AN-J-4 Flight Jacket 

US Army Heritage and Education Center


“Backward Katie” Painted EmblemThe AN-J4 World War II flight jacket was designed for the cold conditions of high altitude flying and used by U.S. military personnel on missions over the European theatre. The jacket is made from sections of vinyl coated shearling lambskin, finished and reinforced with pockets, sleeve panels, and waistbands made from dyed goatskin. This particular jacket belonged to First Lieutenant Robert L. Aston of the 67th Bombardment Squadron 44th Bombardment, Group H, 8th Air Force. Lt. Aston served as a navigator onboard a B-24 Liberator Heavy Bomber. Over the course of his flight career, Lt. Aston flew 35 missions earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster, and an Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters. His jacket had a Walt Disney designed 67Th Squadron patch on the front left breast. A B-24 bomber named "Backward Katie, the Shy Little Lady" dropping a bomb marked with a German Swastika is painted on the back of the bomber jacket.



Before Treatment: Flight Jacket (front)The jacket, now owned by the US Army Heritage and Education Center, was sent to the studios of B.R. Howard & Associates, who were contracted to stabilize and repair the severe damage caused by the deterioration of the shearling leather. Treatment also required that the object be prepared for an up-coming exhibit featuring 67th bomber Squadron which would be highlighted by the visit of Lt. Aston. In preparation of treatment, the flight jacket was thoroughly examined, documented and digitally photographed. Closer examination revealed that the areas of the coat made from shearling leather had sustained the greatest degree of damage; the leather was found to be extremely brittle; the slightest manipulation causing sections of leather to tear and detach from the jacket shell. Conversely, the areas of the coat made of goat skin were stable and remained supple. Tearing along the sewn seams and the leather joining the proper right sleeve to the body of the jacket had resulted in almost complete detachment of the arm. An earlier repair using a clear vinyl surgical tape had caused additional tears in the leather and localized separations of the vinyl coating from the leather substrate. The brown vinyl layer was cracked and creased overall resulting in minor losses in the painted B-24 bomber decoration found on the back of the jacket. The surface of the jacket was covered in dirt, grime, and disfigured by a white haze caused by spewing oils or deterioration of the vinyl coating used to waterproof the jacket.



During Treatment: Inserting LeatherThe exterior of the bomber jacket was carefully cleaned using cotton swabs dampened with petroleum benzine to reduce spewing oil and remove dirt and oily grime. The process was repeated several times to ensure that the majority of the oily residue was removed. The old surgical tape repair was carefully removed and the remaining adhesive left by the tape was reduced using a mixture of toluene and mineral spirits. The detached arm was aligned in its' proper position and secured using reversible heat set fabric, cut into strips, and adhered in a suture-like manner. Areas of missing leather were filled using small sections of vegetable-tanned cowhide. These leather fills were secured onto polyester fabric backing material using the same heat set "sutures". All repairs made to the leather shell were then in-painted using a reversible in-painting palette. Metal components were then cleaned and coated with a bleached microcrystalline wax. Upon completing the stabilization and repair of the artifact, B.R. Howard & Associates on staff textile conservator and mount makers designed and fabricated an exhibit case which incorporated a padded internal support structure and external cavity/pressure mount system. The combination case and mount allowed both sides of the jacket to be viewed and provide the needed support required to safely exhibit the flight jacket and subsequently function as the storage container when not on exhibit.


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