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1919-1941 vintage pilot wings


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#1 pfrost

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 05:45 PM

I have wanted to start a thread on wings used from 1919 to around 1941. Lacking the beauty and romance of WWI pattern wings, and the wide and relatively easy availability of WWII vintage wings, this time (IMHO) really represents some of the greatest challenges to wing collecting.

The U.S. Army Air Service from 24 May 1918–July 2, 1926. (note, much of this information was gleaned from Wikipedia). By the end of November 1918, the Air Service consisted of 185 flying, 44 construction, 114 supply, 11 replacement, and 150 spruce production squadrons; 86 balloon companies; six balloon group headquarters; 15 construction companies; 55 photographic sections; and a few miscellaneous units. Its personnel strength was 19,189 officers and 178,149 enlisted men. Its aircraft inventory consisted primarily of Curtiss JN-4 trainers, de Havilland DH-4B scout planes, SE-5 and Spad S.XIII fighters, and Martin MB-1 bombers.

However, drastic demobilization of the USAAS was accomplished within a year. By November 22, 1919, the Air Service had been reduced to one construction, one replacement, and 22 flying squadrons; 32 balloon companies; 15 photographic sections; and 1,168 officers and 8,428 enlisted men. The combat strength of the Air Service was only four pursuit and four bombardment squadrons. Although the leaders of the reorganized Air Service persuaded the General Staff to increase the combat strength to 20 squadrons by 1923, the balloon force was deactivated, including dirigibles, and personnel shrank even further, to just 880 officers. By July 1924, the Air Service inventory was 457 observation planes, 55 bombers, 78 pursuit planes, and 8 attack aircraft, with trainers to make the total number 754.

Through most of the late 20's and into the early days prior to WWII, the U.S. Army Air Corps from 2 July 1926–June 20, 1941 continued to decline in number despite congressional authorization to carry out a five-year expansion program. The lack of funding caused the beginning of the five-year expansion program to be delayed until 1 July 1927. The goal eventually adopted was 1,800 airplanes with 1,650 officers and 15,000 enlisted men, to be reached in regular increments over a five-year period. But even this modest increase never came about because adequate funds were never appropriated in the budget and the coming of the Great Depression forced reductions in pay and modernization.

Throughout this time period, the US only had the ability to train around 500-1000 new pilots a year. Thus, it is clear that from 1919 to just about 1939 or so, much of the US military aviation was simply a shadow of its WWI peak and only a dream of its WWII glory. Because of this, it is also easy to imagine how rare insignia are from this period. I wanted to start a thread with some wings from my collection that I believe are from the period just after WWI and just before WWII. This is a time period that I have always had an interest in, and so I try to keep my eyes open for wings that I suspect are from this period. To do so, I have made a few assumptions and liberties based on my "research" of wings to establish a criteria that I like to use (it is only my criteria and I am sure worthy of scorn but....at least it is a place to start) First, since the number of pilots during this time period was so low, it is reasonable to assume that these wings will be rather rare (for example, some patterns are simply to common for me to really believe that they were used in the pre-WWII time frame). Second, the patterns should compare well with other wing ratings (such as Airship/Balloon) wings that were pretty much ONLY used during this time period. Third, I look for patterns and hallmarks that seemed to be available during the inter-war period.

After WWI, for some reason lost in antiquity, some bright bulb decided that the wonderful wings worn by aviators were no longer "appropriate" and following of the "Rules of Heraldry" and took off both the "US" and any artistic merit and deemed that the Charles Adam's design of wing was to be officially proscribed. Thus, the Adams style wing was adopted. To start the thread, I want to post a photo of a pilot wearing a WWI vintage stiff collar uniform but with the Charles Adams style wing clearly being worn.

I bought this photo at a flea market and at the table was also a wing. To be fair, the person did not know if the wing and photo were "together" but I do believe that this is a 20's vintage Robbins style wing and that more than likely the are actually the same as in the photo. Still, one has to be true to the collection, as they say.

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  • pilot20s.jpg


#2 pfrost

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 05:47 PM

Here are the wings.

Also, as a plug, you can visit my webpage where I have posted a number of WWI and pre-WWII wings: http://pfrost.bol.ucla.edu/02.html

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  • wingpict1.jpg


#3 pfrost

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 05:48 PM

The back, showing the Robbins hallmark. Again, I suspect that these are a very early pair of wings. In person, the wings are rather heavy and solid. Also, it has been suggested to me by a well known "wing king" that one way to tell early pre-WWII wing is that the little spaces between the lines on the shield are usually smooth. When one looks at a WWII vintage wing, you typically (but not always) see small fine lines in this area. This wing does not have the fine lines.

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  • wingpict2.jpg

Edited by pfrost, 23 June 2009 - 05:49 PM.


#4 pfrost

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 05:52 PM

Still, the previous wing is not as early as I believe this wing to be. In hand, this wing is MASSIVE. With a massive WWI style pin and catch. Everything about this wing says 1919 to me. IMHO, this is most likely a wing that was made right after the new regulations were adopted. This is a composite of scans trying to capture the whole effect of this wing. The close up of the shield shows what I was trying to describe. Note the lack of fine lines.

Attached Images

  • 1920_wing.jpg

Edited by pfrost, 23 June 2009 - 05:52 PM.


#5 pfrost

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 06:00 PM

This is a rather new addition to the collection. It is a Kinney Co wing. I believe that Kinney Co only made wings pre-WWII. Likely from the late 1920's into the mid 1930's or so. They made an airship wing and a balloon wing, as well as pilot and observer wing. They also made some early USN wings. Interestingly, this pattern of wing is very close in feathering to the Blackinton wings (and also Pasquali wings). I am not sure if Blackinton were making wings pre WWII, but I suspect they likely were. It seems that the Blackinton (and the Luxenberg pattern that they made) were also made will into WWII. So, I guess there is room for some academic discussion on the whole Blackinton/Pasqauli/Kinney Co axis of wing patterns. Who came first, who survived into WWII and who stole what from whom? Perhaps Blackinton provided stock to Pasquali and Kinney Co? In any case, I feel that this wing is likely a 1930's vintage wing.

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  • frostkinneyaafpilotbcklg.jpg
  • frostkinneyaafpilotfrtlg.jpg


#6 pfrost

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 06:06 PM

Nice posting Patrick, but the fellow seems to show a bit of disdain for the new wings in his ethereal smirk...and rightly so compared to the elegance of the original WW1 style. Although the beginnings of a rather mundane pattern, these have always held a certain vestige of "hesitant reverence" in my eyes as they were the first example of a much larger expansion in variances of the same design. Although it is probably not possible to say that the wing and the one shown in the photo are one in the same, I think the chance of a 1919 pattern and a photo of the same style showing up in the same location at the same time is pretty slim (unless a prior collector married the two of course).


To answer your question, I paid 1 dollar for the photo and 15 dollars for the wing....so, I never felt that they were "married" for reasons to enhance their appeal. But, you never know.

Next wing:

This is what I call the "hairy-feather wing" wing....because it looks like the wing has hair. Duh!

This pattern seems to be a rather common pattern and is used on both pilot wings and balloon wings. Lots of fake balloon wings have been made with this pattern. I have found that you have to very carefully study the quality of the "hairy-feathers". In fact, I believe that at least 2 or 3 variations of pilot wing exist in this pattern with different shaped shields. Also, you can find them with a variety of catches (this one is a "C" catch, but I have seen them with the locking style catch as well. A well known dealer once told me that he was pretty sure that these wings are were made by W Link Co. I am not so sure of that, but it is possible, and a good place to start.

Attached Images

  • WWI_pilot7.jpg


#7 pfrost

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 06:10 PM

Of the wings, I think that the only post-WWI pre-WWII pilot wings that could even enter into the same ballpark of WWI wings are the 1920's bullion variations. This is a nice photo dated from around 1926 showing a guy wearing a nice pair of bullion wings. It should be noted that even before the "blue combat backing" of wings seen in England, black backing of bullion wings was common during the 20's and 30's. I am lucky to have this guys wings, but to be honest, I have seen much better. Still, beggars can not be that choosy I guess.

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  • post_1519_1224710719.jpg


#8 pfrost

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 06:14 PM

Here is another interesting post-WWI bullion wing. I am convinced it is a period bullion wing, that likely dates to just after WWI. It shows the similar traits of a WWI bullion wing, but lacks the US. Still, with bullion, it is sometimes a crap shoot in deciding if it is good or not. I always liked this wing, but when I show it to the "boys" (my group of wing collecting friends) not all agree it is actually a good one. But, what do they know? :rolleyes: In my opinion, this is a wing that may have been made by someone who was making WWI pilots wing and simply left off the US to be "regulation".

Bullion work is one of those things, you either love it or leave it....

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  • WWI_pilot3.jpg


#9 pfrost

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 06:19 PM

I know a few of you out there believe that the USAAC was the only group of dashing flying pilots, but the USN also had its group of aviators. USN wings are rather hard to date, beyond the general "with berries, WWII, no berries, pre WWII" rule. However, I have had "berry-less" wings from groupings of USN pilots who were trained in 1945. Still, I do have a few wings that I am mostly sure are pre-WWI.

This is my crown jewel of USN wings. In my heart, I believe it to be a 1918-1920s pattern wing. No hallmark, "C" catch, beautiful feathering. Not pierced around the shield and anchor.

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  • navy_WWI.jpg


#10 pfrost

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 06:21 PM

This is what I suspect to be a nice 1930's wing. It is a rather unique pattern that I have not frequently seen. It has very fine feathering, no berries, but has piercing around the shield and anchor. Also, the almost triangular shape of the shield is usually attributed to earlier USN wings. Finally, the hinge and catch are typically of what I see with the earlier AMCRAFT wings.

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  • navy_early30s.jpg

Edited by pfrost, 23 June 2009 - 06:22 PM.


#11 pfrost

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 06:25 PM

A couple more. A small 2 inch Kinney Co USN pilot wing. Again, likely from the late 20's to mid 1930's (IMHO), and what I believe is a transitional preWWII-WWII Robbins wing. The Robbins wing has both attributes of early wings and later wings. Case in point, the "berries" in the shoulder are actually more feather like than berry like. I suspect that this was maybe a very early 1940's vintage USN wing. Also, it has a classic "top loading" catch that you see in earlier wings.

Attached Images

  • navy_pilot1inch.jpg
  • navy_earlyrobbins.jpg

Edited by pfrost, 23 June 2009 - 06:43 PM.


#12 pfrost

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 06:29 PM

A few more for the evening....

This is a NS Meyer wing pattern that I believe was used prior to WWII. Perhaps it was also used into WWII as well. This pattern of wing was also used by NSM with their observer, balloon and airship series. I have seen some early versions of this wing with the "C" catch as well. This particular wing may not be pre-war, but the pattern is (IMHO)

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  • pilot_meyer2.jpg


#13 pfrost

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 06:31 PM

AMCRAFT is another maker of wings that seemed to be active in the late 30's. There is a family of AMCRAFT wings using what I call the "high shoulder" and starburst backs in the command, senior, pilot and observer pattern. Also the balloon series. I think that these wings are all from the late 1930's. These all tend to be silver plated brass and have unique hinge and pin combinations.

First the command and senior pilots wings.

Attached Images

  • pilot_amcraft_starburst1.jpg
  • pilot_amcraft_starburst2.jpg

Edited by pfrost, 23 June 2009 - 06:32 PM.


#14 pfrost

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 06:35 PM

The pilot wings.

As an interesting aside, at one of the ASMIC meetings about 15 years ago or so, someone from Hawaii had brought in a shoe-box FILLED with these wings as old-new stock. He was selling them for $9.99 each. I bought as many as I could and know a few others who did the same.

Lets see what other people have to share. As I said, this is an interesting field of wing collecting.

Attached Images

  • pilot_amcraft_starburst3.jpg

Edited by pfrost, 23 June 2009 - 06:36 PM.


#15 John Cooper

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 08:21 PM

Patrick,

Great thread for a not often discussed time frame. I have had an interest in this area ever since I picked up an Adam's designed wing of his 1919 design.

I am looking forward to seeing more wings but equally important are the photos since they tie it all togeter for me. My hope is to see photos, wings and insignia from the post war Air Service, Air Corps, GHQ Air Force. I guess per your post the timeline should stop with the creation of the Army Air Force under AR 95-5 20 June 1941.

I have some wings I will need to share that I feel belong to this period and a few that may be part...

Cheers
John

BTW I :love: the photo in post #1. I bet that say FROM OFFICAL DIE on the reverse ;) I also must add the wing in post #4 since that is a beauty. Not that the other are not just they speak to me :thumbsup:

#16 pfrost

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 07:56 AM

Here is another wing. Some people believe that the silver USN wings are actually the "type II" USN observer wing that was supposedly authorized for only a few years in the 1920's. I am not so sure that it is true that these wings are USN observer wings. They never appear to have been gold plated.

They are very similar to the early WWI-1920's style USN wing, with no berries, triangular shield and lack of piercing around the anchor/shield. So, based on that, I suspect that they are a 1920-1930's vintage wing.

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  • silvernavy.jpg


#17 John Cooper

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 03:58 PM

Here is a 1919 wing which I was very lucky to obtain and which pushed may interest back from 1941 to 1919 :D What is interesting is that this had four loops attached. In my mind this was done to have the wing sewn on which seems most logical.

Enjoy
John


http://img141.imageshack.us/img141/4336/19194.jpg

http://img141.imageshack.us/img141/3682/19193y.jpg

Edited by John Cooper, 24 June 2009 - 04:02 PM.


#18 Paul S

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 06:17 PM

I like this topic and started a similar one a few weeks ago. Maybe useful to combine them since there are some good pictures there also?

1930's wings

#19 John Cooper

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 07:59 PM

Paul,

The limitation with combining the posts prevents me from doing so. The problem is they remain in the order posted so it would cause a problem with the current thread.

Feel free to repost if you do not mind :)

John

#20 pfrost

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Posted 25 June 2009 - 10:09 AM

This is a GEMSCO pattern wing (one of at least two different patterns--three if you follow the John Cooper School of Gemsco Products :lol: --inside joke). I have always felt that this particular Adams pattern GEMESCO wing is likely a late 1930's to the very early WWII vintage wing.

The other GEMSCO wing is something that I think is likely an early-mid war pattern and is for comparison. In fact, this wing is sometimes seen with a "S" added to it, suggesting that the pattern was likely used to make the service, glider, and liaison wings before individual dies were cut for these rating.

Attached Images

  • pilot_gemsco.jpg
  • pilot_gemsco2.jpg


#21 pfrost

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Posted 25 June 2009 - 10:14 AM

Here is a 1919 wing which I was very lucky to obtain and which pushed may interest back from 1941 to 1919 :D What is interesting is that this had four loops attached. In my mind this was done to have the wing sewn on which seems most logical.

Enjoy
John
http://img141.imageshack.us/img141/4336/19194.jpg

http://img141.imageshack.us/img141/3682/19193y.jpg


Nice wing.
BTW, do you know what the store is behind the marking "From official dies"? Where these Government issued wings from Government owned dies?

Patrick

#22 John Cooper

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Posted 25 June 2009 - 07:34 PM

Patrick,

I do not have an answer for you but I will offer my best guess.

I think that the Air Service wanted to standardize the insignia. Whatever company made them may have been required to mark them as such or simply put that on there as proof that it was the "approved" design.

Now as for the design itself we may never know all the details but the those in charge of the Air Service must have submitted something to the General Staff for approval which eventually took the form of what we now know as the "Adam's" design which was pictured in National Geographic and Col. Wyllie's book from 1919.

Cheers
John

#23 pfrost

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Posted 26 June 2009 - 11:15 AM

It is hard to tell if this is a pre-war or war time photo, but I am kind of leaning towards war time. That would indicate that this wing was worn into the 1940's. Interestingly, this pattern is typically seen as a 1920's-1930's wing. I don't have one in my collection to show, but the photo is pretty clear.

Normally, I would not have any issues with placing this wing into that time period of the late 30's. Interestingly, I think this indicates that there was a fair amount of overlap, with older patterns being worn later into the war.

BTW here is a link to Bob's site illustrating this particular wing pattern.

http://www.ww2wings....rpilot30s.shtml

I believe have seen this wing with the Orber hallmark (usually in an arc), as well as with a plain unmarked back as well as with a starburst pattern. It is my understand that this wing has been frequently faked.

Patrick

Attached Images

  • orberpilot.jpg

Edited by pfrost, 26 June 2009 - 11:38 AM.


#24 CliffP

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Posted 26 June 2009 - 02:40 PM

It is hard to tell if this is a pre-war or war time photo, but I am kind of leaning towards war time. That would indicate that this wing was worn into the 1940's. Interestingly, this pattern is typically seen as a 1920's-1930's wing.

Patrick


Patrick,

About ten years ago I began to suspect that this particular wing badge does not date back beyond 1939. :wacko:

On 30 August 1940 every graduate of Class 1940-E, Air Corps Advanced Flying School, Kelly Field, Texas received one of these badges. Colonel Charles A. Polansky, Jr., USAF (Ret) was a member of that class and I have his badge which he gave me eight years ago. See the scans. It has the standard waffle-back pattern normally found on the back; it is not made of sterling silver; there is no back mark, and the pin pivots a full 180 degrees.

Adding to that for what ever it may be worth, several years ago I came across a book called, Air Corps Advanced Flying School, 68th Air Base (Special) Stockton California, 1941. All of the flying cadets are pictured in the book, but before graduation; therefore, none can be seen wearing wings; however, several of the officers assigned to the base are pictured wearing theirs. Not all of the wings worn by those officers are clearly visible but of the 49 officers (many of whom were young second lieutenants) wearing wings that were clearly visible, 21 were wearing this same pattern wing badge. Oh, and three of the higher ranking officers were wearing one with a star attached above it.

Cliff

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  • A1_badge.jpg


#25 Paul S

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Posted 26 June 2009 - 04:38 PM

This may help pin the date of the wing. Lt. Col. George Y. Jumper (1913-1990) was the second Air Exec of the 447th BG and later, in August 1944, became the CO of the 385th BG. This picture is from the 447th unit book published in 1946. The picture probably dates to 1943-44 and shows him in the company of a number of other senior officers of the 447th.

Keep in mind that the "senior" officers were "old men" in their early to mid 30's who, most likely took their flight training in the mid to late 1930's. Other senior men pictured with him are wearing a variety of wings, including several bullion varieties that have a more WWI spread feather look to them.

Appears to me that this wing might have been something of a fashion statement, perhaps favored by those aviators having a bit more experience than the flood of newcomers from the Cadet programs. Col. Jumper, then 31, with his neatly trimmed mustache, could have been a stand-in for Ronald Coleman.

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  • Col._George_Y._Jumper_447_385__Large_.JPG



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