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VMAT(AW)-202 / APH-6 Custom Fit set (USMC, end 70's early 80's)


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Greetings everyone !

 

Today I'll be reviewing my latest acquisition, a named APH-6 Custom fitted set (with MS-22001 mask) which belonged to an A-6 pilot, B/N, or instructor of the VMAT(AW)-202 "Double Eagles" during the late 70's to early 80's.

 

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First things first, a little History.

 

VMAT(AW)-202 "Double Eagles" was an USMC all-weather (hence the "AW") attack training and replacement Intruder squadron that was based at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina, sometimes nicknamed the "Intruder College" (or more informal "Double Chickens").
Created in 1968 and disestablished in 1986, the A-6A and E models that equipped this unit throughout its operational history used to show the tailcode "KC".

 

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Aside from the world-renowned Intruder bombers, the -202 also flew some of the rare TC-4C Academe for Bombardier / Navigator (B/N) training, so that the students could become familiar with their instruments and graduate before flying actual A-6s. These Grumman Gulfstream variants were fitted with an Intruder radome, a simulated A-6 cockpit, and four B/N consoles for the trainees.

 

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This APH-6 Custom Fit, most likely made by Sierra, features all the characteristics of this ultimate version of the famous naval helmet as we will see below.

So, despite the lack of back or inner label, it was pretty easy to identify as such.

 

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Some would perhaps venture it could be an APH-6E, but since the E and Custom fitted versions share every key feature except for the USAF form fit liner in the E, honestly I wouldn't be able to tell !... We'll see that in detail later with the shell's internals.
In any case, these were the last of the APH-6 series to be used, serving as transitional models throughout the 70's until the early to mid-80's, when the newest PRK-37 based helmets began to be introduced (HGU-33/P and so on).

 

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The fact that the whole set had been previously referenced on Salimbeti as a late 70's to early 80's APH-6 Custom is a comforting bonus.

 

 

The cool thing about it is that its decoration and equipment datation match perfectly the period during which the -202 planes had their tails painted orange and black.
That "colorful era" displaying 2 successive designs took place circa squadron's middle-life : a white eagle's head at first (approx. 1974 to 1978), then a black squadron's insigna silhouette (approx. 1978 to 1983).

 

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The shell and visor housing feature an almost integral outstanding reflective taping job, matching the iconic dual-tone colors of the squadron's insigna and the tail paintjobs of this period.

It also shows a reflective "202" on each side as well as the corrctly stylised "KC" tailcode, the usual distress strobe velcro square, and a nicely-preserved decal of the insigna given that it's been fixed over the tape (which isn't a very stable and rigid surface, hence a few chips missing).
A discreet embossed label covered with black tape is hidden at the bottom of the back vertical band, revealing the airman's name, "P.ILLEY".

 

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Location of the back nametape.

 

There's a consequent ammount of patina, scratches and rubbing wear, yet both shell and housing remain shiny and almost flawless.
All these combined elements give a lot of character to this eyecatching set.

 

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Externally equipped with HGU-2A/P-type chinstraps and cast bayonets receivers (that replaced the iconic "butterfly" bayonets), the Custom model's shells lack as well the earcups' plastic discs retentions characteristic of the previous A to D variants of the APH-6.

 

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The one-piece dual-visor Sierra Ramshorn housing features the usual smoked and clear visors (in very good condition), and paler blue knobs than the usual Navy Blue I've often encountered (to my knowledge, these paler knobs appeared in the early 80's).

 

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Comparison with an older Navy Blue knob (on the right).
 

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Furthermore, thanks to the label and markings on the housing's inner side, we know for sure that it's a Medium-size helmet.

 

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The inner side of the shell is coated with a 2-part form fit leather-covered liner in remarkable condition, with additional (and removable) foam leather-covered earphone panels on each side.
No edgeroll present, the leather liner overflows the helmet's edges all the way round, and is sewn in place through small gromets pierced in the shell.
As always with APH-6s, the com cord pops out of the helmet by the inner back bottom, not using a side plug attached through the shell like the later PRK-37 variants or USAF helmets.

 

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Detail of the earphones' foam panels.

 

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The oxygen mask is a Medium size silicone MS-22001 manufactured by Sierra, fitted with a glossy hunter-green Gentex Hardman shell, and Sierra T-bayonets.

The time stamp shows 1977-78-79, and the dot pattern indicates a more precise mfg. date of September 1978.

 

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It came named (red embossed label "ILLEY") in very good condition, almost complete with low-pressure REDAR hose (dated 2nd quarter 1977), mic, com cord and plugs.
Sadly, the O² connector to the plane is missing... (if I'm not mistaken, according to my searches the Intruder / Prowler didn't feature the MC3-A and needed a specific MS27796 3-pin connector assembly for their seat-mounted pressure regulator). Any information on this subject would be helpful :) (perhaps I'll complete it some day if I find the correct spare part).

 

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This is it folks !
Any comment or opinion will, as always, be gladly appreciated.


Hope you enjoyed the share.
Cheers ;) - Vark_07

 

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That is a great looking helmet for sure!! 
 

Not sure, but the audio hook-up on the helmet doesn’t look right for an A-6E. Possibly correct for an A-6A. 
 

“No edgeroll present, the leather liner overflows the helmet's edges all the way round, and is sewn in place through small gromets pierced in the shell.”

 

I don’t quite understand the no edgeroll statement here. Looks like there is an edgeroll present to me. Maybe I am not understanding your statement. 
 

Love that helmet very nice. 
 

Chris

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Very interesting helmet, nice tape job.  The comm system on it is very confusing but the Navy doesn't seem to make their comm setups easy having like 6 or so different setups with different plugs too.  Weird that cable would just come out and be between the nape of your head and the liner itself, Id think that was annoying.   I do see edge roll present, maybe you are confusing the terms edge roll and the thinner rubber type edge beading?  Not too keen on the A-6/EA-6 setups but I thought they used the mini regulators on the ends of their masks such as CRU-79 and have a REDAR hose for the seat interface vs a MC-3A etc or the 3pin bayonet type fitting.  Those would be on newer chest mounted regulators to my knowledge.  Hink you probably know all in that department with time around A-6s

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Thank you for the kind comments gentlemen, much appreciated !

 

 

10 minutes ago, hink441 said:

I don’t quite understand the no edgeroll statement here. Looks like there is an edgeroll present to me.

Yeah, I understand I didn't express myself correctly, sorry about that Chris😅.
I was meaning no separate or disctinct edgeroll, made of another material, say, like the ones we see on HGU-2A/Ps or early APH-6s for instance if you get my drift, since the black leather pieces that overflow the shell's edges -that technically constitute some kind of an edgeroll- are connected (glued or sewn ?) under the poured liner's leather, so it looks more like a "whole" to me than a separate edgeroll. That was the meaning of my statement.

As for the audio cables / plugs, they're basically the same as the ones present on my 1971 APH-6C, if it can help.

But according to the multiple examples shown on that page, this appears to look totally legit for APH-6 Custom fit.

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7 minutes ago, mohawkALSE said:

Not too keen on the A-6/EA-6 setups but I thought they used the mini regulators on the ends of their masks such as CRU-79 and have a REDAR hose for the seat interface vs a MC-3A etc or the 3pin bayonet type fitting.  Those would be on newer chest mounted regulators to my knowledge.  Hink you probably know all in that department with time around A-6s

Interesting intel, mohawALSE, thanks ! If it's confirmed, that would definitely be very helpful for a potential spare part purchase.

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Excellent helmet.

 I loved the tutorial and photo album that went along with it.

 Awesome presentation!!!

 

Semper Fi

Phil

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That's very kind of you, Bradford & Phil.

I do appreciate your feedbacks about the pleasure you took reading the text, makes me feel if was worth the effort ;).

As a Frenchman I try my best, but sometimes -as Hink pointed out- my statements (or vocabulary) can be a tad approximate and misunderstood !...


 

22 hours ago, hink441 said:

Not sure, but the audio hook-up on the helmet doesn’t look right for an A-6E. Possibly correct for an A-6A.

That would be totally plausible, for the Double Eagles flew A models till the end, alongside with their more recent E models. But I still wonder if the modifications made on A/B/C Intruders that lead to the E concerned the communications besides the main upgrades (AN/APQ-148 multi-mode radar, computers, and inertial navigation systems).
On a side note, it occured to me that the E models that were used in this squadron were the early E's (1970-1979), for no TRAM Intruder (nor TC-4C fitted with the TRAM turret) of the -202 showed up during my searches.
I'll try to search for A-6E crewmen's helmets from other units (even PRK-37 based shells), perhaps the pictures will reveal something worthy about the communication used on the E's that could be related to my helmet (or not).

As for the 0² connector case, I've found these charts that could be of interest.

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Funny... Saw it & sent the link to a friend. 
 

Nice shell but definitely TOO PRICEY for an incomplete set, CRU/REDAR missing. 
 

 

Up in the air, playing with clouds, the stratosphere is my own house...

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17 hours ago, Ultra Hog said:

Nice shell but definitely TOO PRICEY for an incomplete set, CRU/REDAR missing.

Hey, un compatriote ;) !! J'imagine en effet que vous l'aviez vu aux enchères françaises, si vous furetez régulièrement à la recherche de casques.

 

Indeed, the auction took up through the roof on the last seconds, but nevertheless I was ready to pay more for this one... 😅 don't ask me why, gut feeling, but I wanted it bad (decal, terrific tape job, all the squadron ID on it). You know, price is a subjective matter when it comes to collecting things ^^.
I do not mind much about the missing O² connector / mini regulator, for the set was already in the same condition some time ago when it was referenced on that website. I would have been concerned if it had been stripped of the missing elements on purpose by the seller after picture comparison (I had such a disappointment with another of my helmets), but this was not the case here. And in the end, the fact that it inculdes both mask and shell named after the same airman was an excellent surprise (auction pictures didn't show the shell's nametape), so that's satisfying enough to me.

 

 

5 hours ago, mohawkALSE said:

Does that lack a nape strap and pad too?

That's a normal thing here, since a lot of APH-6 Custom Fit did not feature a nape strap.

On my shell, there are no holes where the two nape strap retention screws would have been placed. If you look at the back shell's pictures, you'll see however that there's one hole close to the centerline : this one was meant for an optional external communication cable retention to avoid the discomfort of the cable going down the nape you pointed out earlier ; but since such retention was not fitted to my shell, a screw was put to close the hole properly.

 

Saw some nape straps on APH-6Es and other Custom Fitted though (these ones featuring the 2 usual side holes and screws), as well as back / side external com cable ports through the shell (unlike mine that just comes out between the liner and "edgeroll"), and tiny other variations that looked to be common on this latest version ; so from what I've seen, there's no "standard" configuration about these custom shells.

Again, this web page stands as a picture reference to me, showcasing various configurations indeed.

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On 11/30/2020 at 12:56 PM, Vark_07 said:

On a side note, it occured to me that the E models that were used in this squadron were the early E's (1970-1979), for no TRAM Intruder (nor TC-4C fitted with the TRAM turret) of the -202 showed up during my searches.
I'll try to search for A-6E crewmen's helmets from other units (even PRK-37 based shells), perhaps the pictures will reveal something worthy about the communication used on the E's that could be related to my helmet (or not).

 

This is the interface plug on the rear of my circa mid 80's VA-65 / Fighting Tigers HGU-43/P. VA-65 was flying TRAM Intruders at the time. This helmet belonged to a B/N as it is equipped with the EEK-3/P laser protection visor. (I'll share this very cool helmet in it's own thread soon.)
 

 

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