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.
But which are the best sunglasses for pilots? Here are our top recommendations for 2021, and things to keep in mind when buying sunglasses as a pilot!
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If you’re interested in learning what to look for when buying pilot sunglasses, make sure to read our buying guide below as well!
The 7 Best Sunglasses for Pilots in 2021
Now, let’s dive into our list of recommendations if you’re looking for a (new) pair of sunglasses.
1. Ray-Ban Aviator
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.
2. Serengeti Summit Drivers
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.
3. Serengeti Velocity
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.
4. Ray-Ban Wayfarer
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.
5. Randolph Concorde Aviator
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.
6. Randolph Aviator
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.
7. Randolph Sportsman Aviator
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.
Why Quality Sunglasses are Important for a Pilot
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 decided to write this guide and help you make an informed decision when it comes to choosing the right sunglasses for your flying adventures.
What to Look for
Sunglasses are such an important part of safety in the air that the FAA has published some recommendations for buying sunglasses:
- Sunglasses with lenses that incorporate 100% ultraviolet protection made of glass, plastic or polycarbonate materials. Glass and plastic lenses have superior optical qualities, while polycarbonate lenses are lighter and more impact resistant;
- The tint chosen should be limited to those that optimize visual performance while minimizing color distortion. The best choice would be a neutral grey tint with 15-30% light transmittance;
- Polarized sunglasses are not recommended because they may interfere with glass cockpit displays. In addition, because they eliminate glare off of shiny objects they may reduce a pilot’s ability to spot other aircraft;
- Careful consideration when choosing appropriate sunglasses should be taken to make sure they can easily slip on and off under headsets, helmets and other headgear;
- Photochromic glass lenses are not recommended because of the extended time it takes for them to remove the darkening when exposure to bright sunlight is removed. This is particularly a problem when flying into clouds or nightfall.
You can read more about these recommendations in the FAA brochure: Sunglasses for pilots: Beyond the image.
Polarized vs non-Polarized
When it comes to sunglasses for flying, there’s something important to keep in mind: polarization. These polarized sunglasses filter out glare, making them very popular among 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.
How do Polarized Sunglasses Work?
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.
Why Should you Avoid Polarized Sunglasses When Flying?
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.
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 far exceeding them. The fact that they are provided to US Air Force pilots should be enough proof these sunglasses are made for a cockpit environment.
To conclude, below are again some of our top picks when it comes to sunglasses for pilots in 2021: