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Aviator Shades: The Ultimate Accessory

One of the most important assets that pilots have are their eyes. 

This makes wearing aviator shades an essential piece of flight equipment.

We all know what a pair of aviator shades look like. Rectangular shape and those straight-back temples, which are 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 today, so understanding the quality and performance of those products is very important.

The result? 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 manufacture their own sunglasses.

The two which interest me the most are AO Eyewear and Randolph Engineering.

Strangely enough, there is a relationship between the two companies.

AO and Randolph Engineering

AO stands for The American Optical Company. It has a long history going back to 1833.

American Optical has been involved with all kinds of products involving lenses from early spectacles to bomb sights during World War II.

AO was among the first companies to provide eyewear for the US Military starting with World War I and continuing through World War II until the early 1970s.

American Optical grew into a very large company and had a number of divisions providing everything from eyeglasses to microscopes and more. 

As so often happens, the company became too big and too diversified. The company became an acquisition target and in the not-to-distant past was broken up and sold in parts.

The president of the company when it was broken up was Alan McKinley, and he purchased the sunglasses division and started AO Eyewear, Inc., still in Southbridge, MA.

Today AO Eyewear survives as one of the parts and manufactured AO Original Pilot and AO General sunglasses in Southbridge, MA until it was sold.

The plant was just down the road from the old American Optical campus.

Early in 2020 AO Eyewear, Inc. was sold to Europa Eyewear, an eyeglass frame manufacturer in Vernon Hills, IL.

AO and Randolph Engineering

Randolph Engineering, Inc. came into existence in 1972 when two Polish immigrants who escaped the Nazi occupation of Poland eventually migrated to the US where they attended school in Boston, MA to become engineers.

They were Jan Waszkiewicz and Stanley Zaleski, and I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Stanley at the factory in Randolph, MA.

Jan Waszkiewicz and Stanley Zaleski, the founders of Randolph Engineering, Inc. of Randolph, MA.

Once they completed their education they sought work in the local area and soon found work at the American Optical Company in Southbridge, MA.

It turns out that American Optical was the first company the partners who started Randolph Engineering worked at!

Randolph Aviators vs AO Original Pilot

Each company touts its flagship product as the best aviator sunglasses for pilots.

But which really is best?

Randolph Engineering was founded in 1972, but before that time The American Optical Company 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.

That's when they began manufacturing Randolph Aviator sunglasses and Randolph Concorde Aviator sunglasses.

The Competition Is On!

In order to get a foothold in the aviator shades business, Randolph Engineering sponsored Sean D. Tucker, an exceptional aerobatic pilot.

He painted his aircraft in dark blue and red with Randolph Sunglasses emblazoned on the side.

Sean D. Tucker with his aerobatic aircraft emblazoned with the Randolph Sunglasses logo.

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 was broken up and one of the pieces becomes AO Eyewear.

In order to try and gain a competitive edge, AO Eyewear moved 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 number of 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 its 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 $ 194.00 and up, while Randolph’s list for $ 259.00 and up.

So why pay 28% more for a pair of Randolph Aviators?

Well, there are some differences even if they look identical.

The Differences

AO Eyewear Original Pilot sunglasses retail for around $ 194.00 because they still have steel frames that pit over time and lenses manufactured overseas. But they have been working to change that and now their lenses are very competitive.

 

Randolph Engineering uses 18% nickel silver eye wire for their frames, and they use their own solder to hold the frames together. All of their lenses are either crown mineral glass or nylon, both of which provide exceptional visual acuity and distortion-free vision.

This means that Randolph can offer a lifetime warranty on the frame, and they also offer brand new Randolph replacement parts for the sunglasses.

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 the price is important it is not the only consideration.

My Choice?

Well, I sell both, so the choice is really up to you.

 

You can find Randolph Sunglasses on our Randolph Products page, and AO Eyewear sunglasses on our AO Eyewear page.

I hope that you have enjoyed this article, and be sure to keep your eyes cool and protected!

p.s. Please share “Aviator Shades: The Ultimate
Accessory For Pilots” with your friends!

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