Blancpain introduced the Air Command Flyback Chronograph, a well-received and somewhat unexpected revival of a rare, collectible pilots’ chronograph developed for the United States Air Force, in 2019 as a limited edition in steel. This year, following in the footsteps of its more well-known military-produced timepiece, the Fifty Fathoms divers’ watch, Blancpain brings the Air Command into its regular collection, its first non-limited version boasting a titanium case and a deep blue livery adorning its dial, strap, and bezel.
The modern Air Command 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. The model that was eventually made for the United States Air Force — shortly after the aforementioned Fifty Fathoms was adopted by the U.S. Navy — was offered to USAF pilots through distributor Allen V. Tornek and is today, according to Blancpain, “the most sought-after military chronographs of the late 1950s” due to its scarcity. The retro styling of the contemporary model includes a ratcheted, bidirectionally rotating countdown bezel (here with a blue ceramic insert), which enables an aviator to gauge the remaining time of his or her fuel reserve in flight, and a tachymeter scale for calculating air speeds based on a 1,000-meter distance. That scale encircles a sunburst blue dial (rather than the black dial of the vintage watch and the 2019 model) whose numerals, markers and hands are treated with Super-LumiNova for optimal legibility in a darkened cockpit. Two finely snailed subdials at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock tally 30 elapsed chronograph minutes and 12 chronograph hours, respectively.
Also true to the Air Command’s 1950s ancestor are the box-type sapphire crystals, one over the wide dial opening, the other in the back of the 42.5-mm case, made of satin-brushed grade 23 titanium (a type of titanium rarely used in watchmaking). The latter crystal provides a showcase for the movement, Blancpain’s manufacture Caliber F388B, a variation on the Caliber F385 that powers such models as the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph. With a lightning-quick balance frequency of 5 Hz, the self-winding 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. Composed of 293 components, including 35 jewels, and holding a power reserve of 50 hours, Caliber F388B differs from the one used in its steel-cased predecessor only in its use of a traditional Blancpain openworked rotor rather than the propellor-shaped rotor that distinguished the 2019 limited edition.
The Blancpain Air Command completes its avant-garde yet military-chic look with a blue calfskin leather strap with white contrast stitching. The price is $18,500.