Flight personnel actually constituted a very small branch of the Luftwaffe, numbering no more than about 50,000 men in 1939. This number included highly regarded combat pilots—a tiny, much-publicized minority of fighter “aces,” but also many pilots of less glamorous craft (e.g., seaplanes, gliders, transport, liaison and trainer aircraft), as well as flying crewmen, such as observers, gunners, bombardiers, radio and radar operators.
Aircrews wore the standard Luftwaffe service uniform over which was donned a lightbrown Fliegerschutzanzug (one-piece flight suit) with zip-up pockets. The overall was available in summer and winter weights, and for flight over land or sea. When necessary (e. g., for high altitude or cold weather) it could be electrically heated. In fighter aircraft, where cockpit space was limited, pilots wore a lightweight suit of woven synthetic-silk twill. After April 1941, the overall was replaced by a twopiece flight suit, including a simple jacket and trousers with voluminous pockets for rescue equipment and survival items (e. g., emergency rations, medical kit, and flares). This too existed in summer and winter weights, and for flight over land or sea. Flying suits were completed with various types of thick, heavy gloves with press-stud or buckle-fastened straps, some electrically heated. Pilots of fighter aircraft- particularly famous "aces"-adopted non-issue practical flight uniforms, generally purchased at individual expense. These included elegant flyers' tunics with riding breeches, blouses with fur collar, expensive allleather suits, and short leather jackets (some copied or even captured RAF and USAF items), all with different cut, fastenings, collar, pockets, quality, appearance and color. These were worn only for operational actions; for ceremonies and off-base daily life, the official parade uniform, standard military walking-out suit and service dress were worn.
Footwear for aircrews consisted of fur-lined boots of stout leather with rubber heel and sole. They had full-length steel zips at the inner and outer calf to ease fitting over several layers of clothing, were fastened by buckled straps, and, when necessary, worn with electrically heated socks.
Headgear consisted of a leather or linen flight helmet, in both summer and winter weights, generally fitted with radio earphone (set within rigid leather side panels) and throat microphone, all furnished with plugs and wires for connecting to the board equipment. The soft helmet offered no protection against shocks, flying debris and enemy projectiles, so in 1941 a special aircrew helmet was issued, known as SSK 90. This was made of leather-covered steel plates and its shape resembled that worn by the German paratroopers; rather cumbersome and of limited protection, it was soon discarded. Another crash helmet was designed in late 1944. It was made of leather-covered steel plates, had extra lining layers, double chin strap, and padded comb extending around the top and front. Produced in limited number, this item, known as a "jet helmet," was only used by a few test pilots flying early jet aircraft with experimental, primitive ejection seats. It was, however, a pioneering effort against impact and shock, and had implications for the protection of jet-flying crews after 1945.
All aircrews were equipped with various types of Windschutzbrillen (goggles) with curved lenses enabling optimal vision. Some were tinted against snow glare, searchlight and sunlight. For high-altitude flying, crews were issued with a Höhenatemmaske (oxygen mask) composed of a rubber facepiece (secured to the helmet by two or three elastic or sprung straps), and a ribbed rubber hose connecting to the board system. Airmen were also provided with survival aids. Those operating above sea were issued with a Schwimweste (life vest); these were yellow or bright red to assist rescue operations. The model 10-75A from 1940, derived from a navy design, was made of cotton canvas filled with kapok with a semi-rigid structure. Cumbersome and not totally effective, it was soon replaced by other models (e. g., type SWp 734 or 10-30A), which were more compact, made of soft, proofed cotton duck, pneumatically inflated, and activated by a small compressed air cylinder or a rubber mouth-inflation tube. They also had one-, two-, three- or four-man dinghies stowed in the airplane. The inflatable canoe was equipped with paddles, emergency rations, a medical kit, and possibly one or more kapok-filled sleeping bags. Recognition equipment included a mirror, a dye-marker pouch, a signal flag, a smoke marker, and a flare pistol.
All airmen were equipped with a parachute, either of seat, back, or chest type. The canopy had an average diameter of 7.32 m held by white synthetic weaves, giving an average descent rate of 6.5 m per second. The harness featured webbing risers from the shoulders which kept the center of gravity high for a safe landing. The airman also had a knife to cut himself free of entangled parachute risers and shroud lines.
Each man had a wrist compass and each crew had durable, plasticized-linen navigation maps of the area where they operated. Most of them were armed with a pistol held in a leather holster fixed on the waist-belt.