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Is This An Unavoidable Danger For Every Pilot?

Can you think of an unavoidable danger that affects all pilots? It reduces exterior AND interior visibility, degrades situational awareness, and leaves you with a physical headache.

Pilot Incident Reports.

Each of the following NASA ASRS reports were written by pilots that experienced the same environmental challenge. Here's the common theme...

1) "On final to runway 26 I was headed into the sun and had some minor sun glare issues. Upon touchdown and beginning roll out, and while still on the active runway, another aircraft taking off downwind passed over top of me by an estimated 150 feet horizontal and 35 feet vertical separation. I could not see this aircraft approaching as it blended into the background and the sun glare. Witnesses on the ground (including two CFI's) report the offending aircraft taxied out to runway 8, turned onto the runway without stopping/looking and immediately proceeded to take off downwind."

Chris Fleming

2) "Once cleared for the visual, I requested 2000 feet to be set and then I selected a descent rate of 1200 fpm. The final fix at ZIMBI had a published altitude of 1600. With the glare from the sun and wearing sunglasses, I did not notice the descent rate was 1900 fpm. We noticed the descent rate, I canceled the auto pilot, and smoothly transitioned to 1200 fpm. ATC contacted us with a low altitude alert saying there was a minimum vectoring altitude of 3000'. We leveled off at 2300'."

Swayne Martin

The Problem?... GLARE!

You've probably experienced your fair share of glare-related issues in the cockpit. It might not be something you've thought of as a danger, but it can dramatically reduce your overall situational awareness. You probably wouldn't be very happy if a passenger took a picture with flash in the cockpit... Being temporarily blinded is the risk glare adds.

It's such a big problem that the FAA published a study called "Evaluation of Glare as a Hazard for General Aviation Pilots on Final Approach"


Here are a few times when glare is most noticeable and dangerous:

  • Final Approach: It's hard to judge your height above the ground when you're squinting and can't see the terrain ahead of you.
  • Cross Country Flights: Flying directly into the bright sun for hours at a time takes a serious toll on your eyes.
  • Wet Ramps, Taxiways, And Runways: Bright sunshine reflecting off of wet surfaces makes it almost impossible to focus your eyes on the ground.
  • Sunshine On Instrumentation: When you're trying to focus on small details on glass displays, sunshine effectively dims the screen to a nearly unusable level.
  • Solar Panels: Fields full of solar panels, or those angled off of houses provide a unique reflection challenge.
  • Spotting Traffic: Looking into the sun to spot traffic is nearly impossible and could damage your eyes.
  • Bright Snow: White surfaces reflect the most light.
  • Dirty/Wet Windshield: If your windshield isn't clean, it's going to trap and reflect more light, making it more difficult to see out of.

What You Can Do

There's not a whole lot you can do about most sources of glare. While you can't control anything outside of your airplane, you can control how clean your airplane is and what tools you bring with you.

Make sure you have a clean windshield before you fly. If it's dirty, you're going to have a tough time seeing through the bright light that's reflected by particles all over your windshield.

Swayne Martin

Always pack a pair of sunglasses with you, and consider installing a set of see-through sun visors in the cockpit if you don't have them. You can even buy suction-cup portable sun shades if you don't have a way to install new equipment.

Swayne Martin

Have you had a bad experience with glare? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and commercial pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He holds multi-engine and instrument ratings, and is an aviation student at the University of North Dakota. He's the author of the articles, quizzes and lists you love to read every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures at

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