The best wingman can be found on your wrist

Fighter pilots have always had the dream job of many skygazing boys and for good reason. Thanks to the US Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor programme (or as we like to call it: Top Gun), we’ve always wanted to don our flight gear, climb into a F14A Tomcat, catapult off the flight deck of the USS Enterprise and intercept a few cocky MIG-28s bandits over the Indian Ocean – all done to the soundtrack of Kenny Loggins. Hell, if you’re a real fan, you’ve probably tried to chat up a few women with the “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” routine. Besides that cinematic hit, we’ve also got to thank the supersonic dogfighters for the gear they’ve brought into the mainstream. Aviator sunglasses, bomber jackets and pilot watches are just a few great examples and the timepieces that were created for high altitudes, extreme G-forces, life-threatening missions and dark cockpits have now become brilliant watches for everyday use. What separates them from the other watch categories? Like diving watches, they’re normally larger than conventional watches, and have bigger, more distinctive dials that were created to be seen easily by a pilot in difficult conditions. The crowns are also bigger (pilots used to wear thick gloves) and the hands sometimes resemble propeller blades. Some also have custom scales like tachymeters and telemeters. Most of those are cosmetic details, but pilot-inspired watches can also have useful features like chronographs, world timers and magnetism-proof movements. Make up a good handle (don’t resort to Maverick – it’s taken), strap on one of these timepieces, and you’re ready for any kind of life-changing adventure – airborne or not.

1. Zenith El Primero Stratos Flyback Chronograph

One of the most illustrious watch brands, Zenith has been quietly creating pieces of industry-changing wrist art for almost 150 years. A flagship model, this is one of only a handful of mechanical chronographs that can measure intervals to 1/10 of a second. R75 000,, 011 669 0500

2. Alpina Heritage Pilot

An aviation legend, Alpina started in 1883, and this watch is based on pilot’s watches from the 1920s. It’s an imposing watch (50mm), created to be seen in dark cockpits, but it’s size is tempered by its refined good looks. R16 830,, 011 669 0500

3. Casio G-Shock Gravity Defier

It’s a solar-powered multitool that’s shoehorned with more tech than a space shuttle. It’s shock resistant, can withstand gravity loads of up to 12G, has a 1/100 second stopwatch and is tougher than a honey badger. R4 499,, 011 314 8888

4. Breitling Navitimer 01

It’s crossed countless time zones and is a sexy blend of performance and style with the inhouse Calibre 01 movement and striking case – including the signature black dial and red second hand. R73 285,, 021 418 4515

5. Victorinox Maverick GS

Tough. Practical. Essential. Just like the Swiss Army knives that the same company produces, this is the kind of faithful accessory that’ll never quit on you. The 43mm wide case and Swiss red on the bezel and hands is striking in a classic, masculine way. R7 595,, 011 669 0500

6. IWC Pilot Mark XVII

IWC has always been on the wrists of pilots across the world and in Miramar, the home of the real Top Gun school. The impactful white and black colour scheme (similar 
to a classic altimeter gauge) is legible in all conditions, and translates well into a dressier, more formal watch on the ground. R54 500,, 011 317 2600