The History of Aviator Sunglasses, Part 7 – The Air Force HGU-4/P

Gordon Cooper and Charles "Pete" Conrad, back from orbiting the earth.

Gordon Cooper and Charles “Pete” Conrad, back from orbiting the earth.

The familiar WWII era AN6531 Comfort Cable aviator sunglasses were still issued in relatively unchanged form long after V-J day. With darker lenses than the 1941 originals they would become known as Type G-2 aviator sunglasses. Specification numbers had changed as the Air Force became an independent branch of the service in 1947, but issue sunglasses retained the same basic shape they’d had since 1941. This lasted through the Korean conflict and into the late 1950s.

Helmets, on the other hand, had advanced quickly in design. At the start of WWII helmets were made in various combinations of leather and fabric. They didn’t look too different from football helmets of the era. By the late 1940s injection molded plastics were being used, with communications systems and oxygen masks being factored into the design. Visors were added in the 1950s to guard against potential wind blast. The traditional aviator sunglasses were simply too bulky to fit under the new style helmets.

A new design was developed that had a more comfortable library temple, was easier to put on and take off with helmets and headsets and was more compatible with oxygen masks. They were designated as the U.S. Air Force Type HGU-4/P aviator sunglasses and recommended for use on November 5th 1958.

Here’s a page from the evaluation:

Comparison Air Force Aviator Sunglasses Blog

And so the Type HGU-4/P aviator sunglasses were duly adopted by the Air Force. They were in use by astronauts throughout the heyday of NASA’s Mercury and Apollo missions in the 1960s, were said to be the first sunglasses worn on the moon, and continue to be used today, although aviator sunglasses have largely been supplanted by tinted visors in flight helmets.

The first contractor was American Optical, who developed the style. They were joined by Randolph Engineering in the 1980s. They’re still made in the USA and available at a reasonable price since Government contracts are awarded to low bidders.

American-Optical-Flight-Goggle-58

They’ve been mil-spec for over 50 years compared to about 17 for the AN6531 shape. What’s odd is how WWII type AN6531 aviator sunglasses remain more iconic. As discussed in Part 6 of this series, the AN6531 was immediately adopted by civilian manufacturers. Most had been producing these aviator sunglasses under contract to the military and didn’t have to retool to get them out quick to consumers. By comparison the HGU-4/P has flown below the radar.

Regardless it, too, is an iconic shape. In a way I think it might be more influential in that most aviator styles sold at optical stores seem to derive from it.

Here are links to the first six installments of the History of Aviator Sunglasses:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

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2 Responses

  1. Glyn says:

    Great stories! I have a pair that came in an old Ray-Ban case but not a single mark or trade name on them. They look vintage WW2 but who’s to say.

    • Moss Lipow says:

      The WW2 aviators generally had silver frames. Reading the military specs I was mildly surprised to learn they were plated in rhodium, at least by 1958. I’d always figured they were all plated in nickel.

      I think all the contractors put a maker’s mark on the bridge of the frames, but who knows? Aviator sunglasses and A2 and G1 flight jackets sure left a mark on fashion.

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