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Aircrew Armor "Chicken Plate"
Much of the information contained in the following article is available from the U.S. Army Natick Laboratories Technical Report 69-43-CE and U.S. Army TM 10-8470-202-13, "Operation and Service Instructions Ground and Aircrew Body Armor".

The "Chicken Plate"

    The need for body armor capable of defeating large caliber armor piercing rounds became a priority with the advent of "airmobile" combat as evidenced in Vietnam. Helicopter and recon aircraft crew members originally made due with body armor developed for ground forces, namely the Nylon M-1952 vest and the Nylon/Doron M-1955 vest. However, these vests were designed to stop fragments only and did a rather poor job of stopping high velocity and large caliber ammunition.

    Armor capable of defeating armor piercing rounds became viable in 1962 with a new composite ceramic. The first armor for aircrewman was designed with small, flat plates of ballistic ceramic formed into the shape of a torso. This early armor was designed to rest on the pilots thighs or on a support attached to the seat between his legs. Still, this armor was not suitable for crew members whose jobs required them to move about the cabin (door gunners). This armor also had a lack of protection where the edges of the plates met.

    Finally, a vest which could be comfortably worn by all crew members was designed. This vest is the "Armor, Small Arms-Fragmentation Protective", "Body Armor, Aircrewman", or, as known by macho pilots, and hereafter referred to as the "chicken plate". This was a new design which used a monolithic ceramic (one piece) which was molded to match torso contours. The chicken plate was made in two versions; One with a front plate only for pilots and copilots, and a second version with front and back plates for crew members who did not sit in armored seats. The vests are capable of defeating 30 caliber armor piercing ammunition and are designed for use in aircraft without ejection seats.

 The ceramic plates are faced with a layer of ballistic Nylon as a spall shield to reduce bullet fragments. The back of the plates are faced with a reinforced plastic. So, if you see one of these plates, you never actually see the ceramic. You only see the spall shield and the plastic. The chicken plate was made in 3 different ceramic compositions:

  • Aluminum Oxide (heavy weight)
  • Silicon Carbide (medium weight)
  • Boron Carbide (light weight)

  The weight difference is about 3 pounds per plate per ceramic composition. The Army used only vests made from Aluminum Oxide, while the Air Force, Navy and Marines used all three. The vests were made in 3 sizes: Short, Regular, or Long. These are sized according to the wearer's height. A size Long vest with front and back plates made from Aluminum Oxide weighs about 30 pounds.

    The carrier for the plate(s) is made of from OD green nylon/cotton. The front plate version has a mesh back. Both versions feature a wide, wrap around waist band which secures with Velcro to the front of the vest. The carrier has a pocket in the front (and rear for 2 plate version) which holds the ceramic plates. Additional spall protection is provided by a half inch of ballistic nylon felt which is permanently attached inside the pockets. Early versions of the vest did not have this felt spall shield. These versions did not have the "Fragmentation Protective" designation. The shoulders feature fragmentation protective nylon felt pads. The shoulders are adjustable through use of sliding web straps, and the back of the vest secures to the front with snaps at the shoulders. The front of the vest features a survival radio pocket that secures with Velcro. This pocket is imprinted with the words "DO NOT DROP". The ceramic tends to shatter or break if dropped.

The chicken plate was revolutionary for aviators, and it's a great piece for collectors!

Author's note: I'm not sure of the length of the production life of the vest. Anybody know? I've heard that the chicken plate has been issued as recently as operations in Bosnia (to engineers for mine clearance protection).

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