Precisely when the United States Navy approved the design of the breast insignia for Balloon Pilot is a mystery made even more maddening by the fact that when the first time the insignia is referenced, no mention is made of what the requirements were to qualify to wear the device. In the 1922 Uniform Regulations, we read that enlisted Sailors (literally “Enlisted men”) who hold “certificates of qualification as balloon pilots” were authorized to wear the same insignia as Naval Aviators—i.e., wings—but with the right wing removed.

The status of the Balloon Pilot badge remained unchanged for 25 years following its debut in the Uniform Regulations. It wasn’t until 1947 that a change was made regarding the insignia, when the words “Enlisted men” were replaced by the forward-looking “Persons.” Again, there is no reference qualification standards. Over thirty years then went by before the Navy again made a change in the regulations regarding this increasingly outdated insignia: it was removed from the list of authorized breast insignias in 1978.

Although the Wikipedia entry for this insignia is probably correct in stating that this insignia is the Naval equivalent of the Army’s Balloon Pilot badge, it wrongly says it is called “Dirigible Pilot Badge.” This is patently false: the only time the word “Dirigible” appears in the U.S. Navy Uniform Regulations is in reference to an Airship distinguishing mark, created to symbolize highly specialized qualifications above and beyond those conveyed with the standard rating badge.
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