I Wore Breitling’s New Military Pilot Watch For A Week

It only seems fitting to reflect on my week with the Breitling B50 Cockpit while flying at 36,000 feet, a puny altitude that this beast of a titanium timepiece readily scoffs at. Not in a pretentious way really, but in a “buddy, this is a watch built for use by the armed forces” sort of way.  I’m writing this as I’m flying home, with about 18 hours until I have to hand it back over to the people at Breitling, and to be honest—I’m sad to see it go.

I’d first gotten familiar with the watch a few weeks ago at The Explorers Club in New York, where Astronaut Mark Kelly spent about two hours convincing me that aliens are definitely out there, just not at Area 51. He’s something of a spokesperson for Breitling, and this watch represents the latest in a long line of timepieces that live up to their corporate mantra “Instruments For Professionals”.

If there ever was a professional—Mark Kelly is most certainly it. His resume could take up three full scrolls on your screen, so I’ll leave it out for now, but when Breitling tapped him to consult on the designs and functions of the B50, he had very little trouble speaking his mind about problems he’d had with other watches during space flight.

“You lift off. It takes you eight and a half minutes to go from 0 to 17,500 miles an hour. As a pilot, one of your responsibilities are the main engines, which is one of the biggest sources of stress as you go uphill. These things having moving parts that are moving at 35,000 rpm—turbines and pumps. A lot of mechanical. Right after the engines cut off, you’ve got to close all these valves, and you’ve got to close them looking over your shoulder or with a mirror.

“Some people tend to use a mirror. I tend to wrench my head around. I would use the watch to time. They have to be closed in a certain amount of time. Sure enough, I look over my shoulder, and the second hand is stuck on the minute hand of this watch I’m wearing.  Mechanically, physically stuck. Then I start doing the old, ‘One one thousand. Two one thousand.’ After I got back from the flight, I was like, ‘I’ve got to find a better watch.’ Which is why I ended up contacting Breitling.”

It’s safe to say that this watch will never malfunction during space shuttle takeoff. What else can it handle?

  • Count Down/Count Up “Mission” timers.
  • UTC mode for keeping track of the universal military time.
  • Vibrating alarm that rivals your iPhone in vibratability (not a word, apparently)
  • Rechargeable battery for when you’re at mission control between SORTIEs.
  • Gyroscopic sensor that turns on the luminescent face when tilted to a 40 degree angle, the exact angle that pilots seem to want to turn their wrists when flying in the cover of darkness.
  • Endless chrono featuers.
  • A little chip that keeps, allegedly, the most accurate time ever in a Quartz watch.

By contrast, these are the functions that were designed for me.

  • Tells time
  • Date is available when asked
  • Lights up when I’m in bed

All in all, it’s safe to say that this watch will handle whatever it is you manage to throw at it.

Ted Gushue is the Executive Editor of He’s never been to space, but he did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once, so read into that however you’d like. Hear about his stay on Twitter @TedGushue