In my day, aircraft instrument panels came with round dials, and lots of ’em. That’s an F-15 Eagle cockpit on the left, the most modern jet I ever flew. On the right, the cockpit of an F-35 Lightning II.

F-15 panel F-35 panel

They’re starting to call geezers like me round-dial pilots, which conjures up images of cavalry officers and locomotive brakemen. What do they call the generation of pilots starting out in aircraft with flat panel displays like the F-35? I don’t know. Do they even have a name yet?

You knew I was going to segue to watches, didn’t you? Sure you did.

Like the instruments in the aircraft I flew, the watches and clocks I grew up with were round and mechanical, the way God made them. I looked down on the quartz watches that started getting popular in the 1970s, especially the ones with digital displays. I didn’t hate them, exactly — not until the ones that made piercing electronic peeps and beeps came along.

Sometime in 1979 or 1980, the Casio on a squadron mate’s wrist went off during a mass mission briefing at Soesterberg Air Base, playing the entire 125 bars of Für Elise because he couldn’t figure out how to shut it off. I remember thinking “I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a watch that does that.”

I never flew with a quartz watch, analog or digital, but did pick up a few after retiring from the Air Force. Since I’ve shared photos of my mechanical watch collection, I thought it only fair to document the quartz collection, too.

click for details

I’ve had the one silver and two black Casios for years, but the Timex watches, the two outside ones, are new. And I wear them … a lot. They’re great looking pieces with comfortable leather bands, and don’t require setting or winding every time I want to wear one. But what I wanted to remark on is this: it didn’t really hit me until I laid them out for the photo that apart from the small inset digital window on the top Casio, my quartz watches look like mechanical watches. Which I guess more than confirms my traditionalist mindset. I”m Team Round Dial, all the way.

To which you’re probably saying “okay boomer.” As you should. Because I am. But ask me if I’d like to fly the F-35, and I’d have to say “Oh hell yes.” I’d whore out to that digital cockpit in a second!

2 thoughts on “Round Dials

  • They’re called glass cockpits. I knew that; it just didn’t come to me when I was writing the post. So if there are glass cockpits, there must be glass cockpit pilots, right?

    Actually, in my early Eagle days, fighter pilots who’d only flown the F-15 were disparaged as “HUD babies,” the implication being we did all our instrument flying looking through the HUD and didn’t know how to use the round dials below. I never took offense, remembering my first three years flying instruments in the T-37, with round dials not much more advanced than those available to WWII aircrews.

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