Flying Again with an Old Friend

Posted May 2016

Almost 40 years ago, there was a clothing chain with a safari theme. Hats from Australia, utility shirts from Panama, messenger bags/purses from Bolivia.  It was the one clothing store I'd be willing to walk into, as there was typically some unusual stuff there that even *I* might wear.

The store decor echoed the unusual sources of their wares, and most stores include a rusty old jeep to highlight the name of the store: "Banana Republic."

It was bought out by a larger chain in the early '80s and turned into yet another teenager clothing store.  But before that, my wife had scored a killer Christmas present for me.

My wife and I lean towards the goofy/unusual in our Christmas presents.   In '82, she gave me a funny present from Banana Republic:  A leather flying helmet.

There's no question it was sold as a joke.  It came with a set of large cardboard goggles, which I donned and posed with on Christmas morning. I hadn't flown for six years, and my first airplane (a Cessna 150) was more than two years in the future.

So after posing with the helmet and cardboard goggles, the helmet got stuffed into a drawer.  A pity, really.  Unlike the joke helmets sold today, it was a quality piece of gear.  Suede-like lambskin, like butter, dyed a light brown with a hint of olive.

Fast forward five years.  I had just joined the Fly Baby Club, flying Pete's original Fly Baby.  Before my first flight, I told myself...I wasn't going to get into the whole helmet, goggles, and scarf thing.  It was just going to be another airplane, right?

But then came my the first flight in N500F.  My hair nearly beat me to death, and my eyes (always sensitive) dried up.  I needed goggles...and a helmet.

The goggles were quickly purchased from a local ski shop, but I dug out that old Banana Republic flying helmet.

A match made in heaven, really.  The helmet was very comfortable, and turned out to be surprisingly durable.  I went though four different sets of goggles, in my seven years of flying N500F, but the helmet stayed the same.  I saw other helmets for sale, but nothing of the comfort and quality of this one.
What was amazing was how the helmet weathered.  The sun faded the top of the helmet to a fine tan, but the sides retained their medium brown/olive tone.  So there was this smooth, beautiful transition between the sides and top of the helmet.
N500F went away, there was the 18-month Fly Baby hiatus, then came Moonraker.  Out came the helmet from storage, again.

But... 'Raker had a radio.  The old helmet worked OK, just wearing a headset over it with the ear holes unsnapped.  But, after a bit, I bought an expensive ANL headset.  It really needed headset-to-skin contact to work right.

So...I reluctantly retired my old helmet in favor of one with the big  holes and straps needed to let it be worn with a headset.

The Banana Republic helmet went to the back of the "stuff" drawer again.

Until last year.  My sister-in-law had given me a replica WWI German flying helmet, and it wasn't (of course) set up to work with a regular headset.  I got the great idea to try build a headset that would fit UNDER the German helmet...and succeeded very well.

As last summer wore on, though, there were problems with the German headset.  It was designed to cover a LOT of one's head, including full, wide straps under the chin.  It was comfortable to wear, but as last summer went to record temperatures, it was just too hot.

And I remembered my old friend, still stored away.  Still comfortable.

And, with the weather in Seattle turning warm again, still worn on every flight.

Ron Wanttaja

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