If you are thinking about getting yourself a new aviators watch, there are some things you should consider. There are many manufacturers that are designing and selling watches that they claim are for “pilots”, when in fact, they are just large face fashion watches. Some people do buy pilots watches for the look, but at the end of the day, its functionality that we are looking for here.
Top 3 Aviator Watch Features
It sounds simple, but for me, this is the biggest single feature that I cannot do without. Some Aviator watches are crammed with so many bezels, digital fields, analog date functions, and time zones that its hard to actually read the time! Although these other features are critical, they need to be displayed in a sensible way, that does not interfere with the simple task of timekeeping.
In the interests of fashion, or just poor design, some also include either a tiny LED screen to display the time, or very small analog hands. Again, this should actually be the biggest thing on the watch. A great example of a highly readable timepiece would be the Torgoen T7 with its large hands and highly contrasting face, or the inexpensive, but very readable Casio G-Shock Aviation. With both of these, the designers have realized that there are times when all the pilot really needs out 0f his watch is to be able to see it in poor light, or high stress conditions.
2. Flight Computer
As mentioned above, there are many features available now in so called pilot watches, but many of them just get in the way of it being a good watch. If you are a flyer, or are thinking of becoming one, one of the most useable features is the flight computer. Based on the famous E-6B Flight Computer that all pilots become familiar with in basic training, it is basically a sliding rule bezel attached to the outer body of the timepiece which will allow you to perform time/speed/distance calculations. In addition, you can also use your flight computer to make quick fuel burn and conversion calculations.
This function is so useful to me, that I wouldnt buy a wristwatch without it.
When purchasing a pilots wristwatch with a flight computer, there are some things to look out for. If it is constructed properly, and not just for fashionable purposes, the E-6B slide rule should work easily, and rotate with minimal force. I have purchased watches in the past with rotating bezel’s that stop working after immersing it in water, or getting it dirty.
Also, ensure that the numbers on the outside face of the bezel are recessed into the surface. With most cheaper pilots watches, the numbers are just painted on, and the first time you get a bit of jet fuel on it (which will happen eventually!), you will find the numbers have dissapeared, making your nice new flight computer useless.
Make sure its really a flight computer! You may notice some watches with fancy numbers all over the sliding bezel. If you see what looks like a compass rose on the outer bezel, this is not a flight computer! A flight computer should have fuel, speed, time, and distance indicators on the bezel (inside and outside).
3. Time Zones
Although there are other features that some would argue would be more critical (water resistance, titanium, luminecence hands, etc..), I believe the time zone funtion is one of the top 3.
The time zone feature is one that sets a pilots watch apart from other watches. Most people just dont really have a need to be able to reference the time zone they are in on a daily basis. Pilots need this. As a helicopter pilot, I actually don’t use it that often, but an airline pilot would rely on it.
The Other Features
The other features that didnt make the list are important, but just not as critical to the pilot. One of those that I have found highly useful is water resistance. OK, most are these days, but if you want to be able to use your aviator watch for everything (swimming, boating, running, etc..), then it needs to be water resistant. Even better if its rated for diving!
Another great feature is a backlit face, or luminecent hands. In a dark cockpit, there is nothing worse than having to pull out your iphone to figure out what time it is because you cant read your watch!
What do you think makes the best pilots wristwatch? Usually if you ask 10 pilots a question, you get 10 different opinions! Lets hear it.