A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets?

September 9, 1994

Dear Cecil:

I read this as a tagline on the Internet, but it's still a good question: why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets?

Cecil replies:

To keep their ears warm, goofball. As anyone acquainted with aviation or basic physics knows, the pilot's helmet has never been intended to provide protection against a crash. If the plane encounters the landscape too abruptly you're sausage no matter what you're wearing. The leather or cloth head covering worn by WW2 aviators was a holdover from open cockpit days, when you needed protection against the wind and rain.

Closed cockpits had come into general use by WW2, but in the early years at least it was customary to take off and land with the canopy open, apparently (Cecil hears differing stories on this point) in the ill-founded hope that you'd be able to get clear of the plane if it nosed in while you were near the ground. Pilots also wore helmets because they held your radio earphones, but most of all, military bureaucracy being what it was, because regulations required it. When jets came in most air forces switched to the hardened "brain bucket" in use today, but the purpose of this was merely to protect a fighter pilot's head from being bashed against the canopy during high speed maneuvering, not to save him in the event of a crash. Similarly, the kamikaze pilot's helmet merely helped him complete the trip, not survive it.

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