Author Topic: French Armée de l’Air Leather Flight Jacket “Blouson PN” Info Page  (Read 371 times)

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BLOUSON PN VOL PILOTE DE CHASSE ARMÉE DE L'AIR FRANCAISE

The French fighter pilot flight jacket, officially called “Le Blouson PN" (Personnel Navigant or “aircrew”) is a lambskin leather military flight jacket that was issued by the French Armée de l’Air from 1970 to 1995.

The official government contract production jackets were only  issued to pilots of the Armée de l’Air (the French Air Force) and later to the Police de l’Air et des Frontières...(aviation police and border guards).  They were also known as “French Jaguar jackets” because the Armée de l’Air flew Jaguars as did the RAF in the Seventies.  The Blouson PN was in use for nearly a quarter of a century until it was discontinued and replaced by a flight jacket made from a synthetic fabric called Kermel.

In the late 1990s many were sold off by the French government and marketed through surplus stores in used condition, many with names in them.  Some were destroyed. 

French military sizes (88, 92, 96, 100,  104, 108...) correspond to the chest size in centimeters and equals to twice the French civilian suit size.  You can easily figure out the size of these jackets by measuring the distance between the upper shoulder seams. The suffix (C,M,L,X) determines the length of sleeves and back (from Short to Extra Long)

As an example, the military size 100L equals to a French 50 (or US/UK 40) with 'long' arm length. This should fit a 40 to small 42 (a French 50 to small 52) depending on how tight you want to wear it.  To convert centimeters to inches divide the length by 2.54.

There are MANY copies and reproductions being passed off as genuine PN Jackets so BUYER BEWARE.  Regardless of their origin, almost all French Armée de l’Air PN pilot jackets, offered for sale on Ebay, are described as being VRAI, AUTHENTIQUE, VERITABLE (real, authentic, genuine). Nevertheless, as with many things on Ebay, you'll find the best, the worst and everything in between.

Some of these jackets were not supplied by the Armée de l’Air  as official equipment but were actually purchased on military bases that were made to order by the master tailor.  Admittedly these might totally conform to Armée de l’Air PN pilot jacket specifications but even then they are considered civilian copies whether they were used by PN or not. 

If they don't have the “Ordre de Marche” (contract number, size and year of production) it is probably not authentic unless it is clear that the label is missing.

As if it was not already complicated enough, a number of official manufacturers, also produced civilian copies (identical finish and cut, but often in a heavier less supple leather. Even more embarrassing, inferior copies (often of poor quality and of cheap Korean leather) were sold on Armée de l’Air bases that resurface now and again on eBay offered by people who are totally convinced having one that is genuine based on that it was bought on a military base as proof.

So how do you tell?

Distinguishing characteristics of a genuine “Blouson PN” jacket ("Blouson de la Dotation" or Jacket from the Air Force Endowment)

1.    Your jacket should have seven pockets (two exterior pocket, two inner 'orders' pockets, as well as one pocket in the lining with the orange “emergency vest” that serves as safety vest but also in case of crash, in order to be able to be spotted quickly. It goes over the leather jacket. There is another pocket on the chest for the rank tab (“Fourreau de Grade”) and one pocket with pen holder on the left sleeve.  The sleeve on the pocket is now rectangular, but earlier models have oval pockets (the shape of the latter was deliberately designed because it allowed the wearer to store a compass). 

2. Elastic knit cuffs in the lower sleeves.

3. Waist adjustable with buttons or snaps, three positions

4. A label with the name of the French manufacturer, ((MJ As du Cuir - MIC - Cassi Sàrl - Alto Cuir (Levroux) - Jacquin) also showing the  military size and contract number (Ordre de Marche).  These manufacturers who made the  authentic jackets, also marketed very similar cut and quality copies, but with other components/materials (leather thicker than authentic, other brands of zippers, etc.

5. Main zipper (fermeture à glissière) is a heavy two way brass zipper marked ECLAIR (“lightning”).  The ECLAIR-Prestil company manufactured a specific model of zipper for the Army that was not available to the general public.  The "AILEE" (Wing) brand of zippers) was also used in the manufacture of the first generation jackets in the 1970s.  Definitely not YKK.  An important note about the zippers:  For the authentic jackets, the French Army supplied the manufacturer with all the components (zippers, etc) they needed.  No discussion of the zippers would be complete without providing the answer to an often asked question:  ”Why the double zipper?” 

Here is the answer:  When the pilot was seated in the cockpit he sat on a survival package containing the parachute.  Then, if he were forced to eject, he needed to manually attach himself to this survival equipment by a harness.  His jacket was normally zipped closed so he would have to to open the jacket’s zipper from the bottom in order to do this.

6. A one-piece back panel.  There is no horizontal seam in the back.

7. A red orange (NOT YELLOW) emergency vest stored in
a small pocket in the lining

8. A removable brown (and NOT BLACK) synthetic mouton
fur collar, fixed at first by button later by zipper.

9. A black (and NOT BLUE) removable lining fixed by zipper
and velcro (but not on first generation jackets; those with the
circular pocket on the left sleeve). Recent models (and/or imitation jackets) have a removable lining attached by a black zipper made by YKK.

10.”Zig Zag” stitching on collar.

11. 4 ventilation holes in both armpits.

Please keep in mind that the copies/reproductions most often fail on criteria 4,5, 6 and 7.

Armée de l’Air fighter pilots were very disappointed and unhappy when the blouson PN was discontinued in the mid-Nineties and replaced by the Kermel fabric jacket.  To this day the student pilots who come out of the Cazaux Development school can buy one from the Master tailor. Since the Belgian student pilot also pass through this school they can wear this type of jacket as well, but it is not official issue.  That said, almost all the student pilots buy one, even if its cost is quite high (about €400 euros) and for a pilot student, it is a great deal of money.

Notwithstanding, even today this jacket is still much sought-after and treasured by pilots, aviation enthusiasts, collectors and those who appreciate fine military leather jackets.  So, other than taking your chances on eBay to have a genuine Blousin PN the only solution is to visit the master tailor of the Base Aérienne 120 at Cazaux.

Bonne chance!

Copyright 2019 Michael Crestohl
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