Yet another Navy tradition is under attack and I have not heard so much as an official whisper in its defense. A recent naval directive prohibits wearing more than two embroidered patches on flight jackets: one measly organizational patch and a U.S. flag are now the only patches authorized. As if this were not enough, the directive dictates the exact positioning of the patches, limits the maximum size of all organizational patches to a paltry four-and-one-half inch diameter, and completely outlaws the use of embroidered name tags. What in the name of naval aviation is going on here?
Few things are more closely associated with aviation than the flight jacket-and thanks to the Navy, the decorated flight jacket did not fly off into the sunset when the Army Air Forces' humorless successor outlawed aircraft nose art and all expressions of flight jacket individuality in the immediate post-World War II era.
Navy airmen began decorating their flight jackets during the Korean War. Unlike their Army Air Forces predecessors, who typically leaned toward painted slogans and risque pin-up girls, the Navy airmen used colorful embroidered patches that had great personal meaning. The patches represented the places they visited, the aircraft they flew, the qualifications they earned, the units they served with, and the battles they fought.
The flight jacket covered with patches always has been more than just an article of protective flight gear. It is a Navy airman's heraldry.
It is a widely recognized cultural icon in the civilian world, also. Hollywood actors wore them in many popular films: Hellcats of the Navy, The Bridges of Toko-Ri, and Midway-to name a few. Indeed, the 1986 film Top Gun spawned a boom in replica Navy flight jackets that is still going strong. There is an enthusiastic collector's market for original flight jackets, and it is not unusual to see genuine Navy flight jackets with patches sold for more than $1,000.
Let's not discard another fine Navy tradition for no good reason. Leave our patch-covered flight jackets alone.