Honoring an age-old tradition of matching watches up with heavy-hitting machinery.
At W.O.E., we cover all sorts of subjects relevant to our community, ranging from in-depth profiles of impactful Intelligence Community and military practitioners to breaking down geopolitical conflicts through the lens of watches. Today, however, we figured we’d go a little lighter and engage in an age-old tradition that, while slightly more juvenile than most of our content, continues to be relevant and just plain fun. Just about every watch platform has matched up the Rolex Submariner with the perennial watch-guy favorite–the air cooled Porsche 911. But we’ll leave that to the popular watch style blogs. We’re here to talk about metal with a purpose beyond simply looking cool.
We’re going to match up iconic watches with well-known aircraft. Many of you will be intimately familiar with both of these subjects, and finding the intricacies and characteristics that tie a watch to an airplane and vice versa is an exercise in diving deep into the engineering characteristics, legacy, and function of both the plane and the watch.
Tom Cruise wearing Porsche Design Chronograph 1 (Photo Credit: Paramount)
Before we apply full nose down inputs and dive in, we’d like to acknowledge that folks will have very serious opinions about these pairings, and that this list is just a starting point. If you disagree, we’d love to hear about it in the comments. We eschewed the traditional “rules” for pairings using things like country of origin or physical appearance to pair watches and cars and instead focused on the core ethos of each piece of equipment and the character and reputation it has developed in both aviation and horology circles.
Now let’s roll, pitch, and yaw right into it:
The Plane: Lockheed C-130 Hercules
The “SUV of the sky” is ubiquitous and tough as nails. It’s been in service since 1956 and the fundamental design of the aircraft hasn’t changed much over more than half a century. It can land and take off from unprepared airstrips, it can operate in hot and high environments, it can be fitted with skis to land on ice, it can use JATO (jet assisted take off), it can act as an aerial refueling platform, it can serve as a command and control platform, it can even be kitted out for long-range search and rescue, and maybe most importantly, the AC-130, the gunship version known as the Angel of Death, can absolutely rain down hell on the enemy.
The Watch: Seiko SKX007
You won’t find this steadfast tool watch on the wrist of anyone wearing a suit. It’s not particularly accurate, and it’s not known for superior fit and finishing, either. But it’s where a lot of us started our watch interest, and it’s where it can end, too. You don’t need another watch. This one is tough as hell and just keeps on running. Like the C-130, it’s spawned a bunch of variants.
The Link: The same places you’ll find the SKX007 being worn, you’ll find the C-130 being used. They’re both the standard unit of toughness that all other watches and utility aircraft are measured against.
The Plane: Boeing C-32A
This is the plane that the highest officials in the US Government use for executive transport. You’ll typically find the Vice President (Air Force Two) and the Secretary of State aboard. It can also serve as Air Force One when the President’s 747 is considered overkill for a specific destination. It’s a symbol of American might and democracy that you’ll find all over the world.
The Watch: Rolex GMT-Master and GMT-Master II
Photo Credit: James Rupley
The Case Officer’s watch. It can get dirty and take a beating, but has a certain polished cache that’s elevated it to iconic status. It can tell time in three different time zones at once; and the design hasn’t changed much since 1954, when it was first worn by Pan-Am pilots. The model became popular with military pilots and was even famously worn by Chuck Yeager. The GMT-Master II serves as a stand-in for worldliness
The Link: Both of these at first appear polished and proper, but they’re also some of the most capable and bad-ass platforms around. The C-32A has a whole host of classified defense systems. And the guy wearing a GMT-Master probably isn’t a stranger to doing what it takes to get it done.
The Plane: Lockheed Martin F-16
For the last 30 years, when someone says “fighter jet”, it’s most likely the F-16 that many people–familiar with military aircraft or not–think of. It’s the most widely operated fighter in the world. In other words, it’s the OG fighter aircraft of the modern era. It’s a multi-role aircraft, and there’s even a project led by the US Air Force, Project Venom, to operate F-16s autonomously. The F-16 has come a long way since its first flight in 1973. The US Air Force had once said that it would be retired in 2025, but then signed on to keep the F-16 flying for another 20 years. It’s not going anywhere just yet. And that’s a great thing. If it ain't broken, don’t fix it.
The Watch: IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43
Actual military pilots wear all sorts of watches. Everything from Garmins to Bremonts. But there’s such a thing as a prototypical “pilot’s watch” and it’s the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch, specifically, the 43. It’s the watch that some real fighter pilots wear, but that many, many more people who wish to be a fighter pilot wear. It’s become an icon for what it represents, not necessarily for what it actually is. But what it is, is a watch that’s been at the center of the military aviation scene since before World War II. IWC has a long history with aviation, and continues to produce Unit/Squadron watches for many aviators.
The Link: The link here is obvious–these are both the icons of their type. They’re what first comes to mind when thinking of fighter jets and pilots watches. They’re also sort of the most basic iterations of their forms as well.
The Plane: A-10 Warthog
This aircraft’s primary role is CAS (close air support) and it absolutely excels at it thanks to its twin-turbofan, straight wing setup. It frequently gets “down in the dirt” and you’ve almost certainly seen memes or videos of the infamous “BBRRRRRTTTTT” that’s emitted from the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon affixed to the nose of the airplane. It crushes tanks, lights up enemies, and emerged as an absolute icon after Desert Storm. BBBBRRRRTTTT.
The Watch: Tudor Ranger
The Ranger is mostly considered a field watch, not necessarily a pilot’s watch. Its simple, stripped-down nature is where its beauty lies. Consider it the modern version of what the Rolex 1016 was (or the vintage Tudor Ranger)–a simple-as-hell time only tool watch that was indestructible and somewhat of an everyman’s watch. You have 3, 6, and 9, and nothing much else except fantastic legibility. It just gets the job done and doesn’t cost too much.
The Link: The A-10 is cheap as chips to operate and consistently crushes the competition when it comes to fixed-wing CAS. The Ranger embodies the same ethos–value-forward, reliable, and has a “git ‘er done” way about it. They’re both simple.
The Plane: Lockheed Martin F-35
The F-35 was delivered ten years late and went 1.7 trillion USD over budget, but it’s the most technologically advanced plane that has ever existed. It’s over the top in every single way, not to mention it costs $41,986 an hour to fly. But trying to find anything that rivals it. You won’t China’s J-20? Nope. Russia’s Su-57? Negative. The aircraft defines air superiority through its host of technical features, many of which are still classified (on the US-operated variants, of course).
The Watch: RM 39-01
Richard Mille marketing shot
If you want one of these, it’ll set you back about 150K. But you’ll also have the most feature-rich, tech-forward analog pilot’s watch that exists. A titanium case and a skeletonized carbon fiber dial characterize the watch, along with the signature Richard Mille lightweight technical look. Richard Mille is the epitome of technical mastery in watchmaking, and the RM 39-01 is the brand’s foray into pilot’s watches. It’s the opposite of legible and robust, but sometimes the most technically advanced things are just that way.
The Link: The amount of engineering that goes into these two things– and the price tag– are both superlative.
The Aircraft: UH-60 Black Hawk
You’ve seen Black Hawk Down. Hell, we know some of you even fly the Black Hawk, which is operated in a branch-specific variant by the US Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. The design dates back to 1974 with Sikorsky, and now the US military operates over 2,000 Black Hawk helicopters. Roughly 30 other countries around the world also operate the UH-60 in some form or another, not to mention civilian operators that use it for firefighting, cargo transport, to search and rescue. It’s a ubiquitous helicopter when it comes to roles in the defense sector. Anyone who flies the Black Hawk knows that when it stops leaking hydraulic fluid, that’s when you have to worry. It can carry between 12 and 20 soldiers into battle and can lift 22,000 lbs. It was first used operationally in combat during the invasion of Grenada in 1983, and it’s been going strong ever since.
The Watch: Marathon TSAR
Cheap, chunky, and indestructible, the TSAR has been a mainstay in the inventory of issued watches of US forces over the past decade. Many models even feature the “US Government” markings on the dial in addition to the nuclear regulatory commision designation on the caseback. The watch has earned a stellar reputation by those to whom it has been issued to. It’s designed solely for utility, not looks. The tall case is meant to make it easy to operate the bezel with gloves on, and tritium tubes are employed for superior legibility and visibility in the dark. In short, it’s been a longstanding fixture in the military watch scene for good reason–it just works.
The Link: The TSAR, like the Black Hawk, isn’t going to win any awards for looking good or being a hero. Neither draw a crowd. But those in the know will always choose these tools over the more sexy options. (Marathon, Watch Maker for the Modern Military)
The Aircraft: Lun-class Ekranoplan
What makes this craft different from most on this list is that even though it has “wings”, it’s not an airplane, or airship even. It’s technically still just a standard maritime ship, because it only lifts about 13 feet off the water and flies in “ground effect”, meaning it takes advantage of reduced drag flying close to a fixed surface. In this case, the surface is the surface of the ocean. It’s essentially just a massive flying boat powered by eight turbofans mounted to canards near the bow of the ship. Flying in ground effect meant that unless the surface of the sea was steady, it simply couldn't fly, and that ultimately led to its demise. It’s an incredibly neat idea that’s also very Soviet–and it can certainly be debated whether or not it’s a good-looking craft or not.
The Watch: Hublot Big Bang
This is the model that’s most typically associated with Hublot, the brand that everyone loves to hate–and by most engineering and mechanical accounts, the watch is pretty strong. But most people agree–it has a very specific type of culture attached to it.
The Link: Both the Ekranoplan and Hublot are loved by Russians, but that’s not all. They both had their mainstream time to shine decades ago, but still both have a small legion of loyal followers today that still live like it’s the heyday of the Ekranoplan and Hublot. But hey, they like what they like.
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