1957 USAF F-104 HIGH ALTITUDE GEAR 

  

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High altitude coveralls were close-fitting garments designed for emergency and long-term use in bomber, fighter and reconnaissance aircrafts as e.g. B-36/ B-57/ B-58, F-104 and U-2, in order to provide emergency ("get down") protection to almost unlimited altitudes.

Operational in 1957, the David C. Clark Company of Worcester, Massachusetts, developed the Model MC-3 suit as a replacement for the earlier MC-1, itself designed as a replacement for the S-2 suit. 

Made of a combination nylon and cotton fabric and providing a great improvement over previous suits, the MC-3 used a combination of the then-common "capstan" system, and an innovative full-torso bladder around the vital organs, extending from the shoulders to the middle of the thigh.

In the event of depressurization, pressure is applied to the body through two capstans – fabric covered rubber tubes extending along the side of the arms, torso and legs. These tubes are connected to the suit by crossing tapes. When the tubes are inflated, they act on the tapes as pneumatic levers, drawing the fabric tight, thus protecting the pilot's body against the swelling caused by the low air pressure at high altitude. This would give the pilot time to descent to a safer, lower altitude.

 

The suit came in 12 sizes, with fine adjustments made possible by laces throughout the suit.

 

The MC-4 began life as an MC-3 with an integral G-suit. However, the designers took the opportunity to modify the suit closures to increase comfort and mobility, primarily by deleting the shoulder zipper in favor of more lacing. These improvements were also implemented to the MC-3, then designed as MC-3/A.

The MC-3A, was identical to the MC-4/A without the G-suit, including the vertical shoulder lacing and adjustable break lines. It contains a full torso bladder extending from the shoulder to mid-thigh, surrounding the chest, abdomen and hips, and passing through the crotch.

Therefore, although used on TAC and ADC fighters, the MC-3A was more suitable for bomber and HI-ALT aircraft as the U-2; the MC-4/A optimized for fighter type aircraft.

If required, the suit was worn with a CMU-1/P cooling "waistcoat" and under a protective garment. The latter could be colourful, in order to facilitate the finding of a downed pilot, or green for overflights over hostile territory.

The MC-3/3A and MC-4/4A suits used a pressure regulator built into a seat kit used as a seat cushion in the airplane. This replaced both previous on-aircraft and suit regulators. Under normal operations, the regulator pressurized the suit and helmet using the aircraft oxygen supply.

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In case of ejection, the source switched to a 6-minute reserve bottle(s) built into the seat kit itself, with the switchover taking 5–9 seconds. Operation was completely automatic, providing appropriate breathing and counter pressure up to 70,000 feet.

 

The only controls were an on-off switch and a pressure gauge, along with the press-to-test button that inflated the suit to 6 psi and the helmet to 60 mm Hg for a few seconds.

The MC-3A suit was also used during a number of high altitude experiment as the balloon ascent "Project Manhigh", with the aim to investigate the effects of simulated space travel on humans.

Three USAF pilots—Capt. Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., Lt. Clifton M. McClure, and Maj. David G. Simmons—were selected for the Manhigh flights. Into their balloon gondola, they wore slightly modified MC-3A (S836) in case of sudden pressure loss.

 

Kittinger flew the first flight, Manhigh I, on June 2, 1957, and reached 96,784 feet. Simons reached 101,516 feet on August 19–20, 1957, on Manhigh II. The last flight, Manhigh III, was flown by McClure on October 8, 1958, and reached 98,097 feet.

In the pictures, we tried (…the combo as usual worn by an "improbable" model…) to represent what an F-104 or U-2 pilot might have looked like in 1957/1958:

ILC Dover MA-2 helmet, David Clark MC-3/A (S687) partial pressure suit, Berger Brothers MG-1 pressurized leather gloves, 1948 Pattern combat boot; ejection seat spurs.

COVERALLS, HIGH ALTITUDE , TYPE MC-3/A  (S687)

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MC-3A
MC-3A

The pneumatic connections of capstan and torso bladder.The bladder extends from the shoulder to mid-thigh, surrounding the chest, abdomen and hips, and pass through the crotch.

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MC-3A
MC-3A

Detail of a capstan tube installation. These tubes are connected to the suit by crossing tapes. When the tubes are inflated, they act on the tapes as pneumatic levers, drawing the fabric tight.

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MC-3A
MC-3A

Detail of the "TALON" zip slider.

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MC-3A
MC-3A

The pneumatic connections of capstan and torso bladder.The bladder extends from the shoulder to mid-thigh, surrounding the chest, abdomen and hips, and pass through the crotch.

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HELMET, FLYING, HIGH ALTITUDE, TYPE MA-2

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Manufactured by the International Latex Corporation (ILC) Dover, featured a number of improvements over its predecessor, the K-1:

  • Fiberglass shell painted white in order to increase heat reflection;

  • High pressure, small diameter, reinforced oxygen hose;

  • A visor which incorporates a 24-volt heating circuit, fitted with in flight drinking/ feeding port;

  • Improved defogging system;

  • A longer neckpiece that covers the upper chest and shoulder areas;

  • Snap fasteners to prevent the neckpiece from pulling out of the suit;

  • A deeper neck seal;

  • A three-way stretch cloth insert in the neckpiece to increase head mobility;

  • An in-turned bladder;

  • Improved microphone.

       More on MA-2 HERE

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GLOVES, FLYING, PRESSURIZED, HIGH ALTITUDE, TYPE MG-1

Both suit manufacturers provided also the pressurized gloves but with different configurations: Berger Brother gloves were all leather; David Clark Company used leather palms and nylon backs with lacing adjustments.

The gloves had the pressure lead on the thumb side, using positive-lock bayonet connections.

Both designed to provide counter pressure to the hands, consisted of:

 

  • An outer leather/ fabric shell,

  • An inner bladder,

  • A cuff, and

  • A pressurizing tube.

 

The bladder covers the top of the wearer's hand from the wrist to the fingertips, connected by means of a positive locking needle connector to the altitude suit.

Pressure equal to breathing pressure inflates the bladder, drawing the relatively non-stretch leather/ fabric tightly against the palm.

Available in 12 sizes, The MG-1 was not interchangeable with the earlier MCG-1 glove due to relocated and modified connections.

BERGER BROTHERS ,G-1 PRESSURIZED GLOVES
BERGER BROTHERS ,G-1 PRESSURIZED GLOVES

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BERGER BROTHERS ,G-1 PRESSURIZED GLOVES
BERGER BROTHERS ,G-1 PRESSURIZED GLOVES

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BERGER BROTHERS ,G-1 PRESSURIZED GLOVES
BERGER BROTHERS ,G-1 PRESSURIZED GLOVES

The positive locking needle that connects the pressurized glove to the pneumatic system of the suit.

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BERGER BROTHERS ,G-1 PRESSURIZED GLOVES
BERGER BROTHERS ,G-1 PRESSURIZED GLOVES

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BOOTS, SERVICE, COMBAT, RUSSET M1948  

According the USAF 1958 "Guide to aircrew personal and aircraft installed equipment", at the time specific boots for wear with the MC-3/4A were under development. Due to this, until their availability, regular GI boots or jump boots could be worn.

Although pictures from the period show different types of footwear being worn, including work boots, the below extract of the manual identifies the applicable model. 

"Boot, Combat, Service, Mildew Resistant"

"This combat boot is used by aircrewmen as a flight boot from the intermediate through high temperature ranges, 40° F and above. The boot integrates with all standard flying clothing and may be used with the partial pressure suits. The item is a 10-inch high black leather boot including:

 

a. A semi-hard capped toe;

b. A raised diamond tread rubber sole;

d. A rubber whole heel with bevelled breast corners, and is full laced from the blucher opening to the top.

The combat boot is not interchangeable with any other standard boot, but it is similar in design and appearance to the currently issued Air Police boot.

 

The publication of the new TA-1-21 will make the combat boot available to all flying personnel as an issue item.

A long range program is in effect to improve the leather in the boot, to improve the design, and to develop a new last".

COMBAT BOOT, 1948 PATTERN
COMBAT BOOT, 1948 PATTERN

Black leather version of the M1948 Russet Combat Boot, introduced in mid-1950s.

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COMBAT BOOT, 1948 PATTERN
COMBAT BOOT, 1948 PATTERN

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COMBAT BOOT, 1948 PATTERN
COMBAT BOOT, 1948 PATTERN

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COMBAT BOOT, 1948 PATTERN
COMBAT BOOT, 1948 PATTERN

Black leather version of the M1948 Russet Combat Boot, introduced in mid-1950s.

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SPURS  

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Starfighter, U-2 and other pilots wore boot "spurs".

 

These spurs, strapped to their boots, - see above - prevented leg injuries during downwards (as early '104 C-1 bang seats) and upwards (later C-2 ones) ejections.

 

The spurs were connected to cables that would automatically pull and hold their feet against the ejection seat during an ejection.