5 Pilot Watches to Add an Element of Cool to Your Next Flight

Hefty, substantial, and detailed, aviation-inspired timepieces can be enjoyable accessories.

Pilot watches never really go out of style. [Credit: iStock]

For modern GA pilots accustomed to precise, detailed flight displays from Garmin, Aspen, Avidyne, or Collins, the thought of using a wristwatch as a navigation aid might seem quaint—or worse. But in the early days of aviation, time was a dominant reference for coordinating travel.

Over the years, the arrival and steady improvement of radios, radar, and flight instruments bumped the watch to limited supporting roles in the cockpit. Still, when I was learning to fly a decade ago, my instructor insisted that I wear a watch and synchronize it with his (and our smartphones) before each flight.

Today one could easily fly around the world and leave the watch at home, but I do not know any pilots who would do such a thing. If nothing else, pilot watches make great accessories—and great holiday gifts—whether you fly or not. I still glance at mine regularly because doing so is easier than digging the phone out of my pocket. It is more satisfying, too, especially when approaching my destination airport.

Here are a few aviation-inspired timepieces that can bring an extra measure of joy to your next sortie:

Hawker Hurricane McKellar Dual Time

Price: $285

This watch honors Archibald Ashmore McKellar and the aircraft he flew. McKellar, a squadron leader and flying ace of the Royal Air Force during World War II, was renowned for his skill as a combat pilot. During the Battle of Britain he racked up aerial victories so quickly that he became “ace in a day,” an extremely rare distinction.

Trintec Automatic Altimeter Chronograph

Price: $549.95

Keep track of changes in field elevation wherever you go with this substantial watch designed to look and feel like you just plucked it from an aircraft instrument panel. It features an automatic movement that can also be hand wound. The case has a sandblasted finish and stainless steel back that reveals some of the watch’s inner workings. The watch is water resistant to 300 feet.

Aero Commando

Price: $295

Promoted as “your everyday aviation watch,” the Aero Commando is a tribute to the development in the 1930s of the rotating bezel for watches. The graduated ring that surrounds the clock face and is handy for timing flight legs is credited to Philip Van Horn Weems, a U.S. Navy officer.

Official USAF Pilot’s Navigator

Price: $480

Air-Force approved with tactical blacked-out styling, this watch is sure to spark conversation at social gatherings and would be the perfect way to count down the minutes to the new year. This design traces its history to 1986, when the Navigator Class of watches was developed in conjunction with Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio and has undergone numerous improvements since.

Citizen Blue Angels Atomic Promaster Skyhawk A-T Eco-Drive

Price: $521.25

Here is a pilot watch that can hold its own at formal gatherings or on the ramp of a remote airport you happen to be visiting over the weekend. The design honors the legendary U.S. Navy Blue Angels aerobatic team, and the rear case cover is emblazoned with the team’s crest. Powered by light, the watch never needs a battery.

Garmin D2 Mach 1 Aviator Smartwatch

$1099.99

Garmin’s aviation smartwatches manage to cram much of your aircraft’s instrument panel behind a screen that fits on your wrist. The watch has a range of functions including navigation, moving map, HSI, flight planning, airport information, heart rate, pulse oximeter, health snapshot, and many other flight and human measurements. To a degree, it combines and streamlines a number of preflight tasks that many pilots perform during the drive to the airport, such as Flight Services briefings and AWOS.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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