When it comes to polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses, for most people, it usually comes down to a matter of preference.
Polarized sunglasses are usually preferred by most people, especially for outdoor activities, due to just how effective they are at eliminating glare.
But for pilots, although polarized sunglasses are not forbidden from being worn, it is still highly recommended that are avoided.
The FAA even states that they do not recommend pilots wear polarized sunglasses.
Pilots should instead opt for non-polarized models, whether those be aviator sunglasses or not.
This may seem counterintuitive because pilots often see sunlight reflected from clouds when flying, making polarized sunglasses sound like the perfect option for pilots.
But this isn’t the case.
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2 Reasons Pilots Should Not Wear Polarized Sunglasses
In a cockpit, many instruments, including LCD screens and gauges, already have anti-glare filters to make them easier to read.
This means that if a pilot were to also wear polarized sunglasses, the anti-glare properties of both the sunglasses and instruments would be too much, making the instruments harder to read.
An example is the display on the radio management panel that turns black when looking at it from a side-angle.
To make matters worse, the radio management panel is used a lot by pilots while flying.
Visibility Outside the Cockpit
When wearing sunglasses with polarized lenses, it becomes more difficult to spot light reflecting off shiny surfaces like another aircraft’s wing or windshield.
This is because polarized sunglasses enhance striations (the series of ridges, furrows or linear marks) in laminated materials, which can negatively impact a pilot’s visibility.
A plane’s cockpit windows and windshield are also partially polarized, which makes dark patches appear when looking through them with polarized sunglasses.
Pilots Can Wear Mirrored Sunglasses
Pilots can wear mirrored sunglasses if they want to.
This is because mirrored sunglasses don’t suffer from the same negative effects that polarized sunglasses have on a pilot’s visibility inside and outside the cockpit.
Note that mirrored sunglasses can either be polarized or non-polarized, but there is nothing about the mirrored style itself that affects visibility for pilots.
The Best Sunglasses for Pilots
The best sunglasses for pilots are:
Serengeti Velocity: The Serengeti Velocity are very lightweight, comfortable and have a thin frame, so they won’t get in the way of your aviation headset.
American Optical Original: U.S. military pilots have put their trust in the American Optical Original Sunglasses for over 50 years.
Tom Cruise Wore Ray-Bans in Top Gun
In the film Top Gun, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, the character played by Tom Cruise, wore Ray-Ban RB3025 aviator sunglasses with gold frames and green lenses.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).