Helmet, Flying, Experimental, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics

Display Status:

This object is not on display at the National Air and Space Museum. It is either on loan or in storage.

Collection Item Summary:

This helmet was made by Stefan A. Cavallo, a test pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at Langley Field, Virginia.

In April of 1942, Cavallo graduated from New York University with a degree in aeronautical engineering. He was scheduled service as pilot with the Army Air Corps but before the war, he had applied for a position with the NACA. When the war broke out the NACA offered him a position as an engineer in the Flight Section at Langley Field, Virginia. For his first six months at Langley, he evaluated engineering data from the flight test program to improve aircraft design. With previous flying experience gained through the pre-war Civilian Pilot Training Program, Cavallo transitioned into the NACA’s Pilots Office.

The flight testing at Langley that Cavallo experienced was diverse and the pilots evaluated a wide range of aircraft types from the Consolidated PBY-5A flying boat to one of the first American jet aircraft, the Lockheed XP-80. Most of Cavallo’s work on these aircraft first determined then helped improve their stability and control of the handling qualities. In all, he was involved with testing nearly 75 different aircraft.

While at Langley Cavallo recognized the need for skull protection because of all the buffeting he encountered inside aircraft cockpits during flight testing. Cavallo designed and made this helmet to safeguard himself him during these flight tests. The helmet is probably the first helmet to incorporate skull protection, optic shielding, voice communications, and an oxygen system. This helmet is constructed from a modified fiberglass coal miner's helmet and portions of a standard issue Type AN-H-15 summer flying helmet. A Type A-13A oxygen mask and Polaroid goggles were worn with this helmet during Cavallo’s many flights in 1944-1946. Although it was not adopted for issue, it may have influenced the design of other hard helmets developed for jet pilots by the military services after World War II. The helmet was painted white and had Cavallo’s name stenciled on the front brow. He included five gold stars to represent each borough of his home town, New York City. These stars according to Cavallo, surprised the military ground crew personnel he encountered when landing at numerous Army Air Force bases during the war.