The long pedigree of Ventile Fabric goes back as far as the late 1930’s. With War looming, the British Government foresaw a shortage of flax, which was used to manufacture fire hoses and water buckets. An alternative was required and research commenced into the use of cottons which could be woven in such a way as to keep water in, and it worked!
The research requirements changed during World War II, when Britain depended upon Russian convoys carrying vital supplies across the Arctic Ocean. However these were highly vulnerable to submarine attack and home-based RAF fighter escort cover was impossible due to the long distance.
Winston Churchill promoted the concept of catapulting expendable Hurricane aircraft from the decks of merchant ships to provide local cover. With no means of landing back on deck, pilots had no choice but to abandon the aircraft and bail out into the sea. The water was so cold that life expectancy was just a few minutes. Most died from exposure.
There was an urgent call for a new, protective fabric that would be both comfortable to wear in the cockpit under combat conditions and also ensure survival by keeping the pilot warm and dry in the sea.
After many trials, scientists at The Shirley Institute, Manchester UK, developed a fabric called Ventile® which when made into garments proved to be life saving. It extended life expectancy in the sea from a few minutes to over 20 minutes, which made rescue a real possibility. 80% of pilots who fell into the sea now survived.
Ventile® fabrics for RAF clothing went into mass production in 1943. Garment designs have changed over the years, but you will still find Ventile® suits in modern Tornado jets with the RAF and other Nato Forces.