We have all talked about the history and lore behind watches like the Rolex GMT, Glycine Airman, and others. They are classics, and I love them too. But lately I have suffered from the inevitable march of time and my once eagle eyes simply don't work like they did 20 years ago. I never even thought about it when I started flying in the military 22 years ago, but now I need reading glasses especially when I am tired. And I am tired most of the time as I am a long haul pilot these days.
The advancement of technology has produced digital watches that are chock a block full of features that would make a navigator from the 1950's marvel. Modern cockpits have eliminated the need for flight engineers and navigators altogether.
I have gradually migrated to using digital watches almost exclusively. I usually carry a mechanical backup for off duty like my Raven Sub for example. The digitals provide larger displays that are easier to read and they perform so many more valuable functions as well. One feature that I find very helpful is the 24 hour countdown timer. Many watches only offer a 60 minute timer, but that is no use on a 12 hour trans Pacific flight. Time zones don't really matter while we are flying. I am more concerned with the total time of the flight and various times to events, like when and how long do I spend in rest. The countdown timer is very useful for this. Of course, world time is great and world atomic updating is very convenient. So, all of this leads me to show you the digitals in my stable so that you can see for yourself. I just bought an Armitron from Sears for $27 USD. Sometimes you find a little gem and so far, I am really impressed with this cheap dynamo!
This Armitron has the largest and easiest to read display of any watch so far. The functions are intuitive and easy to use. At this price point, you could buy several of them and not even worry about it.
Notice how clearly the countdown timer is displayed. You will see in the following pictures that this is not true of all the more expensive and certainly better quality watches.
Suunto displays the main time in the center and the countdown on the bottom row. Not too bad, but I would rather have it in the center.
The Pathfinder displays the remaining hours on the top row, and I find the numbers a bit small sometimes.
The Zulu is OK, but can be taxing on tired eyes without reading glasses also.