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Progressive Lenses for Pilots

21Five Note: This post is generated from a reader-submitted email regarding his experience finding lenses that work in the cockpit. We have not tested these lenses and are not being paid to endorse any product. Contents are slightly edited for clarity.


Here’s one for you to review. I know I’m getting old because I’m writing about progressive lenses. Actually to share my experience with you and offer some advice. I know my near vision was deteriorating because I was having to zoom the heck out of my iPad screen to read the small print on the charts. Eventually, I bought some drugstore cheaters and used those for a while until at my last recurrent I realized that the PowerPoint slides were a little fuzzy too. So I went to an eye doctor and was told my distance vision was no longer 100% either. She recommended trifocals but suggested progressives as an option. The challenge for pilots is that we need to be able to focus on infinity out the window, mid-range vision for the panel, close-up for the EFB, and close-up for the overhead panel. So I started doing some research on Progressives. I quickly found an RV pilot's website where most pilots recommend Varilux lenses due to the needs of the canopy and panel. so I went to an eye doctor that specialized in those, explained the issue and my specific needs, and then sat down with the retail flunkies that worked selling frames in the lobby to order. I didn’t know any better so just ordered frames that I liked, the cheapest Varilux lenses I could buy - the comfort series. When I got them two weeks later, I was really disappointed. If I wasn’t looking directly at something, I couldn’t see it. Near vision was ok, but mid and distance were garbage. And the magnetic clip-on sunshades were polarized, so no Bueno. Took them back to the store and spoke with the lab manager. The first thing she says is, “oh, you’re a pilot. No sunshades for you. They only make polarized.” Then she took some measurements and explained that the frames that I LIKE, may not be appropriate for progressives. The position of those lenses on your face is more important than regular glasses because of where you look through the lens for each area of correction. Ordered that pair, and two weeks later they showed up. They were better, but I still had to look precisely at an object for it to be clear. I tried them at work and realized I how virtually no peripheral vision. So if I wanted to see the engine gauges I couldn’t just turn my eyes to peek at them, I had to turn my entire head. Nope. Back to the eye doctor again. This time I called Esillor first. They are the manufacturer of the Varilux lenses. I explained the situation. They completely understood and recommended that I try one more time, but this time with the X Series. That’s their highest-end lens but has a much wider ”channel” for corrected areas and a smoother transition between. Game changer! Yes, these are expensive, but I can see perfectly even in my peripheral vision. Reading is just learning to tilt my head up a little bit to look through the bottom of the lenses. I experienced seamless transitions with little to no waviness. So, if you too are generation X and looking at needing more than drugstore cheaters, don’t waste time, go right to the Varilux X series.


-Mike W, 737 Captain


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