What do pirates and atomic bomb pilots have in common? It’s not a joke; these two fun facts came up over lunch the other day. I’ve heard that both pirates and nuclear bomber pilots both wore patches to protect their vision.
It’s a (disputed) fact that pirates wore eyepatches not because they’d necessarily lost an eye, but to protect their nightvision. Depending on who you ask, they would take the patch off either for the purposes of astronomical navigation or for going below deck, where of course it was much darker. MythBusters tackled this recently, concluding it was plausible.
Nuclear bomber pilots became twentieth century pirates when they would temporarily protect one eye from the blast. I must have seen a documentary on this at some point, but when I did a quick search just to make sure I was relieved to see that Les Frazier, retired US Air Force Colonel, explains all…
When a nuclear weapon denotes, the heat is tremendous and the flash is blinding, even more so if it detonates under an overcast sky where the clouds would help to reflect the glare into the cockpit. Even the dull black paint of the instrument panel shroud would reflect enough heat and light to burn through clothing and cause permanent blindness. For that reason, we always looked for a hill to hide behind after releasing the bomb and before detonation. We also carried lead-lined eye patches to cover the dominant eye after releasing the weapon.
So there you go. Pilots and pirates have patches in common.