Blancpain may be better known for its dive watches and elegant complications, but the brand had also produced military chronographs in the past, including several prototypes for Allen V. Tornek, its United States distributor, in the 1950s. One such timepiece, the Blancpain Air Command, was even offered to the US Air Force’s pilots in the same time period. While the original reference’s production history is murky, with few believed to have been made, it has been reproduced this year in a limited run of 500 pieces.
The modern Air Command is a flyback chronograph, which can be instantaneously reset to zero while it’s running, unlike a “normal” chronograph’s stop-reset-restart sequence. This is a vital feature for pilots, especially in the days of yore before electronic and satellite-based navigation, as navigation could be time-based. A search pattern, for instance, could be based on flying each leg for a predetermined period of time. Taking time to reset the chronograph would introduce errors with each successive leg of the flight.
A flyback chronograph eliminates this issue as it resets instantly and continues running without any delay. Flyback function aside, the Air Command’s chronograph also runs at an unusually high frequency of 5Hz, which gives it a 1/10-second resolution. A vertical clutch and column wheel promise improved isochronism and tactile capability, rounding out the chronograph’s technical features.
Despite its contemporary features, the Air Command’s design is retro-inspired. Note the beige Super-Luminova markings on the dial, which mimic aged radium-based luminescent paint used in the 1950s. The minute totaliser sub-dial at three o’clock also has three-minute interval markings for the first 10 minutes – a mainstay on chronographs of the era. Another blast from the past is the watch’s box-shaped crystal, rendered this time in sapphire for greater scratch resistance. Rounding out the design is the bi-compax layout that offers a cleaner, symmetrical look – albeit at the expense of having a running seconds hand.
Aviation buffs will no doubt be delighted with the countdown bezel, which is fairly uncommon in watches today, as well as the propeller-shaped oscillating weight that’s visible through the case-back. The Blancpain Air Command speaks to more than fans of early aviation though – its elegant design and technically sound movement will endear it to a much wider audience. AM