Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

By James D. Lakin
PhD,MD,FACP,CFI,CFII,MEI 

Aeromedical Forum

Sun Exposure on the Tarmac: To Fry or Not to Fry

 

Image Courtesy V Jones

The days are getting longer. The temperatures edging upward along with the cumulus build ups. It will soon be summer flying time! But before you start buzzing off to all those great pancake breakfast fly-ins you should be adding one more item to your I'M SAFE checklist-sun safety. All that time out on the tarmac and around the FBO adds up. If you're flying open cockpit, that can drastically increase UV ray exposure. UV or ultraviolet rays are high frequency light waves invisible to the human eye. The World Health Organization points out that with every 100-meter increase in altitude, UV ray exposure increases from 10% to 13 %. Happily, the polycarbonate windshields of most GA aircraft block 100% of UV rays. Oddly, the plate glass windows found in most transport category aircraft cockpits do not.

So, what's the big deal about limiting sun exposure? For openers, to avoid sunburn. Most of you have come back from an afternoon hike with a little redness. Some of you that have fallen asleep around the pool have come home with painful swollen red skin. An unfortunate few have actually had second and third degree burns which can lead to blistering and even destruction of skin necessitating grafting. In other words, careless sun exposure can lead to serious burns. Even with limited but frequent sun exposure over time premature skin aging can occur. If you have any older farm relatives, you know what I'm talking about. Other long term consequences of excessive sun exposure include cataracts as well as skin cancers.

Ok, so how do you prevent yourself from looking like a prune, going blind, getting cancer and needing skin grafts? It's mostly common sense. If you're going to be out on the tarmac for any time, wear a broad brimmed had. Go down to Stanton and check out the glider pilots. They all have pretty impressive headgear. A long sleeve shirt with breathable fabric is always a good idea. If you want to go for the Lawrence of Arabia look, great! The Saudis know how to dress for the sun. Just don't let any of the TSA guys see you. Sunglasses are always a very good idea for a pilot. Select them with care, however. Look for sunglasses that protect you from 99 to 100 percent of UV light. These include those labeled as "UV 400," which blocks all light rays with wavelengths up to 400 nanometers, covering the UV spectrum. Also, you may want to consider wraparound sunglasses rather than the classic really cool "aviator" types. Wraparounds do a better job of preventing UV rays from entering around the frame. Avoid polarized lenses. They are great for fishing but they can impair your ability to read the display of a glass cockpit which also has polarized protection. In other words you might find yourself flying "partial panel" or "no panel." Good luck with that!

Finally, apply sunscreen to any of those lily-white areas that are unavoidably exposed. You want to look for a so-called broad spectrum sunscreen. The best sunscreen offers protection from all UV light. Use at least an SPF 30. I like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide based screens rather than so-called organics with things called PABA derivatives, cinnamates, salicylates and benzophenones. Zinc or titanium based sunscreens may leave you looking a little white but they have a broader spectrum of protection than the organics. Also they are less irritating and less prone to cause allergic reactions. Whatever you use, apply it generously and frequently - every two hours is a good interval.

OK, now you're dressed up like a desert nomad, greased up like an AP mechanic with really cool shades. Have a great summer!

Fly wisely. See you next month!

 

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