When an Aviator Takes the Lead

It all started with the cold. There was once a man by the name of Rudolph William Schroeder... Rudy or "Shorty" for short. As a test pilot in the 1930s, Aeronauts were known to tempt fate by stretching to the outer limits of imagination and reaches of the world; Airplanes, Bi-planes and their physical endurance. They needed to equip themselves with vehicles composed of lighter, durable construction, as well as garments fitted to withstand the various environments that they exposed themselves to. Let it be transcontinental flying, or reaching summit levels of the stratosphere, these pilots braved the then-impossible, by whatever means necessary. 

An on-going threat of high altitude flight was the fierce and frigid temperatures at the rooftop of the world. In addition, un-polarized light blaring to near blindness. Thin air accompanied by extreme sub-zero temperatures, Fur-lined leather was the usual means of body insulation, head-to-toe. Skin Helmets and fur-lined goggles protected these brave pilots' heads from freezing, or serious bodily harm to their skulls as they dared to break the limits of impossibility. With such outfitting came sweat, and sweat produced a steaming effect to the glass situated in those goggles. Limited ventilation was offered to these fur-lined goggles so, in-effect, they would fog over during ascension into the sky. Risking disorientation and clarity, instrument panels were difficult to discern. Upon one fateful attempt, Schroeder lifted his goggles to clear the fogged glass and within seconds, the temperature and glare burned his retinas and lids to swelling and scaring causing him to cripple his attempt. At 30,000+ ft., Rudy Schroeder was in imminent danger. A cohort, and fellow pilot by the name of John McReady, managed to assist in returning Schroeder to the ground, but that flight encouraged brave men to determine the necessary protection for pilots, mainly their vision. Schroeder did manage to reach the highest level, at that point and with greatness comes competition. McReady was ready to ascend further than was previously attempted but in doing so, he equipped the necessary tools. With the assistance of the lens manufacturer Bausch & Lomb, McReady commissioned the development of a lens that would protect the eyes from ultraviolet, unpolarized light with enough of a refraction level to allow for significant glare reduction. The color devised was coined G15 (green) and B15 (brown)- 85% protection with 15% light diffusion. In utilizing mineral glass tinted with the advent of G15 or B15, with necessary ventilation, McReady was prepared to tempt fate. Needless to say, McReady reached 40,000+ ft. in his career earning him a distinguished position in the Aeronautical Halls of Fame of the world. In doing so, with his commission of lens design from Bausch & Lomb, the G15 and B15 lens design manifested "Ray Ban".

The design of the first aviator took into account a multitude of various elements, all revolving around the simple fact that it would be designed for aviators. Not yet called "Aviators", the frame's shape, "teardrop" was designed to situate comfortably upon the face without slippage and/or discomfort.  With the new G15/B15 colored lenses and incorporating designs like the riding bow temple, coiled cable temple, and adjustable guard arms with nose pads, these elements, and with an understanding of Physiognomy, would allow pilots to be endure light detrimental to the exposed eye. Considering the weight of glass, a hooked temple tip (riding bow and/or coiled cable) would prevent the slippage. And, considering that the pilots would be wearing headgear, the thinness of the temples would necessitate a wire frame to prevent headaches from being induced. The first Aviator Sunwear design was composed of plastic but the thickness underneath tight fitting headgear induced pressure and indentation onto the skull and face, causing ache. Eventually, a frame design came about that would involve elements designated towards the protection and comfort of wearers, pilots and the masses. The teardrop shape was intended to envelope the eye entirely, bringing the lens far below the ocular zone for total coverage. The Aviator, eventually, found a home in the world of outdoor sports, as well as Aeronautics.

Ultimately, Bausch & Lomb's Ray Bans were made available to the public after they were thoroughly developed in the mid 1930s, to early '40s. Marketed as Pilot Frames "Aviators", they were made out of Steel. "The Shooter", shortly thereafter, was introduced because the Aviator style was rather popular in the outdoor sports community with its glare reducing lenses. In altering the design of the Aviator modestly, it included the "Bullet Hole" or "Cigarette Holder" in the bridge, and in launching a new style of UV/ Blue light absorption technology, a lens known as Kalichrome yellow was born. The Aviator was evolving. Gradually, the structure continued to evolve with its progressive popularity, and so the "Outdoorsman" was created. Then known as "Skeet" The design was more reminiscent of the original metal aviator but with a comfort element added to the brow. Usually composed of a leather or a pearl-like material called "Nacre", the "browbar" was added to the two-point mount of the original Aviator. As Ray Ban continued to develop, with the aviator at its heart, more styles and materials were attempted, allowing Bausch & Lomb to thoroughly dedicate a department to eyewear manufacturing.

Ray Ban gained monumentous amounts of notoriety throughout the years with their designs. Mainly, though, it was with World War II press releases that allowed Bausch & Lomb's Ray Bans their seat in the annals of eyewear history. Seen to be worn by significant figures like Commander Edward Ellsberg upon the Red Sea, as well as General Douglas McArthur in the Pacific Theater, both in World War II. The Aviator gained significant notoriety from then on, and henceforth by being worn by Musical figures like Slash, Scott Weiland, and Lenny Kravitz as well as fashion influences like Sarah Jessica Parker's character Carrie Bradshaw in Sex in the City.

The aviator will be a frame that will forever be in style. Dressed up or down, Dolled up or dulled, the Aviator is truly the coolest frame in eyewear. 

Andy Funke
Andy Funke


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