One of the most important assets that pilots have are their eyes which makes aviator shades an essential piece of equipment.
We all know what a pair of aviator shades look like. Rectangular shape and those straight back temples unique to military pilots flying high performance jets.
All Aviator Shades Are Not All The Same
So many products are being manufactured all over the world and some aviator shades are better than others.
For me Made In America is a clarion call to excellence, and when it comes to aviator sunglasses it still applies.
Today several companies in the United States manufacturing their own sunglasses. Two which interest me are AO Eyewear and Randolph.
Strangely enough there is a relationship between the two companies.
AO and Randolph Engineering
It turns out that American Optical was the first company the partners who started Randolph Engineering worked at!
At one point in time American Optical was a huge company that had provided eyewear for the U.S. military during both World Wars.
But at some point the company became too big and too diversified. The company became an acquisition target and in the not to distance past was broken up.
Today AO Eyewear survives as one of the parts and manufactures AO Original Pilot and General sunglasses in Southbridge, MA. The plant is just down the road from the old American Optical campus.
Randolph Aviators vs AO Original Pilot
Each company touts it’s flagship product as the best aviator sunglasses for pilots.
But which really is best?
Randolph Engineering was founded in 1972, but before that time American Optical had already been manufacturing their aviator style sunglasses for years.
In fact, American Optical aviator sunglasses were on the first flight to the moon!
But Jan Waszkiewicz and Stanley Zaleski, the founders of Randolph Engineering, felt they could do better.
The Competition Is On!
In order to get a foothold in the aviator shades business Randolph Sunglasses sponsors Sean D. Tucker, and exceptional aerobatic pilot.
He paints his aircraft in dark blue and red with Randolph Sunglasses emblazoned on the side.
By 1980 Randolph has become the prime supplier of aviator sunglasses to U.S. Military pilots, and continues to provide them to this day.
In the meantime American Optical is broken up and one of the pieces becomes AO Eyewear.
In order to try and gain a competitive edge AO Eyewear moves its production to China.
It turns out it was not a great move! Quality suffered and problems ensued.
But the new owner of AO Eyewear was determined to bring quality back to their product, and a little over two years ago brought manufacturing back to the United States.
They purchased new equipment and technology to manufacture better products, and have succeeded in improving the quality.
Today AO Eyewear no longer competes for the DoD contract and has moved their production back to the United States.
Which One Makes Better Aviators?
To be brutally honest it is a tough call. I love both products, but the standard aviator sunglasses from either manufacturer with 23K gold plated frames, bayonet temples and gray lenses will work well.
But there are differences, starting with price. A pair of AO’s list for $ 90.00 while the Randolph’s list for $ 169.00.
So why pay 88% more for a pair of Randolph Aviators?
Well, there are some differences even if they look identical.
AO Eyewear Original Pilot sunglasses retail for around $ 90.00 because they still have steel frames that pit easily and lenses manufactured overseas which don’t have the quality of Randolph lenses.
Randolph Engineering uses 18% nickel silver eye wire for their frames, and they use their own solder to hold the frames together. This means that Randolph can offer a lifetime warranty of the frame.
In addition it is very easy to get replacement parts for Randolph sunglasses so you never have to buy a new pair.
It is clear that while price is important it is not the only consideration.
Well, I sell both, so the choice is really up to you.
I hope that you have enjoyed this article, and be sure to keep your eyes cool and protected!