As a pilot, do you really need to wear sunglasses? Many people think that you don’t and that pilots merely wear them to look cool. Indeed, as a new pilot many years ago, that was how I felt. I didn’t wear spectacles, I didn’t wear sunglasses for driving, and I saw no good reason to wear them for flying.
However, I was mistaken. These days I always wear aviation sunglasses when I am flying. It is a good idea for pilots to wear sunglasses for all sorts of reasons. So read on to discover why this is so, and discover which are the best aviation sunglasses to wear.
Bottom Line Up Front
Aviation sunglasses are essential for all pilots, as they help protect their eyes from damaging UV light. There are many types on the market, made of several different materials, with lens tints, and with some other differences too. The choice is largely a matter of personal preference, although pilots should always wear sunglasses with non-polarizing lenses.
Out of the wide choice available, I would especially recommend Ray Ban Aviator Sunglasses, which are comfortable, suit most face shapes, have all the recommended features, and always look good.
- Ray Ban Aviator Sunglasses
- Serengeti Velocity Sunglasses
- Randolph Aviator Sunglasses
- Oakley Holbrook Sunglasses
- American Optical original Sunglasses
- Ascent Aviator Sunglasses By Method Seven
What Are Aviation Sunglasses?
You might think it would be enough to simply go to any local store and buy the cheapest and/or best-looking pair of sunglasses you can find. While this is probably better than nothing, you would be much better off buying sunglasses designed explicitly for aviators. This is because many cheap sunglasses do little to protect your eyes, and you need some that do.
So you need to know a little about the various factors associated with sunglasses and eye protection, among them the different types of lens material, polarization, and tint. We will take a look at these and other factors in a minute. First, I’d like to go into more detail as to why you actually need sunglasses for flying, just in case you’re not yet convinced!
Do You Really Need Aviation Sunglasses for Flying, Even If You Are Only a Private Pilot?
OK, you might think; airline pilots need sunglasses; I get that. Do I, as a weekend private pilot, really need them? As a new pilot many years ago, this is how I used to think.
The answer is that you most definitely need them. Aviator sunglasses are not worn merely to look good. Pilots actually need sunglasses with special features to protect their eyes in the cockpit. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) says that, when flying, sunglasses are necessary to protect a pilot’s vision. They are the experts, so they should know!
These sunglasses need good quality ones, not just cheap and cheerful types bought in your local store. Good sunglasses can reduce the effects of strong sunlight in the cockpit, reduce eye fatigue, and protect the eyes from exposure to harmful radiation.
In addition, they protect the pilot’s eyes from impact with objects such as flying debris. They can also help with the dark adaptation process, which can be delayed by extended exposure to bright sunlight.
The FAA discusses all of this in detail in their literature and summarises the reasons for wearing sunglasses by saying: “While adding to the mystique of an aviator, sunglasses protect a pilot’s eyes from glare associated with bright sunlight and the harmful effects from exposure to solar radiation.”
What Features Do You Need in Aviation Sunglasses?
Hopefully, you’re now convinced that as a pilot, you do need sunglasses. So let’s look directly at the type of sunglasses pilots need and the essential features they should have…
On the whole, pilots should not use polarized lenses. These lenses can cause dangerous visual disturbances and sometimes make it impossible for pilots to see the cockpit instruments. There is only one type of polarized lens that is an exception to this, and that is those made by the manufacturer Revo, which has a unique design designed to work in aircraft cockpits. A part of this always gets non-polarized sunglasses. So, in general, steer clear of polarized sunglasses.
As with prescription spectacles, there are several different materials for aviation sunglasses lenses. Each type of material has pros and cons, so it really comes down to what is most important for you. Let’s take a look at the most typical types of lens materials…
- Glass lenses are the heaviest and least impact resistant. However, they have the highest optical quality of any lens material and are the most scratch-resistant.
- Polycarbonate Plastic lenses have the lightest weight, are most resistant to impact, and have a special coating making them very scratch resistant. However, this material has the lowest optical quality.
- Monomer Plastic lenses are more impact resistant than glass and have a high optical quality, but they are the most easily scratched.
So you need to decide which is best for you. Perhaps try some out first, if that is possible.
As with materials, there are pros and cons to each possible lens color. Pilots tend to have personal preferences, and that is fine.
However, on the whole, the FAA recommends grey-tinted sunglasses because they are less likely to distort colors. Some pilots prefer grey-green or brown tints, claiming they enhance colors in hazy conditions, so you might want to try a few tints and see which you prefer.
The amount of tint is also a factor, and the FAA recommends that pilots choose lenses that block between 70 and 85% of the light.
The shape or type of frame is mainly a matter of personal preference. However, the frames should be functional, not interfere with headset use, and must be sturdy enough to be practical.
They need to fit well, and a strap is recommended to prevent them from becoming dislodged during flight. Other than that, it’s your choice, and you are welcome to choose the coolest-looking frames if you wish!
Where to Buy Aviation Sunglasses
You can buy aviation sunglasses in many places, including shops attached to flight schools, auction sites such as eBay, and other pilots selling second-hand items. However, you are probably best advised to buy them from specialist pilot shops such as Sporty’s Pilot Shop, Pilot Mall, Airport Pilot Shop, and Pilot shop.
These outlets will have the most excellent choice and often have staff who can provide expert advice. This is important for an item that is primarily designed to protect your vision and enable you to fly safely.
6 Best Aviation Sunglasses
Everyone has heard of Ray Bans, haven’t they? These Ray Ban aviator sunglasses have non-polarized plastic lenses with a 100% UV-protected coating. The updated version has photochromatic lenses, which change color depending on light conditions.
They have a wrapped metal frame providing extra security for pilots, and the oversized frame is a good look for pilots. The lenses are available in either a green or brown color, and the frames come in a cool-looking gunmetal grey.
These glasses are made specifically with pilots in mind; they fit well and won’t get easily knocked off the face. They look equally good on both men and women. They have overwhelmingly positive reviews, and consumers report that they fit well around the head and flatter all face shapes.
I’ve never owned a pair of these, but I have tried a friend’s, and I was hooked! Even though I don’t need another pair of aviation sunglasses, I think I might well end up buying some!
- Lightweight plastic lenses
- Fit well and suit all face shapes
- Suitable for both men and women
- Well known brand
- Very cool looking
- None really!
The Serengeti Velocity sunglasses are very lightweight and comfortable, as they have exceedingly light titanium frames. I’ve chosen these because light weight is extremely important to some pilots, particularly those who don’t wear spectacles and tend to find sunglasses uncomfortable. With the Velocity sunglasses, you can really forget you’re wearing them.
These sunglasses also have silicon gel nose pads for extra comfort in flight. Their lenses are made of lightweight glass and photochromic, which means they adjust to the sun’s brightness throughout the day. In fact, Serengeti has really majored in comfort, and it’s worked!
- Lightweight titanium frames, so glasses feel very light
- Photochromic adjustable tint
- Look good on everyone
- Super comfortable in flight
- Rather expensive
- Glass lenses are not impact resistant
These aviator sunglasses have a great reputation among pilots. They come with metal frames of striking gold color and are made of good quality materials. They get great reviews, with most wearers emphasizing their comfort and durability.
So what’s special about these sunglasses, you may ask? Well, they are made in the US, unlike many sunglasses made overseas, which is important to some people. Despite being a classic aviator shape, they are a little smaller than some sunglasses, which may suit women and other pilots who don’t like huge sunglasses.
- Extremely comfortable and durable
- Striking good looks
- Very popular among pilots
- Rather expensive compared to some others
Oakley makes a lot of different models, but these Oakley Holbrook sunglasses have frames made of sheet metal, so they’re very lightweight. The lenses are Plutonite, and they filter out all UV rays and meet the required impact resistance standards.
These sunglasses fit snugly and stay secure at all times. They look more like ordinary sunglasses than the traditional aviator types, so they are better suited to those pilots who don’t want to advertise to the whole world that they fly! Let’s face it, some of us like to be incognito just now and then.
There is also a separate women’s version, although the unisex version looks good on women too.
- Very lightweight
- Good impact resistance
- Fit snugly and securely
- Non-traditional shapes may not be liked by all pilots
- Everyone may not like unusual lens material
These have been worn by US military pilots for many years and are generally known to be first-rate. They are designed to last and provide full protection against UV rays. What’s good enough for the military pilots should be good enough for the rest of us!
Despite the above, they tend to be slightly less commonly worn by private pilots than some of the other models I have mentioned. So if you like being different, you may like these. Again, these sunglasses are also slightly different from the traditional aviator shape, but if this is a look you like, then I would certainly go for them.
- Meet rigid military specifications
- Designed to be hard-wearing and long-lasting.
- Slightly unusual style that not everyone will like
These have super lightweight titanium frames and fit comfortably under your headset. Their blue-tinted lenses are constructed from advanced mineral glass and are designed for maximum contrast.
The main distinguishing feature of these sunglasses is that you can choose from 3 VLT or tint levels depending on your needs – 9%, 18%, and 30%. The 18% VLT lens is the best all-purpose lens and will suit most pilots.
The SKY 9 is favored by commercial pilots flying long flights into the sun. The SKY 30 is an all-day option, especially suitable for older eyes that need more light. So if this is important to you, these are the sunglasses to go for.
- Extra lightweight
- Very cool looking traditional aviator shape and blue tinted lenses
- Able to choose your own tint level
- Blue lenses do not suit all pilots’ needs and preferences
My Recommendation for Best Buy
All of the sunglasses recommended above will protect your eyesight in the air, which is the main thing. But my first choice would be the Ray Ban Aviator Sunglasses. These look great, have all the features a pilot needs, and there is absolutely nothing to dislike about them. I’m planning on buying some as soon as I can!
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What color sunglasses are best for pilots?
Answer: The FAA recommends grey tinted sunglasses because they are less likely to distort colors. However, some pilots prefer grey-green or brown tints, claiming they enhance colors in hazy conditions. So you might want to find out what works best for you and use that.
Question: I have heard that pilots should not wear polarized lenses. Why?
Answer: Polarized lenses can affect a pilot’s ability to read the aircraft instruments and sometimes cause visual disturbances. So they are really not a good idea, and pilots should always wear unpolarized lenses.
Question: Do airline pilots and military pilots wear sunglasses?
Answer: Yes, all pilots wear sunglasses, as they are necessary to protect their eyes from UVA and UVB radiation.
Question: I wear spectacles to correct my eyesight. Can I get prescription sunglasses?
Answer: Yes, all pilots who need to wear spectacles use prescription sunglasses, and it is definitely recommended that you do so.
Question: What sunglasses did Tom Cruise wear in Top Gun?
Answer: In the film Top Gun, the character played by Tom Cruise wore Ray Ban Aviator Sunglasses, the same glasses I recommend in this article as your best buy!
Question: Are there special aviation sunglasses for women?
Answer: In general, aviation sunglasses are unisex, and most types suit women just as well as men. I have always found this to be the case. However, if you particularly want a pair of sunglasses to suit a female face and perhaps look a bit more feminine, the best ones are said to be Kate Spade Amarissa Aviator Sunglasses. They get some great reviews, and female pilots generally love them.
Contrary to some popular people’s popular belief, pilots do not wear sunglasses merely to look cool. On the contrary, they are an essential part of a pilot’s gear and are necessary to protect their eyes.
There are many different types to choose from, and most of those you can buy from reputable aviation stores will be acceptable and will do the job they are designed for. However, for the many reasons discussed above, I particularly recommend the Ray Ban Aviator Sunglasses.
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