From witches to winged demons, humanity has long harbored a horror of airborne denizens. Even when we ventured forth into the heavens without supernatural support, we sometimes adopted some truly terrifying attire. This may only have been a matter of form and function for open cockpits with freezing temperatures and limited oxygen at altitude, but these fashions for aerial attire from the decade or so after World War I are still the stuff of nightmares.
This denizen of the air is seen modeling the latest in Army Air Service fashion, ca. 1925. Image: NASM WF-26989
World War I was the source of all manner of terrifying visages and aviators were no exception. This example of a leather face mask was a standard model for Army Air Service pilots in cold weather.
While not as durable as a hockey mask for ‘active’ pursuits, this leather face mask provided the aerial ne’er-do-well a measure of comfort while aloft.
Here is the same face mask paired with helmet and goggles. Rather than for parasitic feeding, this tube provided an army aviator of the late 1920s a reliable source of oxygen while flying at higher altitudes in an open cockpit aircraft. Image: NASM 2012-02189
He is possibly an officer in the insectoid invasion force, but could instead be the height of Army Air Service fashion in 1919. Image: NASM WF-1554
Not for butchery, this chamois-leather face mask prevented frostbite and general discomfort for naval aviators in the 1920s.
Some of these facial horrors belonged to the aeronautical elite. This one belonged to Charles Lindbergh, who used it on the Lockheed Sirius Tingmissartoq during his four-continent circumnavigation of the Atlantic in 1933.
Though easily mistaken for an Ewok-ian Dark Lord of the Sith, this example also belonged to Charles Lindbergh.
This rather cute Angry Bird-ish example belonged to the less-than-cuddly William “Billy” Mitchell in the early twenties as he sought to demonstrate the terrifying power of (non-avian) aerial bombardment.
Not the ‘Beast from Beyond,’ but an aviator equipped with high altitude gear posing next to a Wright Apache on June 10, 1929. Image: NASA EL-2000-00341
No, it’s not the steampunk version of Star Trek’s ‘Salt Vampire’ - rather, an Army Air Service aviator in 1919 poses for the camera with latest in oxygen masks. Image: NASM WF-2193
This mask and furry cape protected famed naval aviator Apollo Soucek during some of his record altitude attempts. Soucek set several altitude records. His triumph came on June 4, 1930, when he reached an altitude of 13,157 meters (43,166 feet).
Nightmare at the Museum – A restless mannequin modeling a face mask about 35 years ago.