California in World War II
California State Guard "Bat Man" Paratroopers in World War II

On the United States home front, particularly on the Pacific coast where the threat of a Japanese invasion seemed imminent, even a military expert's creative juices could take a curious turn. Such was the case for the California State Guard and Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, who dreamed up the idea of "bat-man" paratroopers.

The major's concept of paratroopers using jump suits modified with bat-like "diving wings" was inspired by the trick parachuting stunts of American entertainers. Nicholson had observed that in free fall, sky divers using these wings were able to better control their speed and descent as well as their maneuverability before opening the their parachutes.

Nicholson envisioned winged paratroopers evading enemy fire by swooping through the air like their namesakes. In 1942, the California State Guard found the notion so intriguing, they asked famed jumper Mickey Morgan-whose career often included testing wingsuits-to head a bat-man paratrooper unit of their own.

Following the Pearl Harbor attack, defending the Pacific coast from Japanese invasion was at the forefront of the California State Guard.

The U.S. had entered a new age of fear and worry. It was also an age of inventiveness - particularly when it came to national defense.

In this historical context, it might make sense that the California State Guard organized just such a unit of "bat-man" paratroopers to defend the entire state from threats both foreign and domestic.

Mickey Morgan, a famous jumper who made an entire career testing various wingsuits, was chosen by the California State Guard to lead a unit of "bat-man" paratroopers in 1942. "Bat-wings, it is claimed, makes paratroops more maneuverable-and swifter," reported Mechanix Illustrated in January 1942.

Incidentally, that same magazine made a prediction on bat wings earlier, in a August 1941 article titled "Yankee Ingenuity Vs. Hitler!"

Here's a cool bit of history: i09 points out that the military expert who helpedMechanix Illustrated forecast the use of bat wings for military applications is oneMajor Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. Well, a few years before helping to inspire real-life "bat-men," he founded a comic book company called National Allied Publications - which later would evolve into DC Comics.

Wheeler-Nicholson founded the company in 1934 as National Allied Publications, and later helmed the creation of Detective Comics. Wheeler-Nicholson left the company before The Bat-Man debuted in 1939?s Detective Comics #27.

While he wasn't plugging a character running in his comics (because he had left the company by that point), Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was making recommendations on bat wings, and helping to inspire a squadron of "bat-men" while Bat-Man was in the comic books.

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Updated 10 August 2017