Wardrobe Malfunction

(Posted November 2004)

Like many men, I get attached to particular items of clothing.

My wife is always complaining about the age of the shirts in my wardrobe, or the colander-like qualities of the jeans I happen to be wearing.  That I can fondly identify the culprit for each snag in the denim impresses her not; nor is she sympathetic when told that the splashes of paint on the cuff were honorably achieved in household chores.

I'm loath to get rid of these old, comfortable friends.  The least hint of a willingness to part with them usually precipitates the sudden appearance of stacks of itchy new shirts with hidden pins or stiff new pants with crinkly pockets.

Probably the keenest of these friends have been my leather flying jackets.  In over 30 years, I have had only three.  I received my first in about 1969.  It was a B-3 replica (the kind with the broad, fleecy collar).

I don't remember how baggy it was when I was 16, but I was able to wear it almost to my 40th birthday.  A rugged thing, it was, though the wool cuffs and collar got a bit threadbare by the '90s.  Eventually, I replaced it with an A-2 style jacket (A-2s are the "classic" USAAF jacket).  I wasn't really all that happy with it...it had some departures from the A-2 ideal, and the leather seemed a bit delicate.  But I'd needed a new one to have room for sweatshirts underneath for flying in cold weather.

Over the years, I'd taken to keeping the jacket in the trunk of my car so it would be handy if I decided to fly on the spur of the moment.  This also had the effect of keeping it out of my wife's sight...until about a month ago.

I made the mistake of wearing it home after a flight.

"You've got a seam gone in back, and the lining is poking out!" said my wife.  I reached behind.  Yep, she was right.  "The leather is torn all across the sleeves!"  Yes, that rather cheap leather had suffered from various little sharp bits sticking out in the Fly Baby cockpit.  Little pennants of cheap torn leather hung from the arms.

Reluctantly, I agreed it was time for a new jacket. Out came the catalogs, and the order went in for a new A-2.

In the interim, I'd wear another jacket that I'd previously picked up at my company's gift store.  I'd received a gift certificate as an award a few years back, and the leather jacket was the only thing in the company store that caught my eye.  The jacket was cut in the A-2 style, but it was a kind of grayish color and made of some sort of weird leather.  The leather is like, pigskin or something.  It has a very rough, pebbly texture.

As it didn't look authentic, I hadn't planned on using it while flying.  But Sunday, I threw it on and headed to the airport.

In flight, I was a bit pleased with the warmth of the new jacket (something to be said about NOT wearing a coat with the insulation all flattened).  Hanging my elbow out into the slipstream in the best summer manner didn't even produce a noticeable wind-chill.  After 45 minutes of goofing around, I headed back to the barn.

During the fall and winter, I run 100LL through the Continental.  Due to the typical winter weather here, flying opportunities are sometimes rare, and auto gas can get unstable during long in-tank storage.  So after landing, I taxied to the gas pumps at the airport.

I have a couple of bad knees, and getting into and out of my airplane is a bit of a hassle.  The cockpit coaming is vinyl, and runs all the way up to cover the padded headrest.  The vinyl allows me to slide down into the cockpit.  Getting out is tougher; I have to manually position my right leg, then use my left one to shove me upwards, sliding past the vinyl-covered headrest in a sort of racheting motion.  My arms can push upward from the side coaming, but the angle is awkward...I can't get good leverage until I've pushed myself up about two feet or so.

After my flight, then, I swung up to the pumps, killed the mags, pulled off the helmet, and undid the seat belts.  Reach under the panel, grab my right knee, and pull it back.  Brace the left knee, grasp the top of the coaming, and push.

I went up about fifteen inches...and stuck.  I couldn't get any higher.

The rough, pebbled surface of the jacket produced tremendous friction on the vinyl headrest cover.  My left leg pushed me hard backwards as well as upwards, and the rearward force jammed the pigskin coat hard against the vinyl.  My earlier jackets all had very smooth surfaces... they had slid, not stuck.  This time, though, it was like I'd been grabbed by a Shell "No Pilot Strip."

And, of course... this hadn't happened in the semi-privacy in front of my own hangar.  This happened in front of the main airport office, in front of other guys fueling their planes and the typical airport riffraff.  There I was, straining, sputtering, wiggling, and probably buzzing slightly as I tried to overcome the friction.

Finally, I gave up.  Relaxing my leg dropped me back into the cockpit.  It took a couple of tries, but by leaning forward, I was able to delay contact with the headrest and slide the jacket up the canvas seat cover until I could get decent leverage with my arms.


All that pilot training, all those tests and stuff, and no one bothered to tell me about the importance of picking a flight jacket with the proper coefficient of friction..... :-)

Ron Wanttaja

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