For commercial, military or general aviation pilots, vision is as key to flight as the control inputs necessary to maintain heading and altitude. Requirements for visual acuity are specified in various regulations and certification requirements. Even for those whose vision meets all the standards, the need for the right type of sunglasses is critical. Read on for a pilot's guide to picking the best aviation sunglasses.
Aviator sunglasses help to protect the eyes against harsh, high-altitude light. Pilot’s eyes are particularly at risk of sun exposure at high altitudes as they are closer to the ultraviolet rays which penetrate skin and eye cells, and experience a higher concentration of said UV. Brightness alone can cause eye fatigue, weaken eyes, and cause radiation damage. The US Department of Defense has established specifications for sunglasses worn by military pilots.
There are several factors to consider when choosing eye protection for pilots. These include the material used, filters, coatings, compatibility with helmets or other head pieces, VLT and design.
VLT or Visible Light Transmission
Visible Light Transmission is the percentage of light which is transmitted through the lens to the eye. When choosing flight glasses for pilots, consider VLT. A higher VLT means a lighter tint to the lens, thus letting more light through to the eye. A lower VLT reading means a tint that is darker and blocks more light before it reaches the eye.
The 9% VLT lens is quite dark. These lenses transmit only 9% of available light. This level is ideal for flying into the sun, flying west, or flying in a very exposed cockpit. A mid range VLT transmits around 18% of available light. Mid range VLT is the best choice for mixed or general light conditions. The lightest VLT lenses range from 24 to 30 percent. These are best suited for darker cockpits, or for aviators who require more light. If the pilot does not typically use sunglasses, or takes them off during the flight, he or she may find that they are able to wear eye protection with a light VLT all day long, in every condition.
Don’t forget to consider your usual weather conditions either. Pacific Northwestern pilots often prefer a higher VLT to accommodate frequent fog, whereas pilots in the Southwest tend to lean toward lower VLT for intense brightness.
Protection Against UVA and UVB Light
UVA or long wave UV light makes up about 95 percent of ultraviolet light that reaches eyes and skin. The other five percent are UVB rays, which are responsible for sunburn. The best eye protection for pilots effectively blocks both types of light. UV exposure increases with altitude, and polarized sunglasses interfere with the UV coatings on windscreens, creating visual distortion. Method Seven non-polarized flight glasses block infrared heat energy and ultraviolet light to keep eyes cool and focused on extended flights. Not all windscreens are created equal and many do not block UV. Take a look at our study on windscreens.
Notch Filters Sharpen Contrast
An optical filter selectively transmits a portion of the optical spectrum while blocking others. This feature makes it possible for aviators to experience enhanced contrast while scanning traffic, observing cloud formations, or glancing down at instrument readings. In the cockpit, glare can actually be a useful indicator in seeing conflicting traffic early. Advanced notch filtering technology is custom crafted for Method Seven flight glasses for pilots who need prescription lenses, whether bifocal, single vision or progressive.
Benefits of Coatings
Appropriate coatings contribute to factors such as clarity, glare reduction, and color balancing. Individually, these are all critical elements to consider when choosing aviator sunglasses. The Method Seven SKY proprietary formula uses thirteen different coatings, aiding visibility, acuity, and ability to perform visual tasks. The thirteen coatings help balance color, contrast, and reduce glare; while mineral glass filters UV and absorbs infrared. An anti-reflective coating also protects eyes by preventing peripheral light from reflecting from the back of the lens to the eye.
Design, Compatibility, And Materials
High quality pilot glasses are critical for a pilot that is going to be traveling 10 or more hours on a long haul flight. There are some elements of frame design which carry more weight than others. For one, compatibility with other pilot headwear. Aviators need to be sure that their pilot aviator sunglasses fit with headsets, helmets and oxygen masks, without causing pressure points on the side of the head or the bridge of the nose.
There are an array of temple or arm styles. Method Seven loves bayonet temples, which work seamlessly for aviators who also wear a headset or other headgear. Bayonet temples extend straight back along the side of the pilot's head, and maintain a sound-proof seal with noise canceling headsets. Skull temples are also known as wire spatula temples. These are the style one imagines as standard. Unless special attention is paid to frame material flexibility, and durability to support frequent flexing, standard Skull temples are notorious for breaking a sound seal. Quality materials are paramount for durability. Titanium steel is considered one of the best materials for strong yet flexible flight glasses.
The classic aviator design has been a favorite style in pilot aviator sunglasses for decades. Materials which were not available in past decades have been incorporated into the style of Method Seven aviator sunglasses for added strength and acuity of vision.
High quality pilot glasses are an investment in your eyes, no matter what type of career you are pursuing. It helps to consider these factors before choosing aviation glasses. If possible, take time to try the style that looks and feels good with the full equipment and headgear that you will typically wear during flight.