A bomber jacket is a leather or nylon jacket with two front pockets, sometimes with sheepskin lining, and a zippered front. The waist and cuffs may be made of elasticized material. The initial version was a heavy weight leather jacket, specifically designed for pilots who conducted bombing raids. Cockpits were not airtight, and early pilots often flew at elevations where it could be uncomfortably cold. The first ones were called flight jackets, and were produced by both the British and American Air Force.
In 1926, Leslie Irvin made the first sheepskin bomber jacket, supplying these comfortably warm jackets to the Royal Air Force in England through WWII. American manufacturers made the garment in several styles. Today, the one most widely collected is the A-2 design, first made in 1927. Available in either black or brown leather, it was usually lined with silk.
Pilots who had finished basic flight training were given an A-2 bomber jacket, and even though after 1942, other jackets normally made of nylon were designed for the military pilot, the leather version never went out of style. Pilots continued to wear them, and often handed them down to their sons. Also, many soldiers who were not pilots loved the suave look of the garment, inspiring several small companies to make and sell them.
The A-2 bomber jacket provided some warmth, but not enough for gunners and other flight crew. Usually only the pilots wore them while other flight crew wore sheepskin-lined jackets, since they were most exposed to the elements. Hence those people who actually dropped bombs might not wear a true bomber jacket.
When the A-2 style was discontinued by the Air Force, many were disappointed. Also a little jealousy existed because pilots of the Navy continued to wear leather jackets, while Air Force pilots were forced to switch to nylon fabric. This led to years of lobbying to return the more popular leather style, which was ultimately successful in 1988. New A-2 leather jackets were issued to pilots and remain a part of the pilot uniform.
Fashion has frequently copied the A-2 and other styles like it in either leather or fabric. Women’s bomber jackets in bright colors became popular for a time in the 1980s. For most people who enjoy these jackets, getting their hands on a real A-2 is a main goal. You can occasionally find these in thrift stores, and now eBay is the common place to look for them. You should note that you may not be getting a real A-2 bomber jacket, but instead one of those made for non-pilots in England or America.