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.
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.