When it comes to flight suits


SidCot suit
Photo courtesy of blueswallowaircraft.com

Flight Suit throughout History

A pilot’s in flight clothing has come a long way since the first aircrafts were developed. Earlier planes with open cockpits made it quite mandatory for pilots to wear warm clothing. Plus, the need for multiple pockets with closures was also apparent.

During WWI, several flight jackets were developed that were specially made of leather due to its durability and protection. Eventually, the “Sidcot suit” was introduced. Developed by Australian aviator Sidney Cotton, this suit presented a great solution for pilots to stay warm in the cockpit. While flying in cold temperatures, and not being bothered by the cold, Cotton concluded that when he was wearing his oily overalls, the oil was sealing the fabric and would trap a layer a warm air next to his body. So he asked a tailor to make a special flight suit for him, made of a light Burburry material with a lining of thin fur and air-proof silk together with fur cuffs and neck.

Once registered, this suit was worn extensively by the Royal Air Force until the 1950s. During their epic transatlantic flight in 1919, Alcock and Brown would have also worn such suits.

Electrically heated suits were later introduced by Lion Apparel and General Electric, which allowed for high altitude flying. When pressurized cabins first made their entrance, the need for warm flight suits and bulky jackets began to fade.

However, the need for a fire retardant jacket was there, which is why the US Navy came up with a jacket made of either wool or tight weave cotton for wind resistance and fire protection. A similar jacket was also used by the US Army Air Corps, which was called the AN-S-31 flight suit.

What Pilots are Wearing Today

There are several companies selling flight suits. Stephan/H, based in Canada, is a new company selling helicopter flight suits made by and for helicopter pilots. The Stephan/H brand is for those who demand quality and comfort and are looking for clothes that are both professional and technical.


Nowadays, most helicopter pilots are wearing a Nomex suit since it is lightweight and fire resistant. It also has great strength and performs at high temperatures, is resistant to excoriation and has excellent dimensional stability.

When looking for a flight suit, most helicopter pilots are looking not only for protection, but also for comfort. Nomex is known to be comfortable, practical, flame resistant, breathable, and offers much protection, which makes it a good choice for a helicopter pilot.

Wilfred Sweeny, a scientist that worked for DuPont Corporation, developed Nomex fiber. While he was working on a polymer scouting program, he was trying to develop a crystalline, high-melting polymer fiber, but eventually found a way to make a high molecular weight product that could be spun into a tough crystallizable fiber that had outstanding thermal and non-flammable properties.  (Source: http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/sweeny.html)

Some companies also offer different type of suits, such as a standard 6 ounce suit, or a lighter version that is more breathable and more suitable for summer time. The suit usually has multiple pockets for specific gear, including a clear plastic pocket on the lap designed to hold a flight path.

For additional protection against fire and cold weather, there is also the Nomex Thinsulate flight suit. This suit also has a fire-resistant Nomex outer shell, as well as a Thinsulate lining for added warmth.

Nomex has also been broadly used by In the U.S. space program. Good examples are the Thermal Mocrometeoroid Garment, as well as the ACES pressure suit.


Other flight suits for helicopter pilots are made of poly-cotton, which also offers adequate protection, but would not be as good as the Nomex suit when it comes to fire protection.

Pilots’ flight outfits changed a lot throughout the history, especially due to technological advances. Whereas a leather jacket was common in the early 1900’s, the Nomex flight suit now seems to have become the norm. 



Nomex Polyester Cotton
-Nomex doesn’t have a melting point-Nomex does not shrink and will decompose above 450°-Slowly ignites.

-Three times more durable than Poly/Cotton

-Fabric burn test: Nomex greater than 3 minutes to ignite (the test conducted stop at 180 second mark)

-Resist chemicals very well

-Lighter and cooler than poly/cotton.

-Polyester melts at around 180-280°-Polyester melts, shrink and softens-Polyester; ignites easily

-Not as durable as Nomex Fabric burn test: Poly/Cotton; ignited in 16 seconds

-Doesn’t resist chemicals as well as Nomex

Warmer than Nomex.

-Cotton decomposes above 220°-Cotton ignites slowly-Not as durable as Nomex


ROTORNATION would like to know what you think….

Do you prefer poly-cotton, Nomex, or others?

Do you always wear the same suit or do you change, depending on weather?

Do you wish there were more colors and designs available?



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