Pilot watches : Fly like an eagle

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The pilot wrist watch is an instrument which has been present in the cockpit since the very beginning of aviation. We offer a very wide range of pilot and aviator watches from well known brands such as Citizen, Hamilton, SJunkers. Pilot watches are ideal watches for travelers and businessmen. They often have a classic and luxurious dress watch look with leather straps that look just as cool with a casual outfit. Professional pilots will probably prefer the modern aviator watches which feature functionalities that are specifically suited for aviation.

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What are the characteristics of a pilot watch? 

Pilot watches can roughly be divided into two groups:

- Classic pilot watches

- Modern pilot watches.

The classic pilot watch is a larger watch with clear, legible hour numbers, a triangle marking the 12 o’clock position, a large (onion shaped) crown and a sturdy stitched or riveted leather strap. The watch often features a GMT function and chronograph with a tachymeter.

Modern aviator watches and astronaut watches are technologically advanced G-force resistant watches which feature a compass, altimeter, world timer, etc. and are defined by their functionalities rather than their looks (which is not to say they don’t look cool!).

What makes a pilot watch a pilot’s watch?

It cannot be rigidly defined, which attributes a pilot's watch must have. There are chronographs, but also usual manual winding and automatic models, and there are models with bi-directional rotating bezel for the measurement of average times, and there are navigation watches which allow the calculation of positions. In general, a pilot's watch features the following functionalities:

A GMT hand, usually set according to the Greenwich timezone, allows the pilot to calculate the time in different timezones.

There are also watches with logarithmic slide rules with which flight distances can be calculated. A flyback function can also be useful as an additional complication with pilot's chronographs, which offer an easy way (by pressing just one pusher) to measure average times. What is also useful is the excellent protection against magnetisation.

Another very distinctive pilot feature is the triangular marker with two dots on the side at the 12 0’clock position. This marker was used for the upward orientation of the dial during night flights and was also used as a solar compass to find the earth’s true north in conjunction with compasses and data charts.

A feature that was first introduced in military watches were the tritium-lit hands. Tritium, a radioactive isotope is luminous in the darkness providing 20 years of illumination.

Several pilot watches have extended or flipped out bracelets, which allow the watch to be worn over the aviator jacket.


Pilot watches: history and characteristics

For the first five decades of Flight, airborne navigation relied not only on good map reading skills but highly accurate timekeeping. The first ever timepiece for a pilot dates back to 1904 and was created by Cartier. This very first pilot watch was nowhere near the aviation watches that came later because it was more than just reliable and easy to read, it was stylish.

Military pilot watches

During World War II the aeroplane became an essential war-winning device. Accurate Navigator watches became highly crucial. The German government demanded five watchmakers build competent B-uhren (Beobachtungs-uhren or Observation watches). These aviation watches had advanced features including anti-magnetism and a chronometer certification.

The basic design principles of these B-uhr pilot watches are to this day what defines a pilot watch for a lot of people.

Pilot watches in the space age

With the coming of jet engines and space travel, the 1970s became a boom time for electronic quartz watches because the lack of gravity and extreme G-Forces were factors that had an influence on the accuracy of a timepiece.

Modern pilot watches

Arguably with all of the today’s technological advancements and instruments built into the navigation and control systems of the aircraft, there is very little need for pilot watches. However, modern pilot watches have features that might become lifesaving for a downed pilot. Like the Citizen Promaster Skyhawk which is used by Polish Air Force pilots. Complications include a chronograph, a timer, two alarms, GMT and a perpetual calendar. It is solar powered (no need to change batteries!) and radio controlled, so there is no need of setting the time manually and it indicates all timezones. The final feature of the Skyhawk that is so peculiar for aviation watches is the so called slide-rule bezel. This bezel allows the watch user to perform many kinds of calculations, including aviation related ones, such as fuel consumption. Also, models used in space can be found, including the Fortis Cosmonautis line