A pilot in the Imperial German Air Service, wearing leather attire and the classic cork and leather flight helmet he also carries the oxygen “pipe stem” for high altitudes.
Germany was one of the earliest nations involved in the First World War to recognize and address the need by aviators of aircraft and dirigibles for supplemental oxygen. The great Zeppelin dirigibles, by virtue of their ability to fly at higher altitudes, were the first war craft outfitted with aircrew oxygen systems, which were at first of the conventional compressed gas type, contained in iron storage flasks.
Soon, however, the heavy storage flasks were replaced by early liquid oxygen generating systems. These systems were devised and produced by the Draeger Company, a company long associated with respiratory and resuscitation equipment for mining use. Other systems were produced by the Ahrend and Heylandt Company.
It wasn’t long before some higher flying German bombers and fighters were equipped with these small, lightweight liquid oxygen systems. Oxygen could be breathed from these small ‘personal’ liquid oxygen systems through use of a mouthpiece (frequently called a ‘pipe stem’) that could be held clenched in the mouth of an aviator. The tube providing the oxygen was attached (on the German systems) to a large rebreathing bag positioned nearer the unit than the ‘pipe stem’, so that although the oxygen flow rate was continuous, more of the gas could be saved and reused in the process that would have otherwise been wasted.