Hamilton and the EAA AirVenture Show

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If you have any Avgas in your veins at all, you’ll want to be in Oshkosh, Wisconsin this July. Why? From Sunday 24th July to Sunday 31st, Wittman Regional Airport is home for a week to the airborne spectacular that is the EAA AirVenture Show.

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Hosted by the US Experimental Aircraft Association, it’s one of the largest aviation shows in the world. This is a show so big that it needs its own app – seriously. You can do pretty much anything aviation-related, from learning how to speak to air-traffic controllers (nicely – they’re the ones allocating your departure and arrival slots) to a class in fabric-covering your aircraft’s wings. And, of course, you can simply stroll around, rub shoulders with fellow aviation enthusiasts, look at ‘planes and watch some top-end flying displays.

Over the week of the Show, there’ll be 10,000 aircraft flying in. There’s everything from a tiny, single-engined WWI Sopwith Pup to the only remaining huge four-engined Martin Mars flying boat. Nowadays, the Martin Mars still lands on water, but it’s used as a fire-suffocating water bomber. Handy, then, that Wittman is on the shores of Lake Winnebago.

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It doesn’t matter whether you’re a vintage or modern fan or whether pistons or jets are your thing – the EAA Show has a pilot flying pretty much everything at some point.

And where there are aviators, there will be aviation watches. Ever since the first pilots strapped themselves in and took off, watches have been a vital item of cockpit kit. They were essential for accurate time/distance calculations before computers and modern flight instruments made them obsolete. Today their appeal is much broader, and flying watches are part of watchmaking heritage.

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Plenty of watchmakers want to claim a whiff of aviation fuel lingers about their watches. So what makes a proper flying watch?

Back in the days when all the best pilots had dodgy moustaches and ‘von’ in front of their surnames, the pilots shooting at them used pocket watches to navigate. The Mark IV.A and Mark V British pocket watches were the thing to have in the cockpit of your SE5. Large enough to hold with gloves on, solid enough to survive and clear enough to read in a shaking aircraft.

Today, few pilots rely on their watches for navigation, but the elements of a pilot watch are just as useful in everyday, groundbased life. It will have a clear, uncluttered face that you can read without having to squint or look closely at – although you will, often, just for the hell of it. It’ll have a hacking movement, so you can set the exact time to an external reference. And ostentatiously starting the chrono on your your pilot watch is rather handy for limiting how long that tedious colleague yaps for in meetings.

Someone with a rather more practical use for a pilot watch is Hamilton brand ambassador Nicolas Ivanoff.

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Ivanoff describes AirVenture as ‘a big family reunion’, a chance to see flying – as well as Watchworld – colleagues and catch up on news.

On his wrist, Nicolas wears a Hamilton Khaki X-Wind, a watch he helped to design. Appropriately named, it’s the first watch with a drift-angle calculator. That means a pilot can use it to accurately calculate – and record – the crosswinds they’ll will encounter in flight.

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As well as a drift calculator, the X-Wind has a 12-hour counter, a 30-minute counter and a small second hand on the 3 o’clock subdial that’s independent of the chronograph. The Cal. H-21 movement is based on the Valjoux 7750, so it’s reliable, solid and accurate – all things one wants as much on the 20th floor of the office as well as 20,000ft..

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Hamilton’s involvement with pilots is nothing new. In fact, it goes back to 1918 when the watchmaker was official timekeeper for U.S. airmail flights between Washington, Philadelphia and New York. By the 1930s, their reputation was established and major airlines were issuing Hamiltons to their crews.

They were the official watch of TWA, Eastern, United and Northwest Airlines. And Hamilton was the choice for timekeeper on United Airlines first coast-to-coast service – a 15-hour, 20-minute trip between New York and San Francisco.

In more hostile time, RAF pilots were issued with the Hamilton 6B – nicknamed the ‘Mk XI’ – and the asymmetric RAF Chronograph. Navigators got the Model 23 Navigators’ Chronograph, a pocket, rather than wrist, watch. Today, all are hugely collectable. And Hamilton hasn’t forgotten its past – the modern offspring of the RAF Chronograph finds its place in the Hamilton collection as the Khaki Pilot Auto Chrono.

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Ivanoff won’t be the only pilot checking the time on his Hamilton at the AirVenture Show. The Canadian Forces Snowbirds, back at Oshkosh for the first time in more than 30 years, use Hamiltons as standard equipment in their 500mph Canadair CT-114 Tutor jets.

So if ‘planes, aviation or watches are your thing, AirVenture is the place to be this weekend. And it makes sense to take your Hamilton along with you too. Even if you’re not in the air, it’ll make sure you know exactly when the next display is.

words by Mark McArthur-Christie

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