Why I wear a ball cap when I fly

It started blue, a dark blue, when my wife gave it to me as a Christmas present. Its latest achievement of many was earned in March when I completed my CFI training. It was instrumental in keeping my head from exploding while learning in flight, and during the check ride. Now my two-tone AOPA ball cap has faded to a light purple from long periods of exposure to the sun. Like badges of honor, a few stains (more sweat than engine oil, but plenty of both) reside on the bill which is curved at about the radius of a softball. More than just a comfortable friend who has logged nearly as many hours as I have, my hat serves an invaluable purpose on the flight deck of whatever craft I happen to be flying in at the time.

AOPA hat
A trusted companion – and a useful tool.

Believe it or not, I found more than a few conversations online on the topic of pilots wearing ball caps on the flight deck. The spectrum of comments range from wearing a ball cap as unprofessional to wearing a ball cap as a safety device and, at a minimum, a comfort for the pilot; or to cover male pattern baldness.

Not that you asked, but you are still reading… So, listed below are the reasons I wear a ball cap when I fly.

  • Preflight assistant – On more than one occasion, while completing a preflight, I may have found myself short of a rag to wipe my hands after checking an engine nacelle, or an oil dipstick. Now you know where the oil stains came from. Also, a cap worn backwards helps prevent sunburn or your neck while you are moving around an aircraft, that’s why it is light purple now.
  • Sweat band – It can get very hot on the flight line during preflight, or during a check ride… Just sayin’. Now you know where the sweat stains came from.
  • Headset buffer – I am a bald man, and bald is beautiful, but it is also uncomfortable under most headsets that I have used. My cap performs dual functions of anti-chafing and anti-aging in this case.
  • Sun shade – One of the more serious uses of a good ball cap. I use the edges of the brim to block the sun when needed. I find that the cap allows me to focus on areas of the sky closer to the direction of the sun than without a cap, or with sunglasses alone. This effectively widens the area I can see when flying toward the sun. Keep in mind, though, that you still have to see and avoid other traffic, so you have to keep your head on a swivel and keep your scan up. The cap can be adjusted left, right, higher, lower, whatever you need to protect your eyes from the sun; or it can be lifted front to back out of the way, but ready when you need it.
  • Instrument hood – I find it useful during actual IMC conditions, or with a safety pilot, to use a hat as a rapidly repositionable view limiting device. It helps me stay focused on the instruments, but I can lift it out of the way when I shift to VMC, or after completing a simulated instrument task.
  • Brain nacelle structural enhancer – The final important function. For those especially frustrating times when operating in and around a busy uncontrolled airfield, I find that my ball cap keeps my head from exploding quite efficiently.

As far as the professionalism piece, I find that a professional pilot uses all the tools available to increase safety of flight; and my faded light purple cap, with no button on the top, and a little history stained into the fabric, fits the “bill” nicely.

14 Comments

  • I wear mine for a combination of reasons, all mirroring your own reasons, more or less. Been wearing it for 20,000 hours on Cessnas, Pipers, Beech’s and Boeings. I have no plans to change.

  • “… I may have found myself short of a rag to wipe my hands after checking an engine nacelle, or an oil dipstick.”

    I just wipe the oil on one of my socks under my slacks.

    • Yep… bang on !! – I have a little diamond shaped bit of white paint on the front of my cap.. (rather than a diamond shaped scar on my forehead.. Love my cap..)

    • Yep… bang on !! – I have a little diamond shaped bit of white paint on the front of my cap.. (rather than a diamond shaped scar on my forehead..) from the trailing edge of a Cessna 182 flap – I Love my cap..)

  • Cautionary note: the investigators of a midair collision within the last year noted that the bill of one pilot’s ballcap may have impaired his ability to see the other aircraft. I have quit wearing mine in flight because it was clear to me that there was some limitation of vision, esp. upward.

    • Your neck is flexible, tilt your head back to see up, down to look downwards, twist from side to side for side vision. The cap is an inanimate object that follows whatever it is placed on.

  • The hat is also a great place to hang those little flashlights which are indespensible for preflighting in the dark. And I consider my hat with a flashlight a critical piece of backup equipment while flying at night.

  • I wear a ball cap all day, every day and have since I was a kid long before I ever started flying and for most all of the reasons stated. I feel naked without my hat and can’t imagine how some folks go through everyday life without one.

  • #1: You can remove the button and most ballcaps will be more comfortable under a headset. Usually a pair of diagonal cutters will do but I’ve had a couple I’ve had to drill (the rivet from inside).
    #2: So I was lined up for a formation takeoff, flight of two. I was lead and just giving the runup to #2. He nodded, I ran up, waited 3 seconds and gave the big ‘brakes off’ head nod. Hot, little sweaty, and my headset started to rotate backwards on my head. At about 50 knots I reached up and quickly pushed them forward. Of course they were on my hat and this shove the bill down over my eyes. Hmmm. Swiped them off backwards and flew the plane. Be smooth, be smooth, you don’t need the headset.
    It seems like you need to make every mistake at least once (or you could learn reading from this, I guess). If you’re wearing a hat be alert to a possibility that it could obstruct your vision at a critical time.

  • Baseball caps reduce your visibility. It seems only transport pilots that have very reduced visibility aircraft design wear these hats. If you want to clear the sky for safety, do not wear a hat! Remember, there only two types or airplanes: Targets and Fighters. Which are you?

  • As a “BOG” (Bald, Older Guy) with a greenhouse canopy, I always wear my ballcap. Protects my Chrome Dome from all sorts of environmental factors. I find that it also requires daily calisthenics which keeps my neck limber because its use does require that I “Keep My Head On A Swivel” due to it’s view obstructing brim. Like so much else in aviation, its use requires the requisite respect for its limitations and a modicum of common sense.

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