Some pieces are just pleasure to have in the office, and this is definitely amongst those. Quite simply an absolutely unique and iconic piece, but more excitingly, the earliest known example of an N-2B. Some time ago a friend told me that with test samples, details of the jacket are not the only thing to examine and consider important, but also understanding why would they be making the test sample jacket. So let me unpack a few things for you.
The first known contract for the N-2B was made by Rolen Sportswear in 1957, but examining the jacket there are some really big differences. Firstly the tag. We're all familiar with Test Sample tags, but there are a number of iterations. This version with "Air Materiel Command" across the bottom was used from around 1947-54 - The Aero Medical Laboratory was actually moved out of Air Materiel Command and into e Air Research and Development Command in 1951, and it seems surplus labels were used for a couple of years, sometimes even being folded over. Unfortunately later labels with "Clothing Branch" were available on rolls at military shows in the mid 1990s, and a lot were sewn into standard jackets so there are a lot of 'fakes' around.
The second thing to look at is the pattern - there is at least one key item different from the Rolen N-2B, noticeably around the neck. On the Rolen version a small patch of fur has been attached to the inside of wind-flap to stop rubbing on the face & neck - this is missing on this jacket and also on the earlier N-2A jacket (the pattern of this jacket is basically an N-2A). The details are also very different, the main zipper is an early 50s style Talon which never went into production, the press studs are painted black and not sage, and the hood zip is a Crown which would later change to a Conmar. These details, particularly the Talon and black studs all feature on the 1953-54 sage nylon test samples.
The next thing to examine is the context. As a result of lessons learnt in Korea the USAF started introducing sage nylon jackets in 53, the first MA-1 contract is 1953 for example. It makes sense that the Air Force also tested the N-2 pattern. Whilst the first production contract for jackets may not be until 1957, there was a specification written in 1953 for MIL-J-6278A, and the matching pants MIL-T-6283A were produced that year. It makes sense that the Air Force made a prototype in 1953 but never went into production, maybe production because the war in Korea was winding down and they had surplus stocks of the N-2A.
More interestingly with this jacket is the stamp on the lining 'PROP OF AMEL, DEPT OF NAVY'. AMEL is the acronym for Naval Aero Medical Equipment Lab. The only references I can find with this particular name come from a NASA book on the history of the pressure suit, and dates from 1951-54 - again likely this was renamed at some point. It seems the Air Force handed one of their test samples to the Navy for testing.
Adding all this together and I'm very confident in saying this piece is from around 1953, a test sample for an un-produced MIL-J-6278A specification. As far as I know, the only example of it's type, and the earliest known example of a N-2B.
This arrived with me in rough shape and I've taken very great pains to delicately restore this to it's former glory. The cuffs have been replaced with deadstock USAF originals, the buttons replaced with deadstock sage green originals, and the hood zipper painstakingly replaced the rails with an 1950s crown originals (lifted from a 1954 flight suit) that matches the colour and style, plus I've put the original zipper pull back on. This has all been done through original stitching lines (where possible) using original USAF sage green nylon thread. Plus I've give it a very delicate clean. The only issue is a slight fraying to the zipper tape near the male pin, but if used carefully this shouldn't be an issue. She's now in great shape, though given the rarity that this is a collection piece and not a regular wearer.
- No tag, but fits a modern medium/large
- Pit to pit 24"
- Collar to hem 23"
- Sleeve length (approx due to raglan) 25"