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.

IMG_5560
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!

© 2023, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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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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