I've been very fortunate to have some pretty amazing A2 flying jackets over the years, but honestly this is probably the best I've ever had. Amazing artwork, amazing condition, and most importantly, a very rare 'Black Widow' flight jacket.
The P-61 Black Widow was a born and bred night fighter, a shadowy black twin-boom aircraft, with a crew of three, a pilot, radar operator and gunner. This type of aircraft was never produced in the same vast quantities of contemporaries, with only 14 operational squadrons ever put into service, and only for the last 18 months of the war. Most of these squadrons would find their way to the CBI and Pacific theatres with a smaller number flying in Europe and the Med. With such a small number of these planes, and a very select group of pilots flying them, Black Widow A2 jackets are amongst the rarest A2s to find - I've only ever seen photos of a handful.
The 348th Fighter Squadron - the patch on this bomber jacket - was the first unit to receive the aircraft. They were based initially in Florida, later moving to California performing a training role for new aircrews learning how to use their cutting-edge aircraft & technology. The jacket is named to HW McBeth, or to be more precise, Harold William McBeth. McBeth was born in 1920, from Salina Kansas. At school he played sport, being in the 1935 Southwestern Kansas School League Football championship team. He joined the army in Jul 1941, and graduated from the Officers Candidate School the Army's Engineering School, Ft. Belvoir VA. Unfortunately I have only a few details on his wartime service, but he clearly served with the 348th Fighter Squadron, then seems to have stayed with them when it was disbanded and reformed to the 451st Army Air Corps Base Unit as Salinas AAFB CA. I have him there being involved in an air incident flying a UC-64A in December 1944. He was promoted to Captain in August 1944. I'm not sure whether he deployed operationally, more research is needed, but the 348th did have a number of veterans with experience observing night ops with the RAF, or its possible he deployed in 1945.
After the war, McBeth stayed with the Air Force and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1947 when the Air Force separated from the Army. By 1948 he was a Captain and flying P-61s with the 5th Fighter Squadron, 52nd Fighter Group, just before the type was retired from front-line service. Incidentally, he also seems to have flown with the RAF, being involved in a bird-strike whilst flying a Mosquito in 1950! He was promoted to Major in 1952, and eventually retired in 1961. He passed in 2003 and is buried in Dickinson County, Kansas.
The jacket itself is a Star Sportswear AC 28557 42-18245-P, the order for which was issued on the 18th of May of 1942, for 30,000 jackets, and it was the only A-2 contract issued to Star Sportswear Manufacturing Company of Lynn, Massachusetts. This contract used both cowhide and horsehide, and this example is made from the latter. This is actually one of the harder to find contracts, adding a little extra nerdiness to this jacket!
I will include along with the jacket print-outs of the above research, copies of the few images that I have etc. It's available to view here.
This jacket is in amazing shape. Bar a few small holes on the cuffs and waist band, it has absolutely no damage. The jacket is 100% original, with a fully operational Talon zipper, original knits, and original lining, all in great shape. The leather itself is sold, with no damage or cracking, though was with many horsehide pieces of this age is a little stiff. The patch is flaking a touch, and the artwork is cracking slight, through this is in keeping with artwork of its age. I can see no evidence for this jacket having been treated with leather condition, with no residue on the knitwear and nothing lifting off when rubbed gently with a cotton pad. There is still a tag visible in the front left pocket, and it came to me Type D4 computer in the pocket, so this will be included.
PLEASE BE AWARE - As ever with painted back A2s, the leather on this, whilst in excellent condition, is always delicate and fragile. I would strongly recommend against any US wartime shearling or leather being bought for wearing, and I'm selling it as a collectible item.
Size (for reference only)
- Tagged a size 40
- Measurements available on request