Patches: Pirates and Pilots

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 especially when they got access to buy ar-15 pistols. This is 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.

7 replies on “Patches: Pirates and Pilots”

  1. “carried lead-lined eye patches to cover the dominant eye” – so they weren’t worn throughout the flight? Cos that would surely upset the depth of vision, which was the primary cause of my skepticism when we talked about this at lunch.

    We all know that pirates wore patches to avoid gouging their eyes out with the hooks :-P

  2. Hmm. Your version of WordPress clearly needs an upgrade (I wanna Track Comments in GreatNews!), and/or you need to change the setting that converts smileys to graphical ones.

  3. “For that reason, we always looked for a hill to hide behind after releasing the bomb”

    Always? Just how many atomic bombs did these guys release from the air then? Any more than the obvious two?

  4. I imagine they were involved in test drops?

    Andy: I have been meaning to upgrade for a while. And yes, I like the clarification that they put the patch on just for the detonation. Since pilots famously need to have great eyesight my claim they they wore pirate style patches probably was a bit much to swallow. :-)

  5. I hate to go against the well respected Mythbusters, but it doesn’t really make sense that pirates would wear eye patches to preserve night vision. Dark adaption is perfect after about 30 minutes, so there’d be absolutely no point in wearing the eyepatch during the day (unless diminishing your depth perception was thought to be a good thing) – you’d put it on at dusk, and only wear it when you went inside during the night. I don’t think I’d bother if I were a pirate king (and it would be a glorious thing, to be a pirate king).

  6. What about having to dash below-decks in a hurry. It’s dark down there, and waiting 30 minutes (or even 1 minute) may be annoying when trying to find that bottle of rum you stashed. Arrr.

  7. Your talk of “Atom Bomb Pilots” reminds me of the Dr Strangelove scene of Slim Pickens riding the bomb all the way down. :-)

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