While TAG Heuer is well-known as a maker of racing chronographs and diving watches, the company has also made a number of aviation watches, such as the Bundeswehr of the 1970s and this watch- the Pilot. The Pilot was a niche part of the “Specialist” range of watches from its launch in 1980 until it was phased out in 2003.
Just as the 1000 series of the late 1970s owes a lot to the design of the Rolex Submariner, the Pilot builds on the look of the Breitling Navitimer, with its complex multi-layer inner and outer-bezels. But the Pilot also drew inspiration from others in the Heuer catalogue, in effect replacing the Calculator of the 1970s.
So what makes this an aviation watch? It’s really to do with the multiple bezels, which allow a range of measurements to be taken. The external bi-directional bezel has a tachymetre scale (allowing speed to be calculated), while the internal bezels are a circular slide rule, which can be used for a range of calculations. For a detailed set of instructions on how to use the Pilots’ various scales and bezels, take a look at the manual here.
As an aside, its interesting to see the two 1000 series watches in this catalogue (9809.032 and 980.031) shown as “aviation” watches- to me, the 1000 series is a pure Divers watch.
There were two dials offered on the Pilot- Silver (230.006 quartz/ 130.006 automatic) and Black (230.206/ 130.206). Both of models have the same black inner and outer bezels.
As you can see in the photo below, the watch had the same triangular hour-markers and hand-set as the 2000 series.
The Pilot also shared the same Chronograph-pusher design as the 2000 series, although you can’t see it from these photos, with the over-sized bezel covering the crown and pushers.
Much like the 3000 Series, the Pilot also had a cyclops over the date window that sat under the dial.
The early Pilot series was only available as Chronograph, with either a quartz or automatic movement. Like most of the Heuer and TAG Heuer watches of this era, the automatic movement was the LWO 283, which mated an ETA base movement with a Lemania/ Dubois Depraz Chronograph module. The quartz movement is the Calibre 185, which uses the same Chronograph module, but this time mounted on an ESA 555/ ETA 955 quartz tractor. As I’ve pointed out in the past, these really are an interesting pair of movements- think of the quartz Calibre 185 as the inspiration of today’s Calibre S mechanical-quartz.
TAG Heuer Pilot- First Generation
The first TH logo Pilot appears in the 1987 catalogue and continued over with exactly the same case and dial as the Heuer versions- only the logo is different.
TAG Heuer Pilot- Second Generation
The Pilot was entirely re-designed in 1991- with a new case, dial, movements and hands. The new model was water-resistant to 200m, double the First-Gen model.
Case and Pushers
The first change to note is to the case itself. While the First Generation Pilot had a rounded case with shallow crown and pushers, you can see below that the new model (bottom) moved to an angular case, featuring a crown guard that extended beyond the width of the bezel and new, rounder pushers.
The new design took the Pilot closer to the 2000 series in terms of looks, and like the 2000 also featured open lugs and a bracelet with end pieces, rather than the semi-integrated design of the original.
Like the original model, the revised Pilot was available in two colours- but the Silver was replaced by a white-dial version that had Blue sub-dials and bezel. The Black dial version had contrasting Silver silver sub-dials. The Silver sub-dial rings make a nice difference to the design and give the dial more depth- the First Generation Pilot has quite a flat dial.
The hour markers were changed to a baguette design and the date window loses the cyclops and becomes a lot smaller at the 4 o’clock position.
Not only did the hands change to the ubiquitous Mercedes-style hands, but the Second Generation Pilot also picked up an extra central hand. Like the Lemania 5100 watches, the Red-arrow hand you see above records elapsed minutes for the Chronograph, with the steel central hand measuring elapsed Chronograph seconds. Running seconds for the time are on the 6 o’clock sub-dial.
The Automatic version of the watch was dropped, leaving only the Quartz movement, which switched across to using the 27-Jewel ETA 251.262, a movement used on many TAG Heuer watches of the same vintage, including the 2000-Series
The Second Generation Pilot was reference number 530.306 (Black) and 530.806 (Blue and White) from 1991 through to 1992/3, when the TAG Heuer numbering system changed, becoming CS1111 and CS1110 respectively.
While the Pilot was never offered in a dazzling variety of models like other TAG Heuer’s of the time, there was at least one Special version of the watch, being the version below made for King Hussein of Jordan. The watch was given out as a gift, and has the Royal Crown of Jordan at 12 o’clock
The Pilot Series- Looking Back
Along with the Super Professional, the Pilot made up the TAG Heuer Specialist range for more than a decade. While the watch was never more than a niche model, it is one of the more interesting TH’s of the era and one that can be quite hard to find. I prefer the Second Generation watch to the original (although the Crown extends too far), mainly because I really like the White and Blue dial version of the watch, which looks more up-market than the First Generation dial. These typically sell second-hand for around US$1000, which means that you get a lot of watch for the money.
The Pilot was phased out in 2003 and we really haven’t seen an Aviation-themed watch since. I wonder whether TH will go back into this market, or perhaps they see Aviation as being the domain of others brands. It’s the sort of watch that could be released as a niche re-edition and would be a cool addition to the range, because the Pilot is one of the more interesting and better-looking watches from the back-catalogue.
– Pilot Case back: http://jualanjam.blogspot.com/search/label/Tag%20Heuer%20Sold%207
– Second Generation Pilot Blue/ White: S.a Timepieces
– Quartz Movement: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Tag-Heuer-Pilot-Chronograph-1-10-/150626875991?pt=Wristwatches&hash=item23120fba57
And a special mention to Chuck Maddox’s great article here: http://www.chronomaddox.com/tag_heuer_pilot.html