commissioned in Oct ’80, the depths of the Carter-era dark ages. i landed in the LAMPS hangar across the ramp from you in Dec, ’81 with all polyester uniforms and a “summer weight” flight jacket. (I finally received my leather flight jacket one summer day in the Persian Gulf, 1983.) I was instantly enamored with the Aviation Greens, as were all of the JOs. At 6’3″ tall finding a used set was impossible and my career suffered for it. You see, I was given the opportunity to retire in 1996, part of the “peace dividend” for winning the Cold War. I have no complaints, but I’m sure I would have made history if only I had a set of Aviation Greens. Thanks for keeping up the fight.

  • Rick Clarke

    I had VR48 1988-90. In that time Grrens and brown shoes were reauthorized. Big surprise at Saturday Quarters when I and several of the Chiefs came out in our Greens and brown shoes. Glad we stored them!

  • Tom Kelley

    The Grissom AFB Museum preserves our Naval Aviation legacy with a number of Bunker Hill NAS exhibits. Recently donated was a green “wheel hat” said to have been issued to a former aviation cadet during WWII. The cap has a black visor and cloth band along with a cloth anchor insignia center front. We’ve never seen anything like it and believe it may be earlier than 1942. Any idea are appreciated.

  • SimeonMagus

    Byrdman, much appreciate your taking time to reminisce and give us the above. Dad did his 30 as well and retired a Master Chief air controlman in the early 70s. I remember him wearing Aviation Greens during cold Michigan winters with GCA-28 at Grosse Ile. They were Mom’s favorite — she said they made his green eyes sparkle. But they proved too toasty for service aboard Lexington making runs between Corpus, Gitmo and P’cola where he finished out his career, and ended up stashed in his footlocker. Since he passed, I have kept his Aviation Green MCPO cover and ribbons displayed with his folded flag in my office. Your piece reminded me of his brown shoe Navy yarns. Fair winds and following seas Byrdman — and thank you for the memories…