“I’ve worn glasses since about the first grade,” said Alan Klapmeier, co-founder of Cirrus Design Corp. of Duluth, Minn., which makes the Cirrus SR20 and SR22. “I remember thinking I wouldn’t be able to fly.”
Klapmeier has done a lot of flying since then, as we all know, but decided to have LASIK eye surgery in August 2005. During an interview at Sun ‘n Fun in April 2006, we asked him why and what he thought of the results.
“For me, what finally tipped the scales was winter,” he said rather cryptically. Then he explained: “I’ve never been able to wear contacts. I don’t mind wearing glasses, but in the winter, if you’re going in and out of cold weather, they steam up. You get in and out of an airplane during pre-flight, they steam up. You have a helmet on, they steam up. That was frustrating.”
That wasn’t the whole story, however.
“I finally reached the age where my eyes were changing,” he said. “I needed bifocals for near vision and LASIK surgery started looking good. It got rid of the winter problem with my glasses,” he laughed, “although it turns out I’ll still have to wear reading glasses.”
Asked whether he had any doubts prior to the surgery, Klapmeier’s answer was quick and firm: “Oh, yes!”
“I have very sensitive eyes,” he explained, “which is why I don’t wear contacts. I don’t want things sticking in my eyes. You know that glaucoma test they do? It takes three nurses to hold my eyes open. I have a very powerful blink reflex. When they do the LASIK surgery they say ‘keep your eyes focused right on this red light’ and I was trying, but I was not the ideal patient.”
What does Klapmeier think about the surgery and its results?
“The first thing I tell people is, listen to your doctor and not your friends,” he said. “If you listen to your friends, they’ll tell you that you won’t believe how clear everything is.”
Your doctor won’t be quite as unequivocally encouraging, Klapmeier pointed out.
“The result I got was essentially what the doctor told me to expect,” he said. “It’s been a little hard to get used to, having been nearsighted for so many years. I always used to see with the lenses, and I don’t do that anymore. And behaviorally, it’s so different from what you’d expect it to be like. It was done last August and I still find myself turning off the light at night and reaching to take my glasses off. It’s kind of weird.”
Klapmeier warns against expecting perfection.
“I still have a certain haziness in low light,” he said. “They tell you there’s a chance of that and in most people it goes away after six months. It’s exactly what the doctor told me to expect, though.”
Asked whether that has created any problems, Klapmeier told us, “I started carrying two pairs of reading glasses, one regular pair and one with really high magnification. In the back of my mind I was wondering whether I’d be able to read an approach plate. I just got around to putting the high magnification pair in a case. They were riding around on top of the radio stack and I never really needed them.”
Any other problems, real or anticipated? Not for Klapmeier.
“Other than that, it really has been a non-issue,” he said. “In terms of focal length, I told them, this is how far the instrument panel is. It may not be perfect out there,” he said, gesturing toward the distance, “and it may not be perfect in here,” he added pretending to hold a book, “but it’s exact on the instruments. They can do that.”
In that case, what about distance vision?
“I probably see, at distance, just a little worse than I did with my glasses, but only maybe,” he said. “As my eyes were changing I certainly wasn’t seeing as well, even with my glasses, as I had for years and years before that, so this is a definite improvement on the past couple of years.”
Summing up, Klapmeier put it in terms any pilot can understand:
“My vision may not be perfect ‘way out there, and I have to wear reading glasses, but for all the useful ranges – which includes instrument panels – I got what I needed.”
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