Sunglasses help safeguard a pilot’s most important sensory asset – vision. A quality pair of sunglasses is essential in the cockpit environment to optimize visual performance.
Sunglasses reduce the effects of harsh sunlight, decrease eye fatigue, and protect ocular tissues from exposure to harmful solar radiation. Additionally, they protect the pilot’s eyes from impact with objects (for example flying debris from a bird strike, sudden decompression, or aerobatic maneuvers). Sunglasses can also aid the dark adaptation process, which is delayed by prolonged exposure to bright sunlight.
It is clear sunglasses are important in the cockpit. Therefore, we have written this guide to help you make an informed decision when it comes to choosing the right sunglasses as a pilot.
Sunglasses are such an important part of safety in the air that the FAA has published some recommendations for buying sunglasses:
You can read more about these recommendations in the FAA brochure: Sunglasses for pilots: Beyond the image.
When it comes to sunglasses for flying, there's something important to keep in mind, which has to do with polarization. These polarized sunglasses can filter out glare, making them very popular with sportsmen who ski or do watersports, but.. as you can read in the FAA recommendations above, they are no good to pilots.
The reason they are so popular is the exact reason why they are not good for us pilots: they diminish glare by blocking out horizontal light, while allowing in vertical light. This can cause issues inside as well as outside the cockpit.
Sunlight scatters in all directions. But when it strikes flat surfaces, the light that is reflected by the surfaces tends to become polarized — meaning the reflected light beams travel in a more uniform (usually horizontal) direction. This creates an annoying and sometimes dangerous intensity of light that causes glare and reduces visibility.
Polarized lenses have a special filter that blocks this type of intense reflected light, reducing glare and discomfort.
Though polarized sunglass lenses improve comfort and visibility, you may encounter some instances when these lenses aren't advisable. One example is downhill skiing, where you actually want to see the bright patches of reflected light because they alert you to icy conditions.
Polarized sunglasses can offer great advantages when it comes to decreasing eye strain and discomfort in bright sunlight, but again, they are no good use to pilots.
First of all, if you have a glass cockpit or GPS displays, these screens usually already have an anti-glare filter. Wearing polarized sunglasses will reduce your ability to clearly read these instruments and will interfere with your ability to read LCD screens, who emit polarized light.
Secondly, polarized sunglasses can also cause trouble when looking outside the cockpit. Pilots' ability to spot other traffic is usually improved when there is some sort of sun glare reflecting from other aircraft by the sun. They can also alter cloud appearance and reduce ground reflections useful for VFR pilots.
Besides, these lenses can cause distortion patterns from certain laminated cockpit windshields.
All in all, polarized sunglasses are great for everything, besides flying. We, therefore, recommend you to buy non-polarized sunglasses for use inside the cockpit. We have only included those non-polarized sunglasses in the list below.
The most iconic shape in the Ray-Ban portfolio featuring a teardrop shape, crystal lenses and metal frame. The Aviator was originally created for pilots in 1937 to shield their eyes from high altitudes glare. Now their iconic frames are a staple in your wardrobe.
The Serengeti Drivers lens is designed specifically designed for driving or flying. The drivers lens is a photochromic, single-gradient lens, darker at the top to block the sun's glare while lighter at the bottom to provide a clear view of the instrument panel. The driver is also NOT polarized. Polarized lenses can make it harder (even impossible) to read LCD screen-based instruments and often interfere with the view through polycarbonate or safety glass windshields such as those found in aircraft.
Velocity's lightweight titanium frame is built for speed, yet balances like a feather on the bridge of your nose. All Serengeti lenses offer the latest in photochromic technology, which constantly lightens and darkens throughout the day to ensure you see every detail.
The Wayfarer was introduced in 1952 and has been considered a Ray-Ban icon ever since. This style has been a favorite of iconic musicians and celebrities throughout the decades. The Original Wayfarer features an acetate squared frame with a tilted lens.
Named after the Concorde supersonic passenger airliner, which entered service in 1976 (four years after Randolph Engineering was founded), the Randolph Concorde is built to meet the same military standards as our classic Aviator. Featuring the iconic large teardrop shape worn by pilots during World War II, this style is loved for its fashion as well as for its sun protection.
Originally built for the U.S. Military (Mil-S-25948), Randolph flagship Aviator surpasses rigid military-spec standards. Standard issue since 1982, these are battle-tested and suitable for the most rigorous and demanding use. Worn by pilots, taste-makers, and those who demand the best.
Designed for the outdoor enthusiast, the Sportsman is an essential piece of equipment to bring on your adventures. Built to meet the same military standards as our classic Aviator, this extremely durable frame features the company's largest lenses, a sports sweat bar, and a timeless and distinguished style.
If you want the best sunglasses for flying, we recommend going for the Randolph Engineering sunglasses. These sunglasses are US-built and meet every single requirement by the FAA, often even exceeding them. The fact that they are provided to the pilots of the US Air Force should be enough proof these sunglasses are made for a cockpit environment.
Have any questions, suggestions or remarks about this guide? Let us know!
Last updated on March 10, 2020 by Senne Vandenputte