Eyewear Evolution: From Aviators to Laser Protection

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It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Knowing that, it is not hard to understand that a lot of the consumer products we take for granted today find their roots in military necessity. Are you a big fan of duct tape? It was first developed as a military tool during World War II. How about aviator sunglasses? They started their life as a tool to help pilots see better.

The interesting thing about the military is that it cannot waste time and resources looking for tools that work. If they cannot find what they need rather quickly, they have to make it. That’s where aviator sunglasses come into play. The U.S. military had a critical need that could not be filled by any existing product. Their only choice was to hire Bausch & Lomb to make new eyewear. And that is just what happened.

Now it looks like the military is and again. The U.S. Air Force has just granted millions of dollars in contracts to two companies who will create the next generation of pilot eyewear. But this time around, it’s not sunlight Air Force officials were worried about. It’s lasers.

The Birth of Aviators

World War I introduced the skies as a new battlefield among countries capable of building warplanes. As effective as this new method of fighting was, it quickly became apparent that aviation goggles were not all that great. Goggles protected the eyes against the wind, bugs, and debris, but they did little to combat sun glare. This needed to change if American pilots ever hoped to dominate the skies. That’s where Bausch & Lomb comes in, explains Olympic Eyewear, a Utah company that designs and sells more than a dozen brands of affordable sunglasses.

In the mid-1930s, the military went to Bausch & Lomb with a need; create a replacement for aviator goggles that could handle the sunlight issue. Bausch & Lomb answered the call. They introduced their first pair of aviator sunglasses in 1936. Those classes featured polarized lenses that did exactly what military brass wanted.

An added bonus of these new aviators was their light weight. Remarkably lighter than older goggles, they were also more comfortable to wear during long missions. Pilots absolutely loved them, so much so that they started wearing their military-issued sunglasses even when they weren’t flying. That’s how aviators caught on with the general public. What began as a tool of military necessity eventually became the most popular style of sunglasses in the world.

A Whole New World

Aviator sunglasses served American pilots well throughout the Second World War, Korea, and even Vietnam. But now we live in a whole new world. Modern warfare exists in a world of intense night combat and laser-guided weaponry. And if you know anything about lasers, you know how easy it is to throw a pilot off his/her game by shining a laser in his/her eyes.

Even the smallest laser can be both distracting and disorienting to a pilot. That’s why it’s illegal to point a laser device at any kind of aircraft while it’s in flight. During war though, enemy combatants are not worried about civilian law. They want to win. If that means bringing down pilots by pointing lasers at them, so be it.

The only way to deal with the laser issue is to provide pilots with eyewear that filters it out. The two contractors are expected to come up with something that does the trick. Who knows? Their new eyewear might eventually make it to the mainstream the same way aviators did.