Anespides.net

Aviation Wings - Military and Civil

 

 

 

Introduction
Wing Job Specifics (USAAF)
Construction Styles and Materials
Commonwealth Wings
Die Struck Wings
Clasps and Pins
Hallmarks and Maker Marks
Wing Sizes
Wings Made From Cloth
Sterling Silver
Other Wings
Reproductions
Lost Wax Castings
Is My Wing Real or Fake?
Cloth Wings, UV Light and Stitching
N. S. Meyer Re-Struck Wings
Numbered Wings and Dating Your Wing
Wings Over Korea
Sweetheart Wings
Reference Material and Further Information
Displaying Your Wings
Preservation of Your Wings
Wings and Their Stories
Disclaimer
Wing Examples

Introduction

Nothing symbolises a flying person more than his or her pair of wings, whether the wing be constructed from cloth, plastic or metal.  A wing identifies a person as a individual trained in airmanship to a specific level of expertise, and is usually awarded to the trainee pilot on successful completion of their exams and first solo flight. 

Most individuals awarded a pair of wings cherish them as they represent an accomplishment or milestone in the person's life.   It's this human involvement and sense of accomplishment, encapsulating: adventure, excitement and romance that creates a portal into the golden years of aviation, that sparks an interest to collect aviation wings.

Aviator wings are symbolic of a specific job performed by an individual; the style of wing indicating which job.  The US Army Airforce (USAAF or AAF) during the Second World War required wings to be produced for several standard aircrew functions: pilot, engineer, air gunner, navigator, bombardier and observer.  Sub variants of these wings were also produced to be issued to: glider pilots, balloon pilots, liaison pilots, technical observers, flight nurses and flight surgeons.  Furthermore, a number of wings denoting flight hours were produced: command pilot, senior pilot, senior balloon pilot and flying instructor. 

In addition to the USAAF, aviator wings were also produced for the US Navy (USN), US Marine Corps (USMC), various civilian pilot training agencies (such as Air Transport Command - ATC) and military auxiliaries such as Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and Women's Army Service Corps (WASP).  The later two being formally made auxiliaries to the USAAF late in the war.

NOTE:  In the following text I frequently use the word period item.  This word is frequently used by collectors to distinguish an item produced between 1939 and 1945.  The term golden years is used to define the period roughly between 1920 and 1935 for military wings and the period up to 1960 for civilian aviator wings.  The word hallmark and maker mark have the same meaning.

This page has sub-web pages with examples of wings from my collection.  I’ve attempted to display a good cross section of wing types and manufacture.

LEFT:  Army Airforce officer in dress greens wearing pilot wing.  

Although this site predominately deals with US military wings , civilian aviators are no less trained and dedicated.  Flying before the introduction of computers, satellites and GPS was often hazardous, and flight crews were highly trained and experienced.  As I have only recently begun to collect civilian wings from the "golden period" of aviation (pre 1960), therefore, I have but a few examples to display.

Wing Job Specifics (USAAF)

As mentioned above, the Americans produced several wing variants dependent upon the aviator's job description. I have provided basic information on some the more common wings below.

 

NAVIGATOR WING

Navigator wings were awarded upon completion of the aerial navigation course. The device in the centre of the wing is an ancient astronomical instrument called a armillary sphere. The wing designation was established 4 September, 1942

BOMBARDIER WING

Awarded following completion of the rated course. The wing designation was established 4 September 1942 and discontinued 16 July 1949.

OBSERVER WING

Award of this wing is more convoluted than other American wings; the wing changed name and the designation was also altered during the course of the war. Pre 1943 this wing was called the combat observer wing and post 1943 the aircraft observe wingr. The two groups are distinguished by:

Group A (pre 1943): Eligibility for the O wing was given to experienced individuals who already had the rating of: pilot, senior pilot, command pilot or balloon pilot. In addition, aerial marksmanship, gunnery and certification by the officer commanding were required. Recipients had to meet one of the following:

Group B (post 1943): Eligibility was completion of the course for bombardier, navigator, night fighter or flight engineer with a minimum of 50 hours flight time in a combat zone.

The observer wing was rarely worn; individuals preferring to favour the wearing of their rating wing (pilot, senior pilot, etc). The wing was established 14 October 1921 and discontinued 26 July 1949.

The observer wing was also issued to bombardiers before the execution of the bombardier rated wing on 4 September 1942.

TECHNICAL OBSERVER WING

Established in 1942, the T wing was awarded to commissioned officers rated as pilots, senior pilots, command pilots and balloon pilots with appropriate experience could apply for technical observation duty which might include evaluation of crew performance, equipment, air tactics and the like.

FLIGHT NURSE WING

Established 15 December 1943, this wing was issued to nurses who served with C-47 evacuation units. The wing was gold coloured, however, this colour was altered to silver after 12 September 1944. The N wing only came in a 2 inch variation.

FLIGHT ENGINEER WING

Established 19 June 1945, individuals served as a Chief Aircraft Technician. When not performing this role in the air, they doubled as gunner and bomber crew.

GLIDER PILOT WING

Awarded to individuals who completed a course in advanced glider training. Established 4 September 1942. Personnel awarded this wing were mostly staff sergeants, although rated pilots could also be double qualified after minimum requirements were completed.

SERVICE PILOT WING

The S wing was established 4 September 1942. This wing was issued to civilian pilots who had appropriate flying experience, however, were too old to enlist in the regular USAAF. Typical assignments included ferrying aircraft, cargo logistics, flight instruction. A senior service wing was issued to pilots with over 1500 hours of military flying.

AERIAL GUNNER WING

Established 29 April 1943, this wing was awarded to individuals who had completed the 6 weeks aerial gunnery course. The wing was discontinued 26 July 1949. The center of the wing depicts a flying bullet with wings.

AIRCREW WING

Established 4 September 1942 and originally issued to air gunners (until 29 April 1943), radio operators, photographers and other crew members.

Construction, Styles and Materials

Material that was used for wing construction varied during the Second World War and was dependant on available resources.

Between the world wars, wings are often manufactured from brass, bronze, and in some very rare cases iron.  Later on, the brass was silver plated.

After the beginning of World War Two, brass and other metals became very valuable and were allocated for armaments manufacture.  As such numerous metal alloys (mixtures of different metal types often called pot metal) were most often used.  These metals were then silver plated (frosted).  Many companies used sterling silver, as this material was not listed as “an essential war material” by the authorities.  

Wings made using sterling silver were stamped on the rear with the words "sterling" denoting that the wing was made from sterling silver or part thereof.  

It should be noted, however, that wings made under contract in Commonwealth countries, were usually made from brass with silver plate (frost).  No wings were made from lead or plastic.

Studying the varied selection of US wings, it becomes apparent that many wings are similar in design.  A base wing is often produced and the centre point then added.  

It’s quite common for the wing parts to be mixed.  For example, observer wings with a shield attached to an O (letter o) section of the wing, or a flying bomb attached to alter a observer wing to an air gunner or bombardier wing.  In most cases this alteration to the wing was professionally done.  In some cases it’s possible to find the base wing produced by a company and so marked, and the centre portion to be produced by another company – although this combination is slightly more uncommon. 

As the war progressed, and the ranks within the air force swelled, more wings were required.  Often old stocks of wings were used and centre designation (shield, flying bomb, bullet, etc) is added along with whatever style of pin assembly was available at the time.  

Commonwealth Wings

American wings were predominately made from metal, although embroidered cloth wings sewn onto a khaki-coloured backing material, and bullion wings, were also worn.

Countries in the Commonwealth such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain and South Africa also produced wings for their aviators, however, these wings were manufactured for the most part from cloth - not metal.  Furthermore, the wing designations differed slightly from the American system.  There are various different styles of Commonwealth wing design and construction depending upon the date of manufacture and which company produced the wing.  

This article will not attempt to address the variances of cloth wing design because once this information is published, counterfeiters will use the information to rectify the many mistakes they currently have made. Die Struck Wings

Most wings were due struck (made from a quality mould) before and during the war.  Die struck wings were never perfect and their edges usually have the remnants of the metal used to construct the wing.  This can easily be seen using a geology eye glass or loop (usually).  Wings reproduced using modern laser technology are very clean in appearance and lack this metal remnant along the leasing edge of the wing; the edge looks very sharp and clean.  A notable exception to the above is the construction methodology used in the CBI theatre of operations.  In this theatre, artisans occasionally used sand moulds to produce metal wings.  A sand mould produces very poorly defined wings in comparison to die struck wings (See lost wax castings section).

Clasps and Pins

Two clasp types were used to adhere the wings to a uniform; a straight clip with a roller type catch (pin-back) and a 2 prong clip with a push stud (clutch).  Both styles were used during the Second World War, although the later was exclusively used on wings post World War Two.  There are several designs of pin-back attachments and with experience and knowledge it's possible to identify whether your wing is pre war, early war or late war based on the pin assembly.   For instance, pre-war wings often had a straight U-pin and no roller closure catch.  The catch on these wings was usually a half moon design with the straight pin pushed home to the rear of the wing and secured into the half moon catch.  It’s possible that an early period pin assembly has been used with late period wing.

LEFT:  Navigator proudly wears navigator wings on dress uniform

Pins and clutches (sharp spikes with the two brass locking devices) on early period wings were attached using solder.  Careful examination at the base of the pins where they join the wing will show you a small pool of solder; many examples look a little rough, and in comparison to modern manufacturing would probably fail quality assurance (QA).  

Wings that were made later in the war used an electro-soldering technique and do not have the pool of solder; there edges are much smoother and more finely finished.  A wing that has had the pin attached by this later technique is not necessarily a reproduction, but rather a late war wing, or maybe a late 1940's manufacture.  

Be wary if the area around the base of the clutch has a super-fine finish and the solder join is non detectable, as this may indicate a current wing re-strike.  Likewise, pins and clutches attached with the aid of araldite glue are not indicative of war time construction techniques and should be avoided.  On the subject of clutch back pin assemblies -  usually the "spikes" are slightly raised above the wing's surface by a circular pad beneath the spike.  On nearly all reproductions this circular pad is not apparent.

Hallmarks and Maker Marks

The issue of hallmarks and maker marks can be complicated, and this excerpt is in no way intended to be comprehensive.

A hallmark is a company maker mark stamped (incised) into the wing or in raised lettering.  Often the hallmark will be a company motif or maybe just plain lettering, or a combination.   Not all wings have hallmarks.

A common hallmark is only the word “sterling”.  The location of the word is varied and can be either straight or at a slight angle to the edge of the wing.  The motif was commonly placed in the shield region, but not always.  For example, Amico manufactured wings place their motif on the actual winglet and not in the central shield region (although examples exist with the motto stamped into the shield or wing centre piece).  

LEFT: Hallmark and sterling mark in raised letters for Amcraft, Mass.

Wings designed for the US Navy and US Marine Corps often had in addition to their hallmark an indication of the sterling or gold content in the wing (i.e. 1/20th).  Sterling content marks were very rarely stamped into Army Air Corps wings.  The exception to this rule being the Army Air Corps flight surgeon and flight nurse wings.

There were tens of American companies given contracts to produce wings during the Second World War.  Additionally, there were also foreign companies outside the USA -  in England, Australia, India and New Zealand, who were also given contracts.  Many of these companies produced exquisite and interesting hallmark designs and motifs.  Often the perceived value of a wing parallels the hallmark design and the rarity of the wing from that maker.  “A wing is not just a wing”.

Wing Sizes

Wings can be found in three sizes.  The standard 3 inch length to be worn on the uniform blouse or outer jacket, a 2 inch size worn on the shirt and a 1 inch size worn on the forage cap (side cap).  The smaller sized wings were often given to wives and girlfriends as keepsakes and forget-me-nots.

The size of cloth wings for Commonwealth countries differed from that of the US.  But, for the most part cloth wings were around 3 inches in length.

Wings Made From Cloth

In addition to metal construction, wings were also made of bullion and cloth.  Cloth wings were adhered to A2 flight jackets whilst bullion wings were a variant that arose during the war and were predominately worn on the dress uniform.  Bullion wings were very popular with aviators in the China Burma and India (CBI) theatre of operations.

Although the US Army Airforce commissioned thousands of wings during the war, other nations also required wings for their flyers.  The British, South African, Norwegian, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Airforce produced wings only from cloth during the war.  Wing designations were somewhat different to the American system and wing variants are common.  

Sterling Silver

It’s a common misconception that all wings produced during World War Two were made from and stamped sterling.  Whilst true for the most part, wings that did not contain any sterling content were left unmarked.  

Do not disregard a wing just because it is not stamped, nor manufactured from sterling.  There are many wings that are genuine issue and not marked with a sterling or other hallmark. 

It’s very uncommon to find a wing that is made from sterling silver and not marked as such (accidents did occur when sterling wings were unstamped, but this is not the norm and examples very rare). 

In contrast there are many reproduction wings stamped sterling and not made from sterling silver.  The reason these reproduction wings are stamped sterling is in an attempt to make the wing appear more valuable, collectable and more in-line with authentic examples.

Other Wings

For the most part, people associate wings with pilots and aircraft.  However, aircrew (flight crew) were also a vital component and wings designating their role were produced.  In addition to these flight crews, were the ground personnel that either maintained the aircraft, ferried the aircraft from the US to the Theatre of Operations, or entered combat via an aircraft or glider (paratroopers, glider assault troops and glider pilots).  Specialist wings have been struck for these individuals, and as with pilot wings, there are different styles and variants manufactured by US companies and other Commonwealth countries (Australia, England, Canada, India, New Zealand).

Reproductions

As with everything antique-like there are reproductions, and collectors must be vigilant in what they purchase and who they purchase from.  Several war-time wing styles have been replicated to varying degrees of accuracy and quality.  Some reproductions are very poorly struck, however, there are wings that have been stuck using lasers and their quality and workmanship is actually better than the original wing.  

The word sterling often appears on reproduction wings, but not always.  This is because a large number of World War Two issue wings were made from sterling silver.  There is also a perception that sterling wings are more valuable and as such command higher prices.  This perception is incorrect as the amount of actual silver used in the manufacturing process is very minimal - If you want to invest in rare metals, buy resource shares - not wings!   Any dealer who states that sterling wings are more valuable because of their metal content is only attempting to maximise their financial return!

Regarding hallmarks, reproduction wings often do not have the correct hallmark for the wing style and maker name.  Do not purchase wings that have raised hallmarks that appear to have been glued onto the wing or added post production.  An exception to this rule is some of the Australian made USAAF period wings (i.e. Wallace Bishop).  If your wing has a stamped hallmark, inspect the front of the wing for any damage.  If the hallmark was stamped post construction, there is often damage to the front of the wing where the individual has hit the die stamp a little too hard.  

The process of reproducing a wing with a raised hallmark is a more difficult than stamping the wing with a die, which is why many reproduction wings are stamped (incised).  

Whilst discussing raised sterling marks, it’s not correct to assume a wing with a raised sterling mark is a period wing, especially if the some of the other attributes are failing (N.S. Meyer re-strikes).

LEFT:  Dr. Patrick Frost with an uncommon pair of wings discovered at a local Los Angeles flee market - are they real or fake?  Judging by the "evil" smile I can assume they are genuine!

Be wary of that aged patina look.  An item made last week can very easily be scratched by shaking it in a box of nails.  Likewise, the patina can be chemically enhanced.  Placing a wing in a cup of urine with coffee also makes a nice patina!  Frequently a wing will look blotched when given a “false patina” as the chemicals do not consistently affect the complete wing.

By now it should be apparent that a certain amount of skill is required to identify a well made reproduction.  Basic common sense, a little sound knowledge, and working logically using the process of elimination will steer you away from many of the more common reproductions.

The most important rule to never break is "if you are not 100% happy with the wing, don't buy it"

Often you will come across individuals who state that a box of wings have just been uncovered at such and such an air base.  They will unequivocally state that the story is true and invite you to purchase a wing or two.  Be very careful as although this does occur from time to time, it certainly does not occur on a regular basis.  Be very skeptical and keep an open mind before you part with your AMEX card or hard cash.

Lost Wax Castings

The fledgling collector must be observant for lost wax castings made from an authentic period wing.  The process used to produce a reproduction from an original is as follows.

An insignia is placed in rubber and vulcanized forming a rubber mold, which is then split in two along the edges to allow the original to be removed. Molten wax is then forced under pressure into the rubber mold, forming a positive relief, wax model reproduction of the original insignia.  Historically, the wax replica was roughly 2% smaller, however new types of rubber result in exact size reproduction.

The wax model is mounted in a steel casing and heated plaster poured in around the wax. The high temperature plaster (1200-1300 F) melts the wax (lost wax casting) leaving a cavity of the wing.

Molten brass, silver or gold is then forced into this cavity under pressure. When the mold cools to about 800 degrees F it is dropped into cold water which causes the plaster to break away from the metal interior.  The reproduction is removed, cleaned and polished with an appropriate pin assembly attached.

If this process is done well, it is extremely difficult to identify the reproduction from the original and impossible from a few feet away.  However, with the aid of a 10X magnifying loop the telltale casting effects can easily be observed if you know what to look for. 

Two signs of a casted wing are:  The rear of the wing will appear sand-like (fine-grained similar to beach sand), and there will be a unevenly defined line running along the wing’s edge.   A die strike (original) will have an even line and what looks like cut marks all around the edge at about the same location.

Ii's common knowledge that cast wings are often indicative of wings made in the China Burma India Theatre of Operations (CBI).  Whilst this is occasionally true, I am not suggesting that every sand cast wing is a CBI wing.  Inspect any wing that is cast very carefully and treat the authenticity of such a wing dubious unless other information is known.  Most well-made cast wings are reproductions.  An exception is some of the Australian made wings such as those produced by Wallace Bishop in Brisbane; some of these wings were cast made and look quite sloppy in appearance when compared to a well struck US made wing (there are several other features to indicate authenticity with these wings). 

Is My Wing Real or Fake?

So how do you know whether your wing is real or fake?  Inspect closely any wings that are known to be made during the war period and note the subtle differences.  Compare known originals with known reproductions.  Only purchase wings that match the originals, unless you know the providence or trust the seller of wing.  The best way to learn is to talk with other people who are experienced in this field and to handle as many original wings as possible.  If you don’t know other collectors, then check the web as there are some excellent wing sites with lots of pictures. 

Although I do purchase wings from e-bay and flee stalls, the vast majority of my wings have been obtained directly from the estate of deceased aviators or from their next of kin.  There’s absolutely no better way to ensure you have a genuine wing than to have obtained it directly from the original recipient!  

Finally, everyone will claim to be an expert.  But remember the seller is making money from your purchase, therefore, they maybe telling you what you want to hear.  ONLY deal with reputable dealers.  Frequently you know just as much as the next person.

Ultimately, with experience you will be able to gauge a wing's authenticity by its look and feel.  Inspect and handle as many wings as possible to gain insight into how a genuine wing feels in relation to a reproduction.  

Cloth Wings, UV Light and Stitching

If your interest lies in World War Two cloth wings then a vital piece of equipment you need to own is an ultra violet light.  Cloth wings and other shoulder patches prior to 1945 were always made from cotton material and never made from nylon.  Nylon was introduced post 1945 to aid in the strength and durability of material; it's also cheaper.  If your "genuine World War Two" wing "glows" under UV light then you have a post war reproduction.

All commonwealth cloth wings have been replicated, and a UV light is recommended to ensure you are obtaining a period item.  All cloth used post 1950's will glow under ultra violet light.  Beware of people who tell you a wing was removed from a uniform and always  examine the rear of a cloth wing.  Take note of the size stitching holes, distance between the holes, and threads left on the wing from the original garment.  Zig-zag (double diagonal) stitching was not used during the Second World War.  Any cloth exhibiting this style of stitching is not a period wing.  It's important to realise that there are thousands of non genuine cloth wings on the market today (2006).  

Be especially wary and only purchase from a reputable dealer until you have some sound knowledge in this specialist area.  No matter how good you are with cloth wings, you are bound to be "burnt" at some stage as some of the reproductions are almost identical to the real McCoy.

Please note, that Royal Air Corps and Australian Flying Corps (RFC & AFC) cloth wings are exceptionally rare, and the chances of finding an original wing is very remote (especially on e-bay). 

N. S. Meyer Re-Struck Wings

The N. S. Meyer company of New York had been producing aviation wings and other metal insignia for several years before the outbreak of World War Two, and continues to produce insignia for today's military services.  

The original dies used to strike Meyer wings before and during World War Two were not destroyed at the end of hostilities and wings have been made from the original dies since.  These wings are usually sold as reproductions or restruck wings.  In fact, probably 70% of Meyer wings available today are reproductions or wings made post war.  So what are the hallmarks of an original Meyer wing?  

99% of Meyer wings have a stopped pin that opens between 30 and 70 degrees.  If your wing opens all the way then that is a bad sign (note that this is only for N. S. Meyer wings).  Generally speaking, in addition to the to pin, period made Meyer wings are marked with the company name and address (N. S. MEYER, INC NEW YORK), triangular shield, and have the sterling mark raised.  All the hallmarks may not always be present in every instance, nor in the same location on the wing.  The hallmarks are always crisp and sharp and never (or very rarely) soft and undefined.

Meyer re-strikes have a sand-cast look on the rear of the wing and have slightly raised edges for the placement of the hook and catch (pin assembly).  Reproductions rarely have all the attributes of a period wing, however, there are period Meyer wings that exhibit variants of re-struck wings (i.e. navigator wing  below).  

Take a close look at your wing and check the attributes to ensure that everything is correct.

I recently purchased a flight surgeon wing with a raised sterling mark (only hallmark) which for all purposes appeared to be a period made wing (Figure 1).  However, on closer examination the wing proved to be post World War Two manufacturer.  

How did I know this

Firstly, the wing was a N. S. Meyer style wing and I am always wary with N.S. Meyer wings as they have been restruck post war many times. Second, the pin opens all the way flat to the wing (a bad sign - part way opening pin is more conducive to a period wing with Meyer styles). Thirdly, the detail in the snake motif is poorly defined and the metal in this area is quite smooth to look at, and finally, the area where the pin assembly is attached to the rear of the wing is very crisp and looks very much like an electronic weld (too crisp in my opinion).

Personally, unless I know the providence of a Meyer wing, I stay away from them.  There are too many manufacturing variants and too many post war copies / re-strikes of this wing style to be absolutely sure a Meyer wing is 100%  pre 1945 issue.

 

 

LEFT:    Flight surgeon wing.  This wing is a reproduction using a re-struck N. S. Meyer wing (97% certainty). The wing's overall appearance is very good and for the fledgling collector the raised sterling mark may suggest a genuine issue wing. It should be noted that many flight surgeon wings have been reproduced using old observer O wings and having the medical insignia attached to the wing with glue.

 

 

 

 

LEFT: Navigator and observer wing. The navigator wing (upper image) is an authentic World War Two navigator wing (obtained from the veteran's family - a navigator who few B-17's out of England). 

 

 

The observer wing is a known reproduction.

 

 

 

 

 

LEFT: Note the Meyer shield, raised sterling mark and 60-70 degree opening pin.  Most of the authentic period Meyer wings have the shield, address, sterling mark and a 70 degree opening pin (or at least 3 out of 4 attributes).  These wings are one of several Meyer variants in which the above is not strictly correct.

The observer wing below the navigator wing is a REPRODUCTION Meyer observer wing.  The pin opens all the way flat to the wing, the sterling stamp is recessed (stamped) into the wing and there is no address or Meyer name.  If you look carefully the Meyer shield is present, however, the shield is recessed and very faint. Note the grainy sand cast appearance. 

Many people attribute a 70/90 degree opening pin to being a period manufactured wing.  Note that the reproduction observer wing has a 90 degree opening pin.  The pin alone is not enough evidence to indicate a period manufactured wing.  In contrast, the navigator wing (top wing) has a raised sterling mark, a raised shield with a 70 degree opening pin, but no Meyer name or address.  Although not every attribute is present in this wing (namely the address), it is an authentic period wing as it was bought directly from a veteran.

Vertical Lines

Occasionally you come across a Meyer wing which has two small, raised vertical lines either side of the clutch pin. These lines are used as guides during the manufacturing process allowing greater accuracy when attaching (soldering) the rear pin assembly or clutch pins.  Another guide mark observed is a raised circle.

The existence of these lines is a clear indicator that the wing is a genuine wing and not a re-strike. However, the presence of guidelines does not provide information to whether the wing is period or post war.

Numbered Wings and Dating Your Wing

Some of the following information was provided by John Vargas and Joe Weinberg and may help illuminate the providence for alpha number code designations.  Unfortunately, there is some discrepancy in relation to the dating of numbers often found on the rear of wings.  I’ve spoken to a number of individuals and each has a slightly differing account of the numbering system.  One aspect not in argument is that USAAF wings presenting with numbers such as 9-M or 22-M were not manufactured during the Second World War.  Somewhat confusing the matter is the issue of wings for the Marine Corps and US Navy during the war years as these wings often have their metal content stamped into the rear of the wing (usually with the hallmark of the maker).

In 1905 (in the United States), the National Gold and Silver Act required the marking of any item with precious metals. Any item made in USA or imported for sale theoretically should be marked with its metal content or a number designating a particular metal type.  Although the Act, which has not been rescinded, is law, it took considerable time before all manufacturers and resellers abide by the requirement.

The following is courtesy of John Vargas and more or less corresponds with the opinion of most collectors I have spoken with.  What’s important to note is that the dates are approximate and should only be used as a guide

Alpha number designation for US badges & insignia, was instituted on January 1, 1960; the mandate came from the Institute of Heraldry (I.O.H).  Alpha numbers can be used to determine when the wing was produced. 

Single digit letters such as 9M were used between 1960-1965 and double digits such as 22M between 1965-1999 (NS Meyer closed business in 1999).

Wings hallmarked V-21-N (Vanguard manufacturer)  are post 1967.  The N designation means that the hallmark was approved for use with naval/USMC badges & insignia.

All wings (and other US badges & insignia)  that are marked with the hallmark “silver filled” were produced between 1967 and 1974.  1974 was the last year that silver filled insignia was manufactured. Numbered wings, other than certain naval wings, were not issued during the second World War or Korea.

LEFT: N. S. Meyer wing with several markings and hallmarks on rear. Look carefully and you will observe that the second shield has an alpha number (M-22) and a 1/20th silver filled mark (just visible beneath the shields).  The marks on this wing indicate manufacture between 1965 and 1999. The silver filled mark indicates manufacture between 1967 -1974.

One last point to remember is that while you can sometimes place a lower date on when something was issued, it’s difficult to always know the upper date.  For instance, it’s possible for a World War Two wing to be issued to a person after the conflict had ended (Dr. Patrick Frost reports that he has a grouping to a pilot who received his wings around 1967.  The wings this pilot received after completing flight school were manufactured by Vanguard during the second World War).  Occasionally, World War Two stock showed up into the late 1960’s.  

Thousands upon thousands of wings were produced during the war and it’s not unfeasible to suggest that not all military establishments disposed of old stock.  

Wings Over Korea

As mentioned earlier, as the Second World War progressed old wing stocks were used, altered and issued.  In 1945 many thousands of airmen were discharged from the services.  During the 1950’s many of these personal were re-enlisted to serve in the newly formed US Airforce (USAF).  Once again, as in the World War Two, wings were required.  To fill the lack of supply, many wings produced during the Second World War were issued to flight crews and ground personnel.  

Often a new collector will be offered wings from the Korean conflict.  Unless providence is known, or there are post World War Two hallmarks, it’s highly likely that these wings were produced during the Second World War or from World War Two dies.  Without providence, there’s often no way of determining if your wing is Korean or World War Two period.

A collector must remember that a wing served a purpose.  When supplies were required, wings were propagated from several sources – one source being old stock!  This said, be very wary of anyone’s story unless they can provide providence or proof to substantiate their claims.

Sweetheart Wings

Note the small wings on the girl's sash at the left (image – Dr. Patrick Frost collection).  These wings are called sweetheart wings and were often given to girlfriends by servicemen before departure for overseas duty.  As such they were keep sakes or forget-me-nots. 

Upon graduation, all pilots received graduation wings which were standard Army Air Corps Government issue (USA only).  Normally 2 at least two wing sizes were issued – 3 inch and 2 inch.  Often the officer would purchase better quality wings and give the graduation wings to his girlfriend as a sweetheart wing.  

Sweetheart wings were mostly the smaller 1 and 2 inch wings worn on either the side cap or shirt (as such they were regulation issue wings).  In addition to using standard issue wings as forget-me-nots, wings with various motifs were produced by local artisans to cater towards the "sweetheart trade".  Often wings were personalised and engraved on the rear with the girlfriend's name.

Many different examples of sweetheart wings can be found from America, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Germany.  Most of the American examples parallel the original wing worn by the pilot, if in fact they are not the original or a privately purchased second wing.  

Sweetheart wings from Commonwealth countries are different in that original wings issued to airmen were manufactured from cloth and not metal.  As such, metal sweetheart wings were commonly produced by local jewellers and sold to airmen.  These wings are often enamelled and are quite beautiful in their own right.

BELOW: Examples of sweetheart wings.     

3 inch USAAF pilot wing that has been engraved "Jonnie & Alice" on the rear - circa 1939 - 1945 period (Dr. Patrick Frost collection)

Rear of the above wing showing engraving (Dr. Patrick Frost collection)

American  First World War pilot wing (First World War wings were often used as sweetheart wings

Royal Air Force (RAF) sweetheart wing circa 1930's

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEFT: Johnny and Alice. Note the full size wings on Alice's lapel.

Items such as photographs and letters can often shed light on the providence of a wing when little else is known regarding the airman.

Reference Material and Further Information

There have been several monographs published on aviation wings.  Most are excellent whilst others fail to provide accurate information or detailed photographs.  The two books pictured below are written by Jon A. Maguire who is a long term collector of aviation material.  The quality and attention to detail in all Jon’s books is superb and they provide an excellent reference with which to compare any wing you may have.  Jon's books mostly only cover US wings and memorabilia.

 

 

 

ABOVE:  Dust covers of four essential texts for the serious wing collector. 

These books are expensive, but they are indispensable if you are serious about your interest.  The four books are very high quality in every respect and can be purchased direct from Schiffer Publications USA.

Click to view Dr. Patrick Frost,s wing web page.

Displaying Your Wings

There are several methods of displaying your wings.  Some collectors keep their wing collection in a drawer, with each wing attached to a coloured piece of felt material.  Others utilise ornate glass display cases and glass picture frames.  

My favoured method is a 2 ring A-4 size plastic binder (I have several volumes) with see through plastic sleeves.  I find this is a perfect way to display your wings and maintain your collection in one place. 

I attach each wing a business sized piece of thin cardboard.  On this cardboard I document the wing type, style and maker mark.  I then have an identifying number written on the card and the same number attached via a sticky tab to the wing.  This number then gets entered into a Access database in which I maintain complete records for the wing which include, but is not limited to: wing style, wing type, wing size, maker mark, providence, sterling or not sterling, metal or cloth, purchase date, price and so forth.  

I find this method efficient, as it maintains the collection in a number of folders and the database is always handy if decide to sell my collection, or if I wish to search through my collection to see if I have wing type or maker. 

 

Another very popular method is to use  ryker mounts (LEFT).  Ryker mounts are cardboard boxes of varying size and depth that have a lid of clear glass.  These boxes are ideal for storing wings, badges and anything else that can easily become lost or damaged. 

It's also important to keep track of your collection. When I acquire a new wing, I label the wing with a number and adhere a sticky label to the rear of the wing. This number, along with any information on the wing or its providence is collated in a wing data base I created in Micro$oft Access.

 

Preserving Your Wings

Whatever method you select to store and display your collection, thought must first be given to the long term preservation of the artefact.    

Cloth wings should always be kept in a plastic sleeve or zipper lock plastic bag (to stop the moths from getting excited).  Metal wings should never be placed in the same bag without some type of protection, otherwise they will become scratched or worse still, the different metals may oxide if in contact with each other.    

If you store your wings in a box, wrap each wing in acid and sulphur free tissue paper, or store each wing in a separate plastic bag or sleeve.  Failing to use sulphur free paper will cause your wings in many cases to slowly turn black in colour (a by-product of the oxidation process between silver and sulphur).  If you are identifying your wings with a number, do not do as shown in my photographs and use a sticker as the glue and sulphur used in the sticker may cause damage to your wing.  Instead, use an old fashioned price tag and attach it to the wing with a piece of light string. 

Keep your collection away from the sun and moisture otherwise fading and colour changes(cloth), rust or other unwanted oxidation effects may occur. If you frequently handle your wings ensure that your hands are clean and free of any soap residue.  Often the soap used to wash your hands contains tar and sulphur, which will be transferred to your wings during handling.  There is a reason why historians wear white cotton gloves.

Wings and Their Stories - Who Wore That Wing and What's the Historical Significance? 

When you think about it, a wing is a piece of metal.  Its actual or real value is based on the market price of the metal it's made from.  

The intrinsic or historical value of the wing is much higher and in some cases a monetary price can't be attached.  Many collectors seem to collect for the sake of collecting - unfortunately they also store haphazardly and many items are scratched, lost and damaged.  

A veteran gives them a badge, hat or some other item that was probably of significance to the owner (otherwise why would they have kept it for sixty odd years).  The original collector will remember what the veteran told them about the item, and may even write it down.  Over time the item will be sold, given away (as interests change) or become lost amongst household brick-a-brack.  The next owner of the item may be lucky enough to have been given the information regarding the item, however, more than often the historical significance disappears after the first owner disposes of the item.

Therefore, the serious collector must record any information (providence) known about a wing and maintain this information in some form of database.  This ensures that the historical significance is not lost through time.  

Collecting can be just that – collecting -  or it can be journey back through time.  Perhaps I am a little "strange", but that's what collecting means to me.  For the sake of history, record the information and keep it with the wing or other piece of memorabilia.

Imagine if your wings could talk.  What stories would they tell you, where have they been, how high have they flown, and what events have they witnessed.  Remember, that wings were worn during combat as well as back on base.

Third Reich Reproductions & Poor Luftwaffe Coverage

Most of what I have written about wings revolves around the air forces belonging to America and other Commonwealth nations. As mentioned above, these wings are on occasion reproduced to varying levels of excellence and perfection. I have not discussed any aspect of Third Reich (Germany World War Two) manufacturing other than basic constructions materials used. The collecting of anything Third Reich, in particular awards and badges, is fraught with concern. There are MANY reproductions that are post war and are so good that many experienced collectors are often fooled. Reproductions of these awards were being made soon after the surrender papers had been signed (they also have been forged). Further, any discussion regarding reproductions and their technique should not be openly documented as the forgers will correct their short comings! Anyone interested in collecting Third Reich awards and badges should be very careful before they purchase anything - bargains no longer exist! I have acquired all my items either from very reputable dealers who offer 100% return options, or directly from veterans or the families of veterans.

Disclaimer

Since publishing this information on my website, I have received many e-mails from various individuals. Most people are friendly and seek advice, however, a small number of individuals are downright rude, demanding something I have said is not correct and wanting me to alter the information to reflect their ideas. Interestingly, most of these individuals are dealers in reproduction wings!

Let me say this clearly - "I am not an expert on wings and I do not purport to be one". I collect wings for an interest only, I do not strive to make my income from selling wings. The information I have published is as accurate as it can be, and has been proof read (and edits made) by a number of other collectors to ensure correctness. Like anything historical, often the facts change through time. 

Wing Examples

I've attempted to include a wide variety of wings.  The selection is not definitive, but displays a wide a selection from within my collection.  The rear of some wings have also been included as it's the “backside” of a wing that often provides the most interesting information. 

Several wings are the same designation, however, if you compare the wings with each other you’ll note subtle differences between the styles.  Note that variances in the style of pin assembly is common, as is the style and location of hallmarks (i.e. Amico can occur with narrow letters, wide letters, in a curved arch and in a straight line with or without a stylised Indian-style eagle).   

All wings unless otherwise cited are from my collection and are of original manufacture (not reproductions).  

Please ignore any discrepancy between the numbered tag on the rear of the wing and W-number; I altered my coding and did not re-scan wings already posted to the web with the new code.  This section will expand and be further sub-didided into specific wing categories as the example numbers increase in number as I scan them.  Current categories are:

 

“Good luck and good hunting”

LEFT:  Early pilots were often daring and took extreme risks.  QANTAS aerial ambulance, circa 1920.  This photograph was taken in outback Queensland, Australia.  The lettering on the vehicle (QATB) stands for Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade and was the forerunner of the current Queensland Ambulance service (QAS). 

 

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