Insignia This Page Updated December 3, 2001




by Stan Baumwald

Note: Stan has inserted images of numerous wings into his article, so it may take some time for all of them to load.
Pilot's insignia

The predecessor airline to Northwest Airlines was formed by Charles Dickinson and operated as CAM 9. This company got off to an inauspicious start on June 7, 1926, which saw the inaugural flight crash on takeoff (killing the pilot), and two other flights make emergency landings due to weather or mechanical factors.  CAM 9 never recovered from these setbacks, and went out of business shortly thereafter. Northwest Airlines was formed and took over the routes of the defunct company on October 1, 1926, and holds the distinction of operating under their current name longer than any other airline. 

Initially, the pilots did not wear uniforms. After all, they only carried mail and there were no passengers to impress. But like all other airlines that started by carrying the mail, Northwest began carrying passengers to generate additional revenue. In 1927 the airline carried a mere 106 passengers, but by 1929, this business had increased so that Col. Brittin, Vice President and General Manager of Northwest Airways, not only put his pilots in uniforms, he also designed wings for the pilots. This design was submitted to the Post Office for approval. The Post Office was so taken by the design, they requested and received permission from Col. Britton to adopt the insignia as the official emblem to be worn by air mail pilots. For this reason, the very first pilots of American Airlines, United Airlines, Continental Airlines and several other companies wore this wing in the very beginning. The design also shows up on several stamps issued by the U.S. Post Office.

This first wing had a metal center with the words "U.S. Air Mail" in raised letters. The center piece was fitted into a bullion background of wings. This design was worn by the NWA pilots from about 1929 to 1934 when the airline changed to a all metal wing.
The 1934 wing has the Equator going thorough the word "AIR" and the reverse is most likely hallmarked "Pat. Pending" and "Rolled Gold". This wing was used until the beginning of World War II when the airline discontinued the use of gold in favor of a gold look on a base metal.
At this time the wing style changed ever so slightly in that the Equator was below the word "Air". This was probably the result of the airline changing manufacturers and the new manufacturer inadvertently made this design change. This wing is the same wing as worn by the pilots of Northwest Airline to this day. There are several variations such as feathering and pin back vs clutch back but they are only noticeable to the student of this wing.
An interesting sidelight is that, through a series of mergers, one airline which started in 1946 took the NWA wing design as its own. That airline was Empire Airlines in Washington state and they used this wing in a silver and gold color. Had a person not had to worry about age restrictions as imposed by the General Quesada, the pilot would have retired wearing the same wing that he started with but in the process going through six other wings via West Coast Airlines, Hughes Air West, Republic and then finally to Northwest.
Navigator / Flight Engineer Insignia

As long as we are on the subject of flight crew wings for Northwest Airlines, there are three more that should be mentioned. In 1946, after WW II, NWA was the pioneer airline on the North Pacific route to Japan. At that time, navigators were required and the company hired quite a few. Their wing was a plain gold color with a sextant in the center. Navigators were phased out when Doppler navigation came into widespread use in the early 1960's. 

The last group is Flight Engineers. The first Flight Engineers were hired when the airline acquired B-377 Stratocruisers and wore a wing that was gold colored and said "FLIGHT ENGINEER" in the field surrounding the letters "NWA".
Shortly thereafter, a field of blue was added in the outside ring. Flight Engineers who could qualify as pilots were added on to the pilots seniority list with the advent of the jets and the last ones flew until the Lockheed L-188 Electra was phased out.
Cabin crew insignia

Most likely, the first flight attendant insignia worn by Northwest Airlines personnel is this half wing with a blue enamel center and the word "STEWARD" on the top. This wing is not in my collection (therefore a poor scan) but I have seen the actual item and I believe it to be NWA for two reasons; 1) the color is correct for NWA insignia and 2) it was acquired from an estate where the other piece was the second issue NWA hat badge. Most of the people who would have worn this wing are people have gone west and like so many of the early pieces, it is hard to do anything but make educated guesses.

From an early STEWARD wing, let us continue with a PURSER wing. Although the airline is not identified, I know this to be a Northwest Airlines wing, as I flew with these people back in the late 1950's and early 1960's. It was worn by male personal on international flights which, at that time, meant flights to Asia. 
Sometimes, NWA had male flight attendants on domestic flights where a Purser was not required.  At that time, male personnel (for some strange reason) were afforded a higher position than stewardesses, so the company called these male stewards "Flight Service Attendants". This meant that, regardless of seniority, the male was the lead attendant. This system lasted until the stewardesses filed a lawsuit claiming discrimination (there were pay differences as well as choice of flights differences). This lawsuit was successful. The first stewardess was hired around 1938 or 1939. The insignia worn by this first group was a embroider name sewn on the jacket and this said "NWA STEWARDESS". I have a picture of this in my archives someplace but cannot put my finger on it. 
This next insignia, which was the first stewardess wing, was probably a half wing with a blue center. This wing I acquired in a trade with a European collector. When he sent me the Xerox copy, it looked just like the red, white and blue wing displayed below. I never realized what I was getting until it arrived in the mail. Nobody that I have ever talked to has been able to substantiate my theory about this being the first wing but again, there is nobody around to help out. 
The first stewardess wing (above) must have been short lived as most of the surviving photos show the gold toned half-wing, with the red, white and blue colors used by NWA. In the beginning, there were very few, if any, color pictures, but this wing is seen in color in photos as late as the early 1950's. Note also that this wing is often confused with newer wings (below), with the difference being that the newer version has a small wing through the center. 

While there is no way to know the exact dates other than to make an educated guess, it appears that NWA experimented with four different wing styles from roughly 1958 until 1963. Of these four wings, two were gold colored and two were silver colored. And to make matters more difficult, one of the gold wings had a red center and the other gold wing had a blue center. Same holds true of the silver wings. 
Finally, in about 1964, the company settled on a wing which was used until about 1989. This wing is like the very early issues except it has a small wing in the center.
This is the wing that is worn presently. In 2000, the company changed their lead flight attendant to a Purser and came up with a wing which is the same as the current F/A wing except that it has a star and a wreath. (Sorry, but I do not have a picture of this wing as it is not presently in my collection.) Interestingly, the company wanted to change the pilot wings at the same time using the same logo but having a star and wreath for the Check Captain and a star for a Captain and the plain wing for the First Officer. The company allowed pilot input into this selection and the pilots, after a bit of education, voted overwhelmingly for the tradition of being the only pilot group with the original US AIR MAIL wings. 

About Stan ...

A self-described "pack rat", Stan started by collecting stamps and coins. About 25 years ago, he attended his first World Airline Historical Association convention and got hooked on collecting airline memorabilia. After 40 years of flying and 31 years with an airline, the hobby turned out to be a perfect fit!. While Stan was employed he traveled the world, making lots of friends and visiting many different airline companies which helped him add to his collection. Now, in retirement, Stan can devote even more time to collecting. And when he goes to that "big hanger in the sky", the collection is slated to go to U.S. Airline Industry Museum Foundation of which he is a board member. 

Stan's specialty (and what he enjoys the most) is flight crew insignia. No one person or organization has a complete collection of all of the U.S. wings and hat badges, not even the Smithsonian. However, Stan has a fairly comprehensive collection and is always looking to add to it. He is always willing to help any collector identify insignia, seeing this as an opportunity to learn something, in addition to aiding others in the enjoyment of their pursuits. 

Having spent most of his working life with Northwest Airlines, Stan collects just about anything from NWA. In addition, he also collects junior flight crew wings and has written a book on this subject, which is updated annually, and therefore is the most current book on the subject.

Stan may be contacted at

This category will cover items such as wings, hat badges, patches, buttons, service pins, hats, uniforms, and any other items which may have been worn by airline personnel.