Many Aviation Fans Are Patch Collectors and Here Are Some of Our Favorite and Rarest Pieces.
Many aviation fans are also avid aviation patch collectors, like The Aviationist’s editor David Cenciotti and author Tom Demerly.
Chances are, if you’re an aviation fan, you’re also an aviation patch collector. As founder and editor of TheAviationist.com, David Cenciotti, observed in our Instagram Live broadcast about patch collecting last week, the number of patches that aviation units have designed and made available has grown with the interest and demand from patch collectors. In fact, while squadrons designed few patches years ago, nowadays most units produce multiple pieces each year, for exercises, deployments, airshows etc. The same patch is possibly produced in both high-visibility and low-viz version, in 2D or 3D or in different materials (PVC or embroidered): in other words, collecting them all is almost impossible (and surely expensive).
Here is a look at some of our favorite and most interesting patches collected over the years. David’s collection of F-104 Starfighter patches alone is noteworthy, including several incredibly rare patches unlikely to be housed anywhere else in the world in a single collection.
Most of the patches in these collections were acquired directly from the unit that designs and wears them. Some are commercially available, as with speculative designs (the B-21 Raider patches) and promotional airshow patches from events all over the world. Howevoer, during our Live Story, our readers agreed that to be sure you are getting original pieces, you have to buy from the squadrons, from the manufacturer or from repubable and trusted collectors, as the number of fake, repro patches sold on eBay or Facebook make online purchases unreliable.
It’s difficult to say what makes a patch valuable to specific collectors. It could be a personal connection or prior service with a unit. It could be an academic interest in the subject matter, and it may just be excitement generated by books or movies. But whatever makes a patch valuable to collectors, the sure thing is that, as long as there are patches, there will be patch collectors.
Here’s a look at some of our personal favorites or interesting from our collections based on the comments we got during and after the Live Instagram Story. There are many more rare pieces and we will share photos and details in a future story:
This can be considered the holy grail of the Italian F-104 patches. It’s the official Frecce Tricolori display team emblem showing three Starfighter silhouettes. It was produced in 2004 for the Frecce Tricolori pilots who had flown the legendary Starfighter, before joining the display team. Just 11 or so such patches were made and 9 were worn on May 30, 2004, during the F-104 Farewell Airshow at Pratica di Mare Air Base by those personnel who had worked on the Starfighter. Many fake/repro versions of this patch have been made but this comes from the pilot who had commissioned the work. A Stealth Driver patch of the 9th FS Flying Knights of the 49th Fighter Wing based at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. F-117s are always among the most sought after patches by collectors. During the years, three different official patches of The Aviationist were produced. The first, on the left, was larger than the others (11 cm of diameter vs 9 cm). The patch was produced by Mauro Roder (okb01.eu). The most recent one, on the right, is in PVC (circa 2016). Based at Ellington Field, Texas, but often deployed to different bases, both within CONUS and abroad NASA’s WB-57F Canberras conducting “special operations” alongside scientific research projects (on hurricanes, radiation impact on clouds, and so on) have their official patch. Here it is. Symbols from blockbuster movies like Ghostbuster (or Star Wars) have often made to official unit patches. Here’s a patch from the 60th Bomb Squadron. This patch marks 1 flight hour in the TF-104. It was produced by Alenia Aeronautica for those who flew in the backseat of the Starfighter during acceptance/test flights carried out after maintenance at Turin-Caselle airport. The one in this photograph is stitched to David Cenciotti’s HGU-55P visor cover. This patch was produced to celebrate the final mission flown by the NASA SCA (Shuttle Carrier Aircraft), a specially modified B747 used to carry the Space Shuttle Orbiter. he last ferry flight took Endeavour from Kennedy Space Center to Los Angeles between 19 and 21 September 2012 via Ellington Field and Edwards Air Force Base. One of the F-117 Nighthawk patches produced during Operation Allied Force in Serbia and Kosovo. One of the Top Gun patches. The patches of the legendary USN training course/school are among the ones that have been commercially reproduced the most. This patch is real and has flown with aircrews all around the world. It was designed by famous patch designer Mauro Roder (who also produced The Aviationist’s official patch). It glows in the dark (showing a “sky penis” as the one drawn in the sky by U.S. Navy pilots a couple of years ago). Another F-117 patch done for the Allied Force in 1999. Two recent patches done by the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the Italian Air Force for the deployment to Iceland in support of NATO’s Icelandic Air Policing in October 2019. The unique patches of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211), the famous “Wake Island Avengers” include the two unique patches on the right that commemorate the unit’s history in the defense of Wake Island during WWII. Once a week the crew wear the two legacy patch designs on the right, with the far right patch being a very rare felt-type fabric, making it even more unique. These patches came from the airshow at MCAS Miramar, the largest military airshow in the U.S.. Nellis AFB in Nevada is an incredible source of rare and unique patches during their Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo air show, held roughly every other year. This patch came from one of the 57th Wing’s adversary unit and is unique because it looks like a standard Air Combat Command patch, except for that text. One of the most popular patches for collectors in 2019 was the first-ever F-35A Demo Team patch. The patch could only be acquired from the official F-35A Demo Team tent that traveled with the team to demonstrations around the U.S., making it even more desirable. Three versions were available during the year, including the seldom-seen subdued version on the left of this photo. The team has changed its logo for 2020, making these patches all the more valuable and sought after. The extremely rare patch of the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC), Detachment 6 (DET-6) belongs to one of the most elite flying units of any military air arm. AFOTEC DET-6 plans, and conducts realistic, objective and impartial operational testing of fighter aircraft. They development the optimal doctrine, tactics and employment of fighter aircraft for the Air Force. Their pilots are among the very best academics and combat pilots in the world, making the patch a treasure. The massive Russian “Aviasalon”, MAKS 2019 at Zhukovsky just south of Moscow was an opportunity to collect some of the most interesting Russian aviation patches, including patches made to commemorate the event itself and patches from the Russian demonstration teams. These two are eBay patches that surfaced after the Zhuhai Airshow in China. As with anything bought on the secondary market, it’s tough to say if these are real show patches or commercial knock-offs. They still have some value in the west due to their uniqueness. The Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 31 (VX-31), the “Dust Devils” patch has always been a cool patch from a cook unit. But when Tom Cruise was photographed with one on his flight jacket during filming for “Top Gun: Maverick”, it became even more valuable. The unit flies out of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California. These B-21 Raider patches are likely speculative designs but have attracted a lot of interest from collectors. They have been available on eBay and it will be interesting to see if the patches resemble any official designs once the program is officially unveiled in 2021. These two patches from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (VMM-164), the “Knightriders” include a unique version on the right made of molded PVC with luminous material that causes it to glow in the dark. The unit operates the MV-22 Osprey out of Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton in California.