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Article: History of Military Aviator Sunglasses

History of Military Aviator Sunglasses

Welcome to the History of Military Aviator Sunglasses by me, John M. White a/ka/ JetAviator7.

Yes, I am a pilot - but, I did not start flying with the Wright Brothers!

On 5-31-1962 I passed my Private Pilot checkride and became a pilot!

I was 20 years old.

Then I became interested in sunglasses.                                      

The Birth of Aviation

In 1903 the Wright Brothers brought powered flight to the world.

The invention of the flying machine grew rapidly and by World War I airplanes had become weapons of war.

Each new aircraft developed performed better than it's predecessor, and flew higher and faster than before.

But, those old engines spit out as much oil as they had in them. Guess where all that oil went?

Yes, you guessed right - right into the pilot's face and eyes.

My guess is most of you thought those flowing white scarves were a fashion statement to impress the ladies, but you would be wrong!

They were used to wipe the oil off the face and flight goggles.

Oh, by the way, flight goggles were there not to protect the pilot's eyes from the sun, but rather from all that flying oil spewing forth from the engine.

Goggles and Scarf

They had another purpose as well. Read about that here: "Why did WWI pilots wear white silk scarves?"

Military Sunglasses

Each new military aircraft that was built flew higher and higher than it's predecessor.

The aircraft grew larger, carried more fuel, and became more important as weapons of war.

Protecting the flight crews became more critical and the military looked at all apects of flight to learn how to provide that protection.

Of all the senses required for flight eyes were at the top of the list.

After all, glare from the sun could prevent a pilot from seeing the enemy and put his own life at risk.

So sunlgasses became an essential piece of equipment for pilots.

World Wars

In 1833 the American Optical Company (AO) was born and pioneered optical and eyewear innovation.

In 1914 AO became the first company to supply goggles to US military pilots:

The First Goggles For Pilots

In 1917 during WWI AO builds Mobile Field Units to supply military personnel with eyewear.

But the U.S. Army Air Corps wanted to further protect military aviators eyes with sunglasses.

They contracted with AO to specially design the very first sunglasses for military pilots.

 The classic aviator shape is born featuring USAAC branding:

The First Military Aviator Sunglasses (AO USAAC Sunglasses) are born in 1935

During WWII AO supplies more than 5 million pairs of military sunglasses to military pilots and troops.

AO continued to improve it's line of sunglasses, and in 1958 introduces the first of the new iconic style of military aviator sunglasses with it's new FG-58:

AO creates the iconic FG (flight goggle)-58 for American military pilots

 A Trip To The Moon

 In 1969 the Apollo 11 crew lands on the moon wearing AO FG-58 sunglasses (now known as AO Original Pilot sunglasses). 

A pair from the moon mission are on display at the Smithsonian:

 AO Original Pilot FG-58 sunglasses - The first sunglasses on the moon!

I Discover Military Aviator Sunglasses 

It was after high school when I joined the USAF (not as a pilot sadly) that I first came in contact with those wonderful old AO sunglasses.

I learned to fly during that time at a local airport near the base I was stationed at.

It was at the PX (post exchange) where I found my first pair of sunglasses.

By then the original tear drop shape had been replaced by the more rectangular shape of Aviator sunglasses.

Man were they cheap! For less than 20 bucks you could buy a pair of those AOs!

Today aviator sunglasses are one of the most popular styles of sunglasses on the market today.

Military pilots around the world wear these iconic military aviator sunglasses along with fashionistas and military service personnel around the world.

Thanks for reading this post.

 Stay safe and if you are a pilot keep your wings straight and level Hersch!

John M. White a/k/a JetAviator7

The History of Military Aviator Sunglasses



1 comment

Hi John. Love your posts about aviation! Always look forward to the next one. I am an Air Force guy as well. 70-74, Saw AFB in South Carolina. Might have found a glitch in this story…certainly not a criticism! Just to keep the story authentic. Your lines, I learned to fly

during that time at a local airport near the base I was stationed at.
It was at the PX (post exchange) where I found my first pair of sunglasses.
A PX is found on an Army Post. A BX (Base Exchange) is found on an Air Force Base.

Barry LaPoint

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