Friday, January 28, 2011

Wings of World War II

Before the United States became involved in the Second World War, the US Army Air Corps published specifications of the various badges or “wings” for those serving in military aircraft. Each wing was to be no more than three inches from tip to tip and made of sterling silver (although many are simply silver plated and others were made of bronze and some in gold). Various manufacturers throughout the US made these wings by following the simple description of design issued for each by the War Department. Here are a few of the nearly 250 wings from the Virginia Aviation Museum collection.

Pilot Wings
Pilot wings were described by the War Department as “The shield of the United States of America without stars in the shield at the center of the wings”.
Senior Pilot Wings
The Senior Pilot wings look the same as the Pilot wings but with a star over the shield. These wings were given to pilots who had given five years of service and at least 1,500 hours in flight.

Women’s Air Service Pilot Wings
Also known as WASPs, the Women’s Air Service Pilot wings were issued to women who served as pilots in non-combat missions. Things wings have a small diamond shaped center and are considered to be highly rare.

Glider Pilot Wings
While being a pilot in WWII was a dangerous job, being a glider pilot was often considered even more so as the Glider Pilot flew unarmed aircraft of supplies and troops behind enemy lines. These wings are rare as there were only 6,000 glider pilots during the war and consist of “the letter G in clear relief against a horizontally lined background on the outline of the shield of the United States”.

Liaison Pilot WingsThe Liaison pilot acted as an observer and assisted in delivering medical aid, aircraft, and weaponry. This badge has an "L" in the center of the shield and the person who bore it often flew smaller aircraft such as Piper Cubs.

Air Crew Wings
This is a very common badge from the WWII era. It was issued after fifteen combat flight hours to those in a great variety of positions including aerial gunners, crew chiefs, radio operators and others who were a part of an aircraft’s flight crew. This badge consists of “the coat of arms of the United States in clear relief against horizontally lined back-ground on a disk with a raised rim”.

There are a great many more wings including Flight Surgeon wings, Aerial Gunner wings, and Air Transport Command wings, just to name a few. As a result of the many companies that manufactured wings during the war, there are slight variations in each: shield sizes will vary, as does the amount of detail on the feather of the wings.

Do you have any WWII era wings that need identifying? Post a comment below and I’ll do my best to determine what you have.


Ned Byrne said...

Great post. Are they on desplay?

Sarah Lanigan said...

Thank you, Ned! Yes, a few of the wings shown in this post are on display at the Virginia Aviation Museum as well as earlier wings from WWI. Also, at the Science Museum we have US Air Mail wings currently on display in the west hallway.

Pete Johnson said...

I have a set of wings that I belive are from WWII. The emblem looks like the air crew wings, but they have a star above them like the senior pilot wings. They are sterling silver and are pin back. Can you tell me what they are?

Pete Johnson

Sarah Lanigan said...

Hello Pete,

It sounds like your wings are a Senior Air Crew member's wings. The person who owned those wings most likely was a flight crew member and worked as a radio operator, aerial gunner or other position on the aircraft. The star above the emblem of the United States coat of arms means that the person had served for at least 5 years and 1,500 flight hours.

Thank you for your question!

susanne said...

I'm looking for a symbol/logo to get a tattoo of to represent my grandpa that just passed. He was a load master in the air force from 1956-1959, so the WWII era crew member symbol w/ the wings I don't think would fit...can you help me???? Please???