The Waltham Watch company brings back its legendary A-17 model in collaboration with Watch Angels. A watch that has marked an epoch and has served as the Cold War pilot watch. We will get to the storied history of the Waltham A-17 shortly, but let’s first take a look at the new Waltham A-17 NG.

The Re-Birth of the American Pilot Watch. The Waltham A-17 NG

For Waltham it was only natural to bring back the A-17 after having brought back the Field & Marine, the first waterproof watch. The A-17 represents the continuity of Waltham in its role as an official timepiece supplier of the United States military forces.

True to its roots the 21st century Waltham A-17 is rigorously inspired by the 1952 original and complies with MIL-W-6433, because it was perfect for its purpose as it was conceived.

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Subtle but significant design evolutions to the case, bezel, lugs, and dial make the 40mm A-17 NG a modern pilot watch and not a re-issue of the original. Strictly in its original black and white paint scheme and without the patina that often twists the perception of historic watches.

Engineered for reliability and precision to comply with contemporary aviation specifications and executed in a diameter of 40mm for improved dial legibility, the A-17 NG is a contemporary professional pilot instrument. The new additional specifications and it’s slim and very precise automatic movement, the Soprod M100 R4, make the A-17NG significantly more performant and “luxury” than its predecessor.

The A-17NG marks the return of the American Pilot watch to the watch market.

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MIL-W-6433 compliant
Automatic mechanical (Soprod M100 R4)
40mm diameter
Stainless Steel
Domed sapphire crystal
Screw-in crown and case-back
10ATM water-resistant
White or Old Radium X1 grade Superluminova® luminous
Military green cordura tactical strap
Swiss made.

Pre-sale price US$ 1000

The Waltham A-17NG is currently in pre-sale at Waltham A-17 - Watchangels

The Birth of a Legend. The USAF A-17 Tender.

On December 31, 1948 United States Air Force Colonel J.C. Harvell, Chief of the Equipment Laboratory Engineering Division, sent out a letter to the Waltham Watch Company, the Elgin National Watch Company, the Hamilton Watch Company, the Bulova Watch Company, the Gruen Watch Company and the Longines-Wittnauer Watch Company asking for their comments on Specification №21277, in view of a tender for the new pilot watch that had to be procured by USAF.

This specification would later be known as MIL-W-6433 and had the objective of upgrading the WWII era A-11 specification that was manufactured by Waltham, Elgin & Bulova for the war effort.

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The A-17 case-back featuring the USAF procurement data

The A-17 specification called for a utilitarian hacking seconds pilot wristwatch which showed 1300–2400 military time through auxiliary markings and radium luminous applied on the 1–12-hour markers, five-minute markers, hour and minute hands and on the tip of the sweep second hand. All requirements from the December 1948 USAF letter indeed made it onto the final design of the Waltham A-17 because in the end the United States Air Force chose the Waltham Watch Company as its exclusive supplier for their new Type A-17 Navigation Pilot’s Wristwatch. A legend was born on March 23, 1951, when Mil Spec MIL-W-6433 was approved for the Waltham Type A-17.

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The letter about this new United States Air Force specification was sent out to the Elgin National Watch Company, the Hamilton Watch Company, the Bulova Watch Company, the Gruen Watch Company, and the Longines-Wittnauer Watch Company.

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The Military 24h clock system and the A-17

In the civilian world, the commonly used system for timekeeping is the 12 hour dial where the same notation of time appears twice a day. As a result, the two similar notations must be differentiated with another notation which is AM and PM. This makes it easy to confuse time frames.

In the military world, confusion about time interpretation can be fatal. Therefore, the military had to improvise a time system that reduces any chances of ambiguity. This brought the adoption of the military time system also known as the 24 hour clock system which was one of the MIL-W-6433 specifications for the Waltham Type A-17.

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The Waltham A-17

As world wars progressed, military forces had to swiftly adapt to change to survive. This brought improvements in strategy and communication and the adoption of the 24 hour clock in the military.

Soldiers often communicated with devices while they were long distances apart to enhance unity and strategies of attack and defense. A slight information mistake could cause a wrong move. This was one of the disadvantages of the 12-hour clock system. For instance, in the 12-hour system, it is very easy to confuse 12 midnight and 12 noon. It is also very difficult in to do swift calculations in time difference. For example, in the 12-hour system, it is harder to know that something lasts for six-hour when told it starts from 10:45 to 4:45. On the contrary, it is easier to comprehend that it starts from 10:45 to 16:45. For these challenges in the 12-hour system, the US Navy adopted the 24-hour system in 1920 which was later adopted by the US Army in 1942. But, the 24 hour system was being used unofficially by the Army & Navy during the later years of WWI. Evidence of this can be seen on a small handful of American made WWI trench watch dials.

The United States military later made modifications to their 24-hour system format. They used specialized local time zones. An example is zone J, for instance, 1200J meaning noon (12 PM). They also used hundreds when telling the time. For instance, 1000hrs is read as ten hundred hours, not a thousand hours. Any zeroes must be read when communicating. For example, 0600hrs is read as zero six hundred hours, not six hundred hours. These modifications were made to bring a common understanding of the message sent to all the soldiers of the military.

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The munitions board standards in which also the MIL-W-6433 is also indexed

When Mil Spec MIL-W-6433 was adopted by the USAF for the Waltham A-17 it did in fact feature a 24 hour dial.

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The “Lollipop” second’s hand

The 12 hour system is still commonly used in the United States The 24 hour clock is also popular with airline and other transportation systems where misread time can cause confusion. Pilots, scientists and polar explorers have adopted the 24-hour time system since in most cases, their locations have prolonged sun appearance or darkness. Night time that extends for almost the whole day can disorient an explorer. Disciplines that perform highly sensitive tasks like hospitals and intensive care units also use the 24-hour system to administer treatments. A slight mistake in drug administration can cause death to a patient.

The history of military time continues to be written as the world adopts, adapts and tweaks the system for the needs of new technologies and methods.

The Watch of Pilots and Aviation Legends

For two decades, the A-17 has been worn by USAF and US Navy pilots, from those who served during the cold war and its hot war theaters to those who made the history of modern aviation, and in some cases the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of aviation advancement. Three of them are honored below in representation of an entire generation of pilots which deserve to be honored.

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Captain Milburn Apt in his X2 Picsin 1956, just hours before he was killed.

On September 27, 1956 Captain Milburn Apt became the fastest man in human history by flying the UASF Bell X-2 Starbuster to the incredible speed of Mach 3.196 which is 3,377 km or 2,098 miles per hour. Captain Apt was the very first man to fly at over 3 times the speed of sound.

The Bell X-2 Starbuster was a rocket powered, swept-wing research aircraft developed jointly by Bell Aircraft, the United States Air Force and National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) which in 1958 twould become NASA.

Tragically Captain Apt was killed during this record breaking flight when the X-2 lost control, crashing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Captain Apt was awarded the Soldiers Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross

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The Bell X-2 Starbuster

Another distinguished pilot who wore the A-17 as his loyal companion was USAF Lieutenant Colonel James Jabara. Lt. Col. James Jabara was the very first American pilot who shot down an enemy aircraft flying a jet powered aircraft. On April 3, 1951 Lt. Col. Jabara was flying a F-86 Sabre when he shot down a Soviet MiG-15 in the area known as “MiG Alley” in Northwestern North Korea. He quickly racked up aerial combat victories due to his superior skills and eventually scored 15 victories giving him the title of “Triple Ace”. Lt. Col. Jabara was ranked the 2nd highest scoring USAF Ace of the Korean War. He received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and the British Distinguished Flying Cross for his incredible accomplishments in combat.

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USAF Lieutenant Colonel James Jabara stepping out of the cockpit of his F-86 Sabre in 1953 with his Waltham A-17 on his wrist.

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The North American F-86 Sabre

Last but certainly not least, there is USAF Major Bud Anderson. Major Anderson, who is currently the highest scoring “Ace” alive today. After WWII, from 1948–1953 Major Anderson was a fighter jet test pilot and later became Chief of the Fighter Flight Test Section at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. From 1957–1965 Major Anderson was assigned to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California where he served as Chief of Flight Test Operations and later as Deputy Director of Flight Testing. During the Vietnam War he commanded the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing flying the Republic Aviation F-105 Thunderchief. During his career he flew over 100 different types of USAF aircraft. Major Anderson was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star and the Air Medal, just to name a few among many.

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Major Bud Anderson kneeling in front of a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter at Edwards Air Force Base, ca. 1962 with the Waltham Type A-17 on his wrist.