A pair of good sunglasses is non-negotiable in the cockpit, but where sunglasses for pilots differ is that you need them to do a lot more than just look good.
In short, the American Optical Original Pilot ticks all the right boxes and what I recommend, but there are other options worth considering too.
Table of Contents
- 1 The 6 Best Sunglasses for Pilots
- 2 How to Pick the Best Pilot Sunglasses
- 3 FAQs
The 6 Best Sunglasses for Pilots
American Optical Original
These American Optical Original Pilot Sunglasses put the company on the map.
Considering U.S. military pilots have put their trust in these non-polarized sunglasses for 50 years you just know they are good.
They meet rigid military specifications, so are designed to last, and provide full protection against ultraviolet rays.
Another pair of sunglasses for pilots that were originally designed for the U.S military and meet stringent standards are these Aviator Sunglasses from Randolph Engineering.
Also made in the USA, compared to the American Optical Original, the most immediate difference is the nicer case and inclusion of accessories.
The Randolph Aviator case is made from leather, comes with a cleaning cloth, extra screws, and nosepads.
Besides this, hey also have smoother arm movement, and softer, more comfortable nosepads. Ultraviolet protection of both is very high.
The Serengeti Velocity sunglasses are very lightweight and comfortable thanks to their titanium frame and silicon gel nose pads.
Such a light and thin frame meant that they didn’t get in the way of my headset, which is an all too common complaint pilots have when wearing sunglasses.
The gradient lenses, made of lightweight mineral glass, are photochromic which adjusted to the brightness of the sun throughout the day.
These get darker the brighter it gets, but manage to quickly adjust when it becomes lighter again, so as not to negatively impact a pilot’s vision.
Randolph Concorde Aviator
If you prefer a pair of sunglasses with more of the classic aviator shape, the Randolph Concorde is the better choice.
Named after the Concorde supersonic passenger airliner, these have the same high quality designed to meet rigid military pilot sunglasses standards and UV protection as the Original Aviators.
Ray-Ban RB3025 Aviator
No list of the best aviation sunglasses would be complete without the mention of Ray-Bans.
Hear the name Ray-Ban and you immediately think of the RB3025 with its iconic teardrop shape, crystal lenses, and metal frame.
For something a little different, the Ray-Ban RB2132 is worth checking out too. They have the classic Wayfarer shape.
The Serengeti Summit is a good choice if you need a pair of sunglasses for flying but are on a budget.
Pilots have had good things to say about the sunglasses’ clarity, which is largely down to the single-gradient lens.
The Nylon TR90 frame is lightweight and flexible to ensure that the sunglasses sit comfortably on your temples while also being able to withstand sudden ground shocks.
How to Pick the Best Pilot Sunglasses
Polarized vs. Non-Polarized Lenses
Pilots should not wear polarized sunglasses and should always opt for sunglasses with non-polarized lenses.
Polarized lenses may be great for filtering out glare, but this is precisely why they are not recommended for flying.
Instruments in the cockpit tend to already have anti-glare filters to make them easier to read. But when wearing a pair of polarized sunglasses the filtering becomes too much.
There’s also the issue of looking outside the cockpit to spot other aircraft.
It becomes more difficult to spot light reflecting off shiny surfaces like another aircraft’s wing or windscreen when wearing sunglasses with polarized lenses.
The best tint color for aviation sunglasses is a neutral gray.
This is because it distorts color the least.
Sunglasses best suited for flying should screen only 70-85% of visible light and therefore not distort color too much.
Crown glass, monomer plastic (CR-39), and polycarbonate plastic are the three most common lens material used in sunglasses.
Polycarbonate lenses are lighter and more impact resistant while CR-39 and glass lenses have better optical qualities.
While there may be a clear reason to use non-polarized over polarized lenses, there is no real preference for the lens material of aviator sunglasses.
Ultraviolet protection is excellent from all three.
Photocromic lenses darken when exposed to bright light and lighten under dim lighting conditions.
Considering these lenses can take a long time to once again lighten after having exposed to bright light they generally aren’t recommended.
While the type and style of frame of a pair of aviator sunglasses may come down to personal preference, it’s wise to make sure they do not interfere with the wear of aviation headsets or protective breathing equipment.
While safety is of course important in both of these aspects, the discomfort of having the sunglasses push against your temple becomes an annoyance.
Fit: Sunglasses for flying should fit well, so they are not displaced from turbulence or when performing aerobatic maneuvers.
What Sunglasses Did Tom Cruise Wear in Top Gun?
In the film Top Gun, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, the character played by Tom Cruise, wore Ray-Ban RB3025 aviatior sunglasses with gold frames and green lenses.
What Are the Best Sunglasses for Female Pilots?
The best pilot sunglasses for women are generally the same as the best ones for men, only in smaller sizes. Aviator-style sunglasses in particular are generally known to be unisex.
A good model designed specifically for women, though, is the Kate Spade Women’s Amarissa Aviator Sunglasses.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.