In Praise Of The Original Pilots

There’s something to be said for finally finding that thing that just works. The fit, the feel, the undeniable union that was clearly organized by higher universal powers.

That’s how I feel about my American Optical original pilot aviators. They’re from the late Vietnam era (1972-73) and were a treasure that I had long sought out. On my way to finding them I encountered many that didn’t fit properly or at all really, so they didn’t last long. Once these arrived, I knew I’d found the pair I’d been searching for all along.


They’ve been making these beauties since ’58 and up until recently the style and materials remained unchanged. A few months ago, I received a brand new pair of the A.O. pilot aviators and I have to say, they don’t hold up to the vintage pair – the thickness of the metal, the weight of the glass on the nose, the cinch of the bayonet temples. The new versions just seem to have lost that classic feel.

I’ve always been rough on sunglasses in the past. It never took more than a week or two before I bent, broke, or lost a pair. For the last three years, the A.O. pair have gone everywhere with me, surviving all kinds of abuse. They even returned home after being lost for three months. Each and every time they get a little out of shape, my local optometrist is able to tweak these workhorses back to the perfect fit.


You can find a bounty of these classic specs, from both American Optical and Randolph Engineering, online via Ebay and Etsy for a pretty good price. If you’re looking to obtain a real collector’s item, find the ones made from 12k gold, but be prepared to pay upwards of $300.