Pilots love gadgets. And they love having the best pilot watches.
People who are drawn to become pilots are usually the type of people who are attracted to technology. The windfall of portable electronic devices in the past decade has been a veritable buffet of useful digital entrees. The iPhone and iPad have quite literally changed the face of flying, with the advent of very-reliable, affordable applications that give an incredible array of resources and capabilities. In short, pilots love tech stuff. They also have an affinity for personal accessories. Have you ever met a pilot who was not wearing sunglasses? I think not. Considering the nature of the work, as well as the obvious clout, quality pilot watches are another marquee item for aviators. Aside from the cool factor of a well-crafted watch they serve completely legitimate purposes for aviators, and modern technology has allowed time pieces to become truly an extension of the pilot.
Best Pilot Watches Available
Garmin D2 Pilot Watch
Price point: $$$ ($$$$$ depending on model)
The Garmin D2 Pilot Watch tops my wish-list for 2017. First and foremost, it looks good. As every quality pilot will attest, this is perhaps as important (if not more so, depending on the circumstances) as the functionality of the item. Except headsets; those pretty much have to work, no exceptions. The Garmin Pilot watch is an actual functioning navigation system and avionics platform on your wrist; it is not a “Pilot’s Watch” in name only.
No Sir, this watch allows you to proceed to actual waypoints, or choose the nearest airport with distance, heading, and estimated time en route. It has an instruments page which displays ground speed, altitude, and vertical speed, and there is a real moving map page showing your location and route path to your destination. It even has a fully-functioning horizontal situation indicator (HSI), which is scalable depending upon your needs. The watch includes a worldwide airport database, so in case you are planning to take the old Cherokee 180 down to Lima, Peru, at least your watch will be ready for it! The Garmin Pilot watch also includes all of the features of their other lines of fitness and outdoor watches, so in my honest opinion, this watch is actually a bargain considering what it offers the discerning pilot. Also, the Garmin Pilot watch is a watch so it tells you, you know, the time.
If you happen to have a little more breadth in your accessories budget, you might consider upgrading to the D2 Bravo Titanium pilot watch. This includes all of the aforementioned features, but adds a critical feature to the mix: weather. The Titanium provides color-coded METARs and TAFs, allowing you to get the current weather at a glance of your watch, allowing you to be one step ahead of the game when you make your next call to ATC.
Price point: $$$-$$$$$
The Apple Watch is not a pilot-specific watch, but to not include it would be tantamount to stating that iPads are not aviation-specific so they are left out of portable aviation electronics discussions. The key ingredient which the Apple Watch offers pilots over some of the “pilot specific” watches is the simple fact that it is not specific to anything, but it seems to be more than adequate at most things. For instance, this is assuming that a buyer of the Apple Watch is probably already operating other iOS products, namely an iPhone. If that Apple user is a pilot, they probably are already among the throngs who religiously use ForeFlight Mobile. The Apple Watch does not disappoint when synched with ForeFlight, as it gives text weather and airport conditions, in-flight ADS-B weather, flight notifications and more basic (but mandatory for IFR flight) functions such as timers.
Citizen Eco-Drive Navihawk
Price point: $$$
Unlike the previous two watches, the Citizen Eco-Drive is not a smart watch. It is a beautiful, masterful piece of workmanship which will provide you Atomic-accurate time and date for many years to come.Along with standard features of a dial watch, it features a Zulu (UTC) dial, rotating inner ring, and a pilot’s slide rule dial ring. This is a beautiful time piece, equipped with all of the standard features which you would expect from a higher-end, classic watch.
Casio G-SHOCK Gravity Master Hybrid GPS
Price point: $$$$
Judging by the ratings on Amazon, the Casio G-Shock Gravity Master is arguably one of the best pilot watches available. With its GPS synchronization, you can be assured that the compass direction provided are going to be pinpoint accurate. It is a solar powered unit, so say goodbye to the pestilence of trying to find the correct flat battery, let alone actually replacing it. It is good to 200m depth submerged, and gives you accurate Zulu time at a glance.
Invicta Men’s Aviator
Price point: $
Invicta’s Aviator watch is not loaded with features per se, but it is what I would consider a classic beauty. With smooth, sleek lines, and an uncluttered face, it could easily become the best pilot watch in the view of many pilots. Smart watches certainly have their place, and I love the classic aviator watch face with all of the assorted dials, but sometimes simpler really is much better. The Invicta Aviator comes in as a relative bargain compared to others on this list, and is certainly affordable enough to add to the collection just because. With it providing month, day, and Zulu time, it might just come out of the back of the pack and become your best pilot watch in the inventory!
It is really at the discretion of each individual to determine what the best pilot watches for them.
If you are already flying in a glass cockpit with synthetic vision, then the Garmin D2 may very well be much more than you need. In that case, a classic-style watch might be your ideal timepiece. However, if a well-aged rental Skyhawk equipped with steam gauges is your ride, the Garmin watch or the Apple Watch coupled with ForeFlight may very well be worth a look. For what they offer, they are really a bargain in my opinion.
The Casio reminds me of a bush plane, all armor and ready to drop into the arctic tundra. It seems a little short on functions considering where it falls in terms of price, but I have absolutely no doubt that the G-Shock stands a much higher chance of surviving a catastrophic situation than I do. These are all good choices, with each serving different purposes with different goals in mind when searching for the best pilot watch for your next adventure.