So I had the question the other day if Aviator sunglasses actually came from aviation or not. Now, Who knows if the New York Times had it right and honestly, I think the question is really “Do Aviators have value over other sunglasses on the market for pilots?”
So let’s address that question as I find it a little more revealing.
First, take into account how our eyes function with day and night vision. During the day your pupils contract and dilate letting in more and less light to the optical decoders in your eyes. During the day you can look straight on and gauge distance and motion fairly accurately. At night however this is a different story. The reason is that your eyes use different chemicals (look into rhodopsin for more details) and sensitivity for daytime and night vision. This is the reason it is actually harder to see and judge speeds/distances/size at night and also known as photo-bleaching. You will likely be most affected within the initial first 30 minutes of going from bright light to dark. This is because it takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to dissipate the chemical setup best used for day vision. To minimize the effects of bright lights in the cockpit at night try using red lighting to see at night.
To keep from over-bleaching or depleting the helpful chemicals you would want to wear something that keeps a lot of light out and covers a wide range in front of the eyes…. sound like a product we know?
Second, if you want to see better at night, simply look off to the side slightly. Yup, it works. Your eyes are set up that your peripheral vision is best suited for night. Try this the next time you are trying to focus in on something in the dark.
Third, and this is primarily for pilots…. Oxygen at higher atmosphere is thinner. You know this from your training but think of what this really means. Your brain and body is operating on less oxygen. If you want to see how this really affects you I would say that while at even 5000 feet MSL to take some oxygen from a tank if you have one. You will immediately (within minutes) see a difference. perhaps try focusing on stars or something not too far in the range of drastic light differences.
Now that we know all this it makes sense that you would want large lens sunglasses that reduce glare and let in a low amount of light (say around 15% is my personal preference). If they are a gray color then even better to minimize color distortion. A neutral gray lens will filter all colors equally where something like a green lens will wash out greens.
Aviator glasses shape and style lend itself very well to pilots flying into noticeable light differences.
And for those that want me to answer the actual question, here is the info I found:
“Aviator sunglasses, or “pilot’s glasses”, were originally developed in 1936 by Bausch & Lomb for pilots to protect their eyes while flying, thus the name aviator.”
I love questions but will always say “Don’t trust me, do research, ask around and find out for yourself” as I am not an expert and am not giving advise or training but sharing what I think to be true.