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Do the windows in a 172 provide any protection from the sun or is too bright? Particularly, if one wants to do a flying lesson and was told to bring sunglasses more than once. So, is it critical? My friend doesn't have sunglasses and would have to get prescribed ones which he can't get now. He got a gift of a flying lesson so he wants to try it but is being in the plane without sunglasses doable? Or will he be squinting the entire time? Or is it really bad for your eyes?

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  • $\begingroup$ In broad daylight (where the sun is high), definitely doable. I have no problem looking out at all. Sunrise or sunset, better get them. $\endgroup$ – kevin Jan 30 '15 at 7:28
  • $\begingroup$ @kevin If the sun sets around 4pm what block of time is the absolute best without sunglasses? $\endgroup$ – verve Jan 30 '15 at 7:34
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    $\begingroup$ It isn't block of time, it's the heading. You don't want to be landing at runway 27 without sunglasses... $\endgroup$ – kevin Jan 30 '15 at 8:16
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    $\begingroup$ @verve Runways are numbered based on their heading. Runway 27 means that the heading is around 270 degrees, which is West, where the sun sets, which is why he said that wouldn't be fun in the late afternoon. $\endgroup$ – reirab Jan 30 '15 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ Not currently having prescription sunglasses is understandable, but there are two important things to consider. First - the cost of prescription sunglasses is eclipsed by just a few flight lessons, so even if the current lessons are a gift, that gift will eventually run out. Second, clip-on sunglasses (they clip over regular prescription glasses) are very inexpensive. $\endgroup$ – mah Feb 1 '15 at 11:55
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Definitely doable. No real protection from the sun just through the windshield but I flew a C172 for many years only using sunglasses occasionally. Just don't make the same mistake I did when I first started flying- paid a lot for a pair of polarised sunglasses then jumped in the cockpit and all the LCD screens went blank! :)

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    $\begingroup$ The ones that make you look real cool $\endgroup$ – kevin Jan 30 '15 at 10:14
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    $\begingroup$ @verve it's true! Some that make you look cool. Haha. No but some that almost 'wrap-around' can be good. Otherwise, the contrast between the brightness seen out of the corner of your eyes, and the darkness through the sunglasses can make seeing inside the cockpit quite difficult $\endgroup$ – verrucktfuchs Jan 30 '15 at 10:18
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    $\begingroup$ I don't like wrap around because they inhibit my peripheral vision. $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 30 '15 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ Big +1 for mentioning the problem with polarized glasses and LCD screens. (it goes for certain iPads and other cockpit accessories as well). Last time I went to buy sunglasses, I asked for non-polarized, and the salesman immediately responded with, "Are you a pilot?". :) $\endgroup$ – abelenky Jan 30 '15 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ @SpongeBob: ALL LCD screens are polarized by principle. There is no way to make an LCD that is not polarized (and G1000 has LCD, so polarized displays). Then it depends on the plane of polarization. Polarized sunglasses are always horizontally polarized. If the display is also horizontally polarized, it is actually visible better than without the glasses. But if it is polarized vertically, it is completely invisible. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jan 31 '15 at 23:41
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There are two main issues here: brightness, and UV protection. For brightness, it's really no different from being in a car. If the weather is cloudy or just not very bright then you won't need sunglasses in order to see. But if the sun is very bright, if you're flying over water or snow, or into the setting sun etc. then you would need them to see in exactly the same way that you would need them in a car (or on a boat) in similar conditions.

The UV question depends on the aircraft. Light aircraft windows are not made of glass and don't offer the same kind of UV protection that most car windows do. But they still do protect against UV and the bigger concern is apparently with glass windows found in larger aircraft that also fly higher where UV is more intense:

[...] glass laminate windscreens allowed higher levels of potentially damaging UV-A radiation to be transmitted than did plastic. Professional pilots who routinely fly at higher altitude for longer periods of time than private pilots should take special precautions to protect their eyes from UV exposure.

In any case, for one flight it won't matter at all, but if your friend continues to fly then he should really get a pair of sunglasses with UV protection. The FAA has a detailed pilot's guide to sunglasses here.

And as someone has already mentioned, polarized glasses are not recommended in aircraft because they prevent you seeing LCD screens clearly.

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  • $\begingroup$ The acrylic in light aircraft windows actually offers pretty good UV protection (cuts off most UV below ~300 nanometers, similar to "regular" glass) -- this is why photochromic eyeglass lenses (Transitions & similar) won't darken much in the cockpit. (The acrylic absorbing UV light is one of the factors that causes yellowing, haze, and crazing on the windows of aircraft that spend their life on a ramp.) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Jan 30 '15 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ @voretaq7 Interesting, I have to admit that I was basing that on some second-hand knowledge but an FAA study on this does say that glass (especially at altitude) lets more UV through than GA aircraft. I'll update my answer. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jan 30 '15 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Pondlife : The discussion about UV made me wonder: do you get sunburnt through this kind of window? $\endgroup$ – Patric Hartmann Mar 17 '15 at 17:56
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Sunglasses are not absolutely necessary when flying. I have flown the Cessna 172 with regular glasses only, and encountered no difficulty looking outside and inside.

If the area is covered with snow, it is better to wear glasses to protect the eyes though.

If you're flying during sunrise or sunset, better get them. On the Cessna 172, there is a shield (similar to that in cars) that can be unfolded from above if you encounter strong sunlight:Cessna approaching KSBA Rwy 25 during sunset

Although, some times even the pros can't bear it:

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    $\begingroup$ Mmm, always thought those were inner leading edge slats ;) $\endgroup$ – Rob Vermeulen Jan 31 '15 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ @kevin Like a car shield?!!! Interesting, would have never thought a plane had that. Do most small planes have that? $\endgroup$ – verve Feb 1 '15 at 11:14
  • $\begingroup$ Do the newer models of the 172 have the shield? $\endgroup$ – verve Feb 6 '15 at 10:26
  • $\begingroup$ @verve I haven't flown a lot of various models to tell. But it's a common thing, unless the cockpit has a glass canopy (like those in fighter jets). $\endgroup$ – kevin Feb 7 '15 at 7:42
  • $\begingroup$ Funny how that 172's registration is, in part, 172. I wonder if someone was bored at work that day? $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 8 '18 at 18:43
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Nobody needs sunglasses, they are a just a convenience. They are very helpful for sure, especially in bright sunlight and hazy conditions, but not absolutely essential.

As for what to get you want non-polarized, and if you have require an eyeglass prescription on your medical the sunglasses will need to be that prescription.

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  • $\begingroup$ why non-polarized? I fly with polarized without problems. $\endgroup$ – Peter Mar 18 '15 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ ah, I see it can cause problems with some glass cockpits. depends on the angle of polarization of the glasses and the screens. I haven’t had problems with G1000 in C172SP. $\endgroup$ – Peter Mar 18 '15 at 22:54
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It is just like driving out in the open, like on a desert highway. If you would not mind driving for an hour and a half on a desert highway in the midday summer sun, then you will have no problem during your lesson.

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No you don't "need" them but I would strongly advise them for a few reasons,

UV Protection

Not only do the front windshields of GA planes provide little UV protection you are flying at altitude and the higher you go the less natural UV protection you will get. Granted the change may me minimal it is still present.

Comfort

Long exposure to bright sunlight can cause the eyes to tire out which can make it harder to see. You can actually get sun burn on your retina if you are exposed directly for to long. The last thing you want to happen when you are flying is to impair your vision in any way or simply get fatigued. That is when you start to make mistakes in a plane.

Looks

Who doesn't look great in aviators...

Some Advice

I also wear glasses regularly for distance (like your friend). When I started flying it was actually cheaper (or about even) to get fit for contacts and buy a nice pair of aviators than it was to get prescription sunglasses cut. I now don't have to worry about my sun glass prescription having to be cut or losing a very expensive pair of prescription sunglasses.

As mentioned I would NOT get polarized sun glasses because of the issues with glass cockpits. I have a pair of Ray-Ban aviators with the G15 (non polarized) glass and they are great. That being said I would also opt for more function over style here. Don't get half fade lenses or any of that stuff either it may look cooler but it wont provide any sun protection on the bottom half of the lens. You want something that provides good protection but still allows a good amount of light in as you will still have to read the instruments.

Edit

G15 is the traditional green glass that Ray-Ban uses in their sunglasses. It provides good protection with out the need for polarization. I suggested it because I also had a pair of the half fade Ray-Bans that I tried to fly with when I first started and they were terrible. They simply did not block enough light to be as effective as I wanted/needed them to be. The G15 provides a good amount of coverage with out using polarization and thus without interfering with glass cockpits if you happen to end up in that kind of plane.

I do not know how long you need to be exposed to get permanent eye damage but I tend to not play around with these kinds of issues, especially if it will permanently hamper my ability to fly. A decent pair of sun glasses be it Ray-Bans or any other of the popular brands may run you $100-$150 which pales in comparison to what you will spend getting your PPL.

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  • $\begingroup$ What exactly is g-15? $\endgroup$ – verve Feb 6 '15 at 10:23
  • $\begingroup$ Retina burns? Oof! How long does the exposure have to be? $\endgroup$ – verve Feb 6 '15 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ I will edit my answer to reflect these questions. $\endgroup$ – Dave Feb 6 '15 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, so G15 is a Ray Ban thing? What is the common term in other brands? $\endgroup$ – verve Feb 8 '15 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ It is, I don't know of the common term is for it but any decent lenses will do as long as they are not polarized. When it comes to nice sunglasses for what its worth Ray Bans are not as expensive as some of their competitors. $\endgroup$ – Dave Feb 8 '15 at 16:43
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It never hurts to bring your sunglasses along. Before getting in the plane, you'll do a visual inspection of the aircraft on the ground by walking around it and looking at things like flaps, ailerons, lights, etc. This usually happens on the ramp which is out in the open so it's an excellent time to gauge whether to wear your sunnies for the flight or not. At least, that's what I do.

It isn't that different from driving a car (or even better - riding a motorbike) out in open countryside, it depends mostly on the brightness of the day, the season, and how low the sun is in the sky. Not all planes have sun visors, so you'll definitely want your sunnies if the sun is low in the sky.

If you plan to do a lot of flying

AS/NZS 1067:2003 requires all sunglasses to meet minimum standards for glare, UV protection and colouration. All sunglasses sold are required to meet the standard. If you're in another country and plan to do a lot of flying, you'll want to check what laws apply to sunglasses (if any) and what UV and glare protection is provided by the glasses you intend to use.

The hazards associated with repeat, high-UV sun exposure to the eyes include inflammation, cataracts, eyelid cancer, retina degeneration and impaired night vision, so it's well worth protecting your vision with good quality UV blocking sunglasses.

Enjoy your flight!

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