Almost 40 years ago, there was a clothing chain
with a safari theme. Hats from Australia, utility shirts from
Panama, messenger bags/purses from Bolivia. It was the one
clothing store I'd be willing to walk into, as there was
typically some unusual stuff there that even *I* might wear.
The store decor echoed the unusual sources of their wares, and
most stores include a rusty old jeep to highlight the name of
the store: "Banana Republic."
It was bought out by a larger chain in the early '80s and turned
into yet another teenager clothing store. But before that,
my wife had scored a killer Christmas present for me.
My wife and I lean towards the goofy/unusual in
our Christmas presents. In '82, she gave me a funny
present from Banana Republic: A leather flying helmet.
There's no question it was sold as a joke. It came with a
set of large cardboard goggles, which I donned and posed with on
Christmas morning. I hadn't flown for six years, and my first
airplane (a Cessna 150) was more than two years in the future.
So after posing with the helmet and cardboard goggles, the
helmet got stuffed into a drawer. A pity, really.
Unlike the joke helmets sold today, it was a quality piece of
gear. Suede-like lambskin, like butter, dyed a light brown
with a hint of olive.
Fast forward five years. I had just joined the Fly Baby
Club, flying Pete's original Fly Baby. Before my first
flight, I told myself...I wasn't going to get into the whole
helmet, goggles, and scarf thing. It was just going to be
another airplane, right?
But then came my the first flight in N500F. My hair nearly
beat me to death, and my eyes (always sensitive) dried up.
I needed goggles...and a helmet.
The goggles were quickly purchased from a local ski shop, but I
dug out that old Banana Republic flying helmet.
A match made in heaven, really. The helmet was very
comfortable, and turned out to be surprisingly durable. I
went though four different sets of goggles, in my seven years of
flying N500F, but the helmet stayed the same. I saw other
helmets for sale, but nothing of the comfort and quality of this
What was amazing was how the helmet weathered. The sun
faded the top of the helmet to a fine tan, but the sides
retained their medium brown/olive tone. So there was this
smooth, beautiful transition between the sides and top of the
N500F went away, there was the 18-month Fly Baby hiatus, then
came Moonraker. Out came the helmet from storage, again.
But... 'Raker had a radio. The old helmet worked OK, just
wearing a headset over it with the ear holes unsnapped.
But, after a bit, I bought an expensive ANL headset. It
really needed headset-to-skin contact to work right.
So...I reluctantly retired my old helmet in favor of one with
the big holes and straps needed to let it be worn with a
The Banana Republic helmet went to the back of the "stuff"
Until last year. My sister-in-law had given me a replica
WWI German flying helmet, and it wasn't (of course) set up to
work with a regular headset. I got the great idea to try
build a headset that would fit UNDER the German helmet...and
succeeded very well.
As last summer wore on, though, there were problems with the
German headset. It was designed to cover a LOT of one's
head, including full, wide straps under the chin. It was
comfortable to wear, but as last summer went to record
temperatures, it was just too hot.
And I remembered my old friend, still stored away. Still
And, with the weather in Seattle turning warm again, still worn
on every flight.