While many are aware of Blancpain’s historical connection with producing military watches courtesy the Fifty Fathoms diver, few know of the aviation timepiece it made for the U.S. Air Force in the late 1950s, the Blancpain Air Command chronograph. This year, the Le Brassus brand has reissued a limited edition vintage-inspired version of this military chronograph.
The new version of the Air Command, which is limited to 500 pieces, takes its cues from a prototype made in the 1950s for the French Ministry of Defence, who requested a pilot’s watch with a black dial, luminous hour markers and hands, and a high-precision chronograph movement with a flyback function. A version was eventually made for the United States Air Force — suitably, as the groundbreaking Fifty Fathoms divers’ watch had previously won over the U.S. Navy — and offered to USAF pilots through distributor Allen V. Tornek.
Blancpain calls the original Air Command “the most sought-after military chronographs of the late 1950s” due to its scarcity, and its retro spirit informs the design of its modern successor. Its ratcheted, bidirectionally rotating countdown bezel (with black ceramic insert) enables an aviator to gauge the remaining time of his or her fuel reserve in flight, while the numerals and markers on the bezel and dial, as well as the hands, are covered in “old radium”-type Super-LumiNova, which not only allows easy legibility in a darkened cockpit but also ape the orange hue of the original’s.
Balancing out the black dial, encircled by a tachymeter scale for calculating air speeds based on a 1,000-meter distance, are two subdials at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock, tallying 30 elapsed chronograph minutes and 12 chronograph hours, respectively. The box-type sapphire crystal over the wide dial opening, a notable element for watches of the 1950s, is true to the watch’s ancestor, and repeated in the back of the watch’s 42.5-mm steel case, revealing the self-winding F388B caliber and its on-theme propeller-shaped rotor made of solid gold.
With its lightning-quick balance frequency of 5 Hz, the movement allows the integrated stopwatch function to measures elapsed times to 1/10-second intervals. The chronograph’s vertical clutch enables the central seconds hand to snap smoothly into action and seamlessly stop and start time measurements, the column wheel at the heart of the mechanism speaks to the movement’s classical architecture, and the flyback mechanism allows instantaneous stopping and re-starting of the chronograph.
The movement is composed of 293 components, including 35 jewels, and holds a power reserve of 50 hours. The Blancpain Air Command completes its military look with a patented calf leather strap with contrast stitching. It is limited to just 500 pieces, we will update the story with the price as soon as we have more information.