Need some sunglasses that work well in the cockpit? Bigatmo might just have the solution
Review of Bigatmo Pilot Sunglasses
by Andy Brown Log Board Member
You know what it’s like when something doesn’t work quite right, and you cannot seem to buy that article for love or money? My current gripe is my ‘airline pilot’ briefcase, which when I bought it was being sold to every Tom, Dick and Harry, and frankly doesn’t work for me. You see it has pockets on the inside for useful bits of A4 paper (yes, I still like bits of paper) or your wallet, or whatever, but they are open at the bottom and everything falls to the bottom of the bag in a complete mess, and I cannot find anything. My fault completely, I probably bought it on the internet because it was cheap. Now you can no doubt tell I am a bit of an old geezer and I do have my Victor Meldrew moments when I can’t find my wallet – again. Just ask my wife.
Al Carrie is a current airline pilot and seven years ago was looking for some decent sunglasses that can cope with LCD displays and massively differing light levels that you find on a flight deck. Al couldn’t find quite what he wanted and decided to do something about it and set up Bigatmo. He approached designers, scientists, manufacturers and optical experts as well as talking to airline pilots, display and air-race pilots in order to build the best possible sunglasses for pilots. Bigatmo uses military grade patented NXT/Trivex technology, as used in Apache attack helicopters, for the lenses, and utilises titanium in the frames for strength and lightness. The two main sunglasses lenses for pilots are ‘Zeolite’’ and ‘Alutra’. Modern flight deck displays are polarised in different directions so shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Polaroids, but you will see all the heating elements in the windscreen. Older flight decks will pose a problem with Polaroids, so Al recommends the Zeolite and Alutra lenses for use in airliners.
The ‘Zeolite’ lenses are high contrast narrow band lenses and are the classic grey colour. They use advanced light management technology to filter out the wavelengths that fall between red, blue and green, thus your eyes receive more specific colour information. The grey lens takes away glare and makes things appear darker, but boosts the primary colours.
The ‘Alutra’ lenses have a photochromic core which is good for moving between light and shade, but also allow the wearer to read instrument panels in high contrast environments. These lenses have a ‘copper’ hue, so unlike the classic grey lens, things appear brighter and very slightly ‘orangey’, but are nevertheless effective in taking away glare.
Bigatmo, short for ‘Bigatmosphere’, provide five different types of frames, namely Tropo, Strato, Exo, Iono and Meso (geddit?), so the first decision when talking to Al about a possible flight test of these glasses, was which frame to use. In terms of lenses, he recommend I try both the Zeolite and the Alutra, so I went for the Alutra with the Tropo frame in a gunmetal colour, and the Zeolite lens with the Iono frame in a graphite finish. Al parcelled them up, sent them off and informed me they would arrive the next day. Now in our house lots of parcels seem to arrive by post, unfortunately not very often for me, so my wife was the first to try out the Alutra glasses. She exclaimed excitedly that things appeared better than normal sight and quite honestly she was absolutely right. However, looking out into the garden from the kitchen is not quite the same as testing them in the air, so the next day I was off to Charles de Gaulle to try them out.
It was a typical winter’s day, overcast down to around 600 feet and cloud tops around 2-3000 feet. The Zeolite glasses were exactly as you might expect, taking out the glare and making things appear slightly darker, but the primary colours were good and bright and provided excellent contrast. The Alutra seem a little strange at first, with their ‘orangey’ hue, but the more I wore them, the more I liked them. Looking down from around 10,000 feet the glasses seemed to cut through the haze, and ground features stood out much better and with more contrast. Also clouds appeared much more defined, and looking inside, the instruments were brighter. It was just starting to get dark as we started the approach, and as we descended through cloud I would normally take off my sunglasses, but with the light definition so good, decided it wasn’t necessary. We carried all the way down until we broke cloud at 600 feet, and from here ground features, lights and other aircraft appeared nicely bright. Over the next few days I let the First Officers try them out, not for too long you understand, because I like wearing them, and all were complimentary about both sets of glasses. Some found the Alutra slightly strange with the orangey hue, but most really liked them, and for me they are my favourite. I really like them, and they are also good when driving home.
Now it’s all very well trying out these sunglasses under 1 g in an airliner, but what are they like for display or air-race pilots who pull a little more? I am neither a display or air-race pilot, but I am lucky enough to fly the GroB Tutor for the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Whilst the Tutor is stressed to +6g/-3g, at my age I know better, and limit myself to 4g and -1g, with only the occasional foray to 6g. At this point I should let you know how they fit, and more importantly, with some aerobatics looming, how tight they feel against the head. On putting them on, they do feel quite tight especially against the side of the head, but they are very light and slender and you almost immediately forget they are there. So, armed with camera, we set out to see how firm they are in loops and stall turns up to 4g, and as you can see, very firm they are too. They did not move one inch and felt fine under ‘g’. Also, the definition against clouds is very useful when flying VFR.
So overall, how do I feel about these sunglasses? Well, the Zeolites are exactly what you expect, and take out glare effectively and have good colour contrast, but it was the Alutra that I really like. I like the way it removes glare while keeping everything bright, and I particularly like the way one can make an approach in low light conditions. As for comfort, both sets of glasses were excellent, and you almost forget you’re wearing them. And for the older person, as well as the younger person (let’s not be too ageist), Bigatmo can fit prescription lenses. All I need now to be the perfectly attired pilot is a decent airline pilot briefcase. Now, where did I put those glasses…