"Pilots, Man Your Planes!"   
                                         WWII U.S. Naval Aviation Collector's Guide                                                                              
Navy V. D. Goggles   
Pictured above is a TBM-3 crew from VC-98, flying from the CVE U.S.S. Lunga Point during combat operations in support of the Okinawa campaign and then in strikes along the China coast between June and August of 1945. The photo does appear to be posed, but we get a good look at their full flight gear. Although unidentified, clearly the pilot is in the middle, with his chart board, radioman at right and gunner, in whom we are most interested, is at left. Slight differences in their gear are to be noted, as was necessitated by their specific functions within the crew.  Unlike his pilot and fellow crewman, who wear the classic AN-6530 goggles, atop his AN-6542 summer flight helmet, our gunner sports the little publicized and (in our opinion) underappreciated (by collectors) variable density goggle by American Optical, which is our subject here. We've had the opportunity to view photos of seventeen crews from this squadron, all from the Greg Pons collection, and the gunners of five are using these as their primary goggle, not as a supplemental or auxiliary item. We are inclined to believe that their training in night operations (in March of 1945, VC-98, while completing training in Hawaii, became the first composite squadron to night qualify in the Pacific) may be a contributing factor, but more on that subject later.
Per the Pilot's and Aircrewman's Equipment section of the Catalog of Aeronautical Materials, the Variable Density Goggle is "Designed for gunners. Double lens may be rotated to vary light transmission. Complete with carrying case. Order from NSD (Naval Supply Depot) Oakland or NSD Bayonne."

In taking a  closer look at these goggles, we have come across three distinct variations (see photo at right) and four different contract numbers. There may be more we are, as yet, unaware of, but the style shown in the three photos above, with gray rubber face cushion and gray elastic headband, appears to be the most common. An earlier version, with a larger gray rubber face cushion and a rubber headband, was discovered only recently. The third type uses a black rubber (neoprene?) face cushion and a gray rubber headband fitted with a simplified adjustment buckle / clip.

Below:  A comparison to show the larger face cushion found on the early production (or possibly prototype?) goggle. Note how the side ventilators are canted outward beyond the 90 degree angle of the vents found on the other later goggles. We can speculate that the dimensions of the face mask were reduced and the rubber headband eliminated to conserve that precious raw material which was in relatively short supply, but great demand, early in the war. The next photo shows us the evolution of the strap, it's adjustment buckle and clip that snaps onto a headed pin secured to a lug of the ventilator. 

Above:  The early goggle with larger face mask and the later goggle with black face mask.   

Below:  Another crew from the same squadron shown at the top of this page. Again, the gunner wears the variable density goggle. The radioman, at left, is equiped with an M-592 backpad survival kit. Due to the confined space of the Avenger's turret (see below), the gunner was unable to wear a kit while manning his position in the aircraft.     .
Below:  A typical OD painted metal box of issue for these goggles, with hinged lid and paper label. We have found these labeled with the following Navy contract numbers:

No. 97265
N.X.S. 27918
NXSX 35334

The last two contracts above were for the goggle with a black face mask.
Below:  A grouping that sold at auction a few years ago attributed to Thomas Canty, an Avenger turret gunner with VT-86, aboard U.S.S. Wasp in the summer of 1945. Prominently featured were his well-used V.D. goggles. Note his initials, "TLC", on the top of the face cushion.
Below:  Tom Canty in his turret, on a mission, as photographed by fellow crewmember Charles "Gus" Clucas.
Above:  Aboard U.S.S. Essex, in November of 1944, a TBM-1C Avenger crew from VT-15 poses beside their plane prior to takeoff for a strike on the Philippine Islands. From left to right is radioman Digby Denzel, pilot Robert Cosgrove and, with V.D. goggles, gunner Loyce Deen. Tragically, Deen was killed a few days later on November 5th when their plane attacked an IJN cruiser in Manila Bay, sustaining a direct anti-aircraft hit on the turret, which killed him instantly. Despite the heavy damage, the pilot brought the plane in for a successful landing aboard Essex. This photo and more information can be found at the Aircraft Carrier Photo Archive http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/09.htm. Thanks to reader Jerry K. for the "heads-up" and link.

Bottom:  A similar goggle, not to be confused with our subject. The Single Axis Rotable Goggle, stock number R37-G-3522, was an item exclusive to naval aviation with an N288s-17822 contract number. It will be found in a similar box, painted blue. Per the Catalog of Aeronautical Materials, it is "For lookouts only. To be used for anti-submarine patrol. Adjusts to three positions." Lens adjustment is via a slide, rather than a control knob.
Above: Aircrewmen of an unnamed air group relax in their readyroom, prior to a strike on the Ryukyu Islands, 10/25/44.

Below:  AMM1c W. E. Corley, an Avenger turret gunner with VT-11, exits his plane after a flight.