Comfort in the Clouds

It’s a suit that would make a Bond Street tailor shudder . . . but fashion goes by the board at 30,000 feet

IAN SCLANDERS September 15 1943

Comfort in the Clouds

It’s a suit that would make a Bond Street tailor shudder . . . but fashion goes by the board at 30,000 feet

IAN SCLANDERS September 15 1943

Comfort in the Clouds



It’s a suit that would make a Bond Street tailor shudder . . . but fashion goes by the board at 30,000 feet

ON A sweltering summer day you are never less than six miles away from the coldest weather you have ever felt. No matter where you live, 30,000 feet above you temperatures are below zero. That’s why in a bombing plane at operational levels the cold that screams through gun slots has so paralyzed fliers that some couldn’t fire their guns or release bombs.

It won't any more—not our fliers. The reason it won't is a modern flying suit which is the latest thing in fighting togs for Canada’s airmen.

The Type-E Flying Suit—to give it the official designation—is fashioned to fit while you are sitting rather than when you are standing. The knees bag as no knees ever bagged before. So do the elbows. So does the seat. It’s a two-piece affair—jacket and pants—and it has zippers all the way up both legs and from the bottom of the jacket to the neck. They make it easy to get into —and out of in two seconds flat.

The outer fabric is fine blue twill. The inner lining which the twill covers is thick enough that the wearer resembles an overstuffed sausage. Nobody denies that Type-E would make a Bond Street tailor shudder.

A Canadian development, it was conceived in the laboratories of the National Research Council, the Banting Institute and half a dozen other research institutes and universities. Before it took final shape the RCAF sent a questionnaire to 4,000 airmen, asking them to suggest how flying suits could be improved.

Seventy per cent wanted a two-piece suit instead of the one-piece garment that had been standard. The scientists doubted whether two pieces would have any advantages over one but that’s what the lads asked for so that’s what they got. However, thumbs were turned down on requests for fur collars. Too much chance of neck burns if a plane caught fire.

Navigators need sharp pencils for plotting courses and they complained they had trouble with the points breaking in their pockets. So Type-E has a pencil pocket equipped with point protector sewn on the left sleeve. Many an airman said his hands got cold when he took his gloves off to reach in an inside pocket for his watch. Type-E has an outside watch pocket on the chest. Even the straps for positioning of the parachute harness on the shoulders are scientifically designed. Should the fastener on the strap become jammed the sewing thread which holds it together easily breaks free.

But the heavy brainwork didn’t all go into small details. It went into fabrics and the new idea of clothing which fits when you are sitting instead of standing.

The late Sir Frederick Banting saw the war coming and realized it would mean fighting in the air at altitudes at which temperatures of 70 deg. below zero had been recorded inside military aircraft. He persuaded associates at Banting Institute to pioneer in the study of protective clothing for airmen. To facilitate this work a cold

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chamber was constructed in which it was possible to simulate weather conditions at minus 50 deg. with a 25-mile-an-hour wind blowing.

Dr. A. Burton built “Old Black Joe.” Joe was a man-sized dummy electrically heated. When he was in the cold chamber the amount of electricity required to keep him at body temperature varied according to what he was wearing. Joe thus made it easy to measure accurately the insulating properties of different fabrics.

Joe’s chief defect was that—not being human—he couldn’t perspire. The scientists knew ventilation was almost as important as insulationthat if your clothing wouldn’t let the moisture from your pores escape you were an easy mark for frostbite. They could show for instance that heavy felt boots would keep your feet warm at 40 below but that if you put overshoes over these boots your feet would freeze.

It was this factor which made the experimenters shun sheepskin with which earlier flying suits had been lined and which was still used by other countries. The hide wasn’t porous enough to give adequate ventilation. Instead they chose as a lining a thick double-pile fabric with a loosely woven base. Old Black Joe proved this had insulating properties and the scientists wore it into the cold chamber themselves to make sure of its ventilating properties.

Confounds Nature

CANADIAN wool was used in this lining not because it came from Canada but because it was found to have unusual properties of resiliency. In other words it kept its thickness and did not flatten out after wear; and Colonel Fred Miller, Farnham, Quebec, confounded nature for he succeeded at the request of the RCAF in constructing a fabric which had wool on both sides of the skin. The only difference was that he did not use a skin at all. He designed a cotton skin which was only one tenth the weight of the sheepskin.

Next the scientists agreed that over the lining should go an outer layer of twill made from long staple cotton—twill which wouldn’t tear, would be wind-resistant and could be chemically flame-proofed.

Then they went into a huddle on design and came up with the idea that because your bloodstream is nature’s heating system any interference with circulation would have to be carefully avoided. In other words the suit couldn’t be tight, couldn’t constrict any part of the body.

Nor was it a question of constriction of the bloodstream only. Scientists have found a way of measuring the amount of fatigue experienced by aircrews. The results showed the need of reducing the tightness in normal garments so that fliers could I move about more freely and easily

without losing energy. If such clothing could be produced the energy saved could be devoted exclusively to the technical duties which keep fliers so busy.

While his colleagues were drawing diagrams to illustrate the virtues of baggy knees and baggy elbows, particularly when you work in a sitting position in intense cold, Dr. J. A. Kitching of Banting Institute devised baggy - knuckled gloves. Ordinary gloves are shaped to fit your hands when the fingers are held straight but you almost never hold your fingers that way. And when your fingers are bent ordinary gloves tighten across the knuckles, restrict circulation, help get your fingers frostbitten at extreme temperatures.

Dr. Kitching’s gloves fit bent fingers. Flying you wear three pairs —inner gloves of light cotton, middle gloves of wool, and outer gauntlets of soft leather. The inner gloves have specially-treated finger tips so you don’t have to remove them to pick up papers or small objects.

The flying gloves took some eight months to develop. The dimensions of this glove are almost entirely different to the gloves which you have been accustomed to buying. Dr. Kitching found that he had to measure up fingers, palms and thumbs of some 1,500 aircrew because, when he had completed his search of the glove industry in England, the United States and Canada, he found that nobody knew how wide the fingers of a particular size of glove should be. The glove industry may now benefit by fundamental knowledge of the anatomy of the hand which Canada’s National Research Council can make available to it after the war.

Meanwhile felt flying boots were being designed to protect airmen’s feet.

Then somebody raised the question, “What if a pilot is forced down in the wilderness? If the suits are going to be Air Force blue, how is he going to be spotted from the air?”

So an identification hood was evolved in a special yellow which is the color of the chemical packs fliers carry to dye the water when their planes fail to reach land. When not in use the hood is rolled up inside the collar and fastened in place. Forced down in cold weather a man wears it parka fashion. In addition the inner lining was changed to brilliant yellow because the clothing designer found that by making very few changes the stranded flier could wear the suit inside out. Thus he could be readily detected from the air.

Research men could foresee an emergency in which an airman might want to shed his garments in a hurry. Hence the zippers on jacket and pants. They are the kind known as “quick release” and literally fall apart when the tabs are pulled over a release spring. Shrapnel cannot jam these zippers.

Winter Clothing Expert

ABOUT the time the rough blueprints of Tvpe-E reached the National Research Council’s Subcommittee on Protective Aviation Clothing, Fred H. Deacon, vice-

president of a clothing firm at Belleville, Ont., arrived in Ottawa to offer his services in the war effort. He knew a lot about clothing for winter sports and had stayed in Labrador with Sir Wilfred Grenfell, after whom Grenfell cloth is named, to find out how to dress against the frigid Labrador weather. The RCAF asked him to help incorporate the findings and recommendations of the scientists into garments suited for mass production.

He returned to Belleville and talked it over with his head designer, E. R. Hinchey. Belleville became the development ground, the place where the flying suits conceived in scientific laboratories were manufactured experimentally. Designer Hinchey, ruddy-faced, stubby and cheerful, wangled a seat out of an airplane from the Air Force and put it beside his drafting board so he could sit in the same position as a flier to determine where a suit was likely to get uncomfortable.

Climbs Mountaintop

SOON several models of flying suits had gone to Ottawa. When Squadron Leader P. W. Webb of the RCAF struggled to the summit of Alaska’s 20,300-foot Mount McKinley with a U. S. Army expedition last year these models were dropped to him by freight parachute from a bomber. While gales beat at the peak sometimes with 50-mile-anhour fury and the mercury was far below zero he changed from one flying suit to another, wore each long enough to ascertain its qualities. Squadron Leader Webb went from his mountaintop ordeal to Ottawa to report on the garments he had tested and the best points of each went into Type-E which is now standard issue.

Hinchey worked several of his own ideas in the suit. He cut away the lining at the back of the knees, elbows, and under the arms. This eliminated a bulky feeling, made it easier for the wearer to bend his joints. He found out how to distribute weight properly by building in suspenders. When he couldn’t get rubber to make these he used small springs.

It is quite likely that your postwar overcoat will have built-in suspenders to give a better shoulder fit and make it seem lighter. And this overcoat will inevitably show in its fabric the influence of wartime research on protective clothing.

For long operational flights at very high altitudes, Type-E may be worn over an “electric undersuit.” This is a cotton garment which looks like overalls. Sewn into it is an 88-foot strip of inch-wide metal gauze. There’s a cord with which the “undersuit” is plugged into the ignition of the plane which heats the metal gauze in the same way as electricity heats the coils of your toaster. There are also electric undergloves and undersocks—each with seven and a half feet of metal gauze.

One trouble with electrically heated garments is that an airplane has a limited supply of electricity. What is available has to be rationed among the crew. Men most exposed to the cold—such as the rear turret

gunner—get the most current. Men in less exposed positions may only get enough current to plug in gloves and socks or may get none at all.

Type-E flying suits attracted the attention of the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Navy who wanted similar outfits.

Despite the engine heat the inside of a tank gets terribly cold on a cold winter day—almost as cold, tank men say, as the cockpit of an airplane miles up in the air. In addition the Army has had to face the possibility that it may have to fight in the Arctic.

Mr. Deacon was called into consultation by military officers, listened to their clothing worries, hopped a train for Winnipeg. It was midwinter and the prairies were having a cold wava In 40 below zero weather he rode in tanks, universal carriers— all sorts of vehicles. He froze his nose and his ears. Then he went to Regina. He interviewed Mounties —lots of Mounties. What kind of clothing had they found best in the Arctic? Why? What did the Eskimos wear? So forth and so on.

Those he talked with favored native caribou clothing worn in two layers—an inner layer with the fur next to your skin and an outer layer with the fur on the outside.

At the RCMP museum Deacon took the clothing out of the glass cases, studied it, wore it. He found caribou hide was thin enough to allow some ventilation and that the hairs were slightly absorbent.

He was told that Eskimos take their caribou garments off before climbing into their fur sleeping bags at night, turn them inside out and toss them where they will freeze. In the morning they scrape the frozen perspiration off before dressing.

He decided this was all right for Eskimos but doubted whether Canadian soldiers would think much of it. Besides that, getting enough caribou skins to clothe the Army or even part of the Army would be out of the question. What was needed was a fabric which had fibres with all the properties of caribou hair but with a porous backing to allow moisture to escape.

Textile makers were called in to help in the development of such a fabric. Made of a mixture of mohair and alpaca hair it is being tried out in clothing for arctic troops. The Army’s “caribou suits” are built along Eskimo lines. For camouflage and added wind resistance a white windproof parka goes over the two layers of caribou cloth.

Aid For Wounded

AWHILE ago word got round that the RCAF wanted a casualty bag in which wounded could be transported to hospitals by plane.

It would have to be a bag that would keep a wounded man warm at high altitudes. And it would have to be of such a design that a wound anywhere on the body could be treated en route without the rest of the body being exposed to the cold. The Air Force said if it got a bag like that it could save a great many lives.

The clothing designer commissioned to do the job contacted

S. B. Cleverley, Hamilton, manager of a slide fastener company.

“You’ve got to make me a twoway zipper,” he told Mr. Cleverley.

“Can’t do it.”

“You’ve got to. It will save lives.”

So Cleverley produced a two-way zipper—one which has two pull-tabs which will open or close it from either end. And now the RCAF has a casualty bag with two-way zippers on both sides and on the top. It permits doctors to treat a wound on any part of the patient without uncovering more than a square foot of the body.

All this adds up to quite a score for Canadian inventiveness and ingenuity. And as a result of their work in this field Messrs. Deacon and Hinchey have been retained as consultants by the Quartermaster Corps of the United States Army.