Timing is Everything

Few things in life are as unforgiving toward imperfection or as intolerant of nonchalance as aviation. Perhaps more so than any of life’s endeavors, aviation lives and breathes precision in pursuit of perfection. Precision measured by time. Time measured in nanoseconds.
aviation, technology
Written By Randy S. Bolinger
Image By © Urs MATTLE – Switzerland

Breitling’s signature seven-ship formation en route toward the bottom of a 4G loop.

Ancient Greeks had names for two kinds of time—kairos and kronos.

Kairos is an abstract concept of time. Think of kairos as if it were the elapsed time of a super slow-motion sequence in an action movie where everything seemingly slows to a halt as the world around is in complete disarray. Or perhaps as an indeterminate moment of time in which everything happens in a split second.

Kronos is the much more linear phenomenon of time that we’re accustomed to, the metronome of life that meters our existence one solitary stroke at a time. Whether the second hand sweeping the dial of a timepiece or the changing of the seasons that marks the Earth’s annual trek around the sun, chronological time is orderly, predictable and finite.

One could argue that during a multiple-ship aerobatic performance, both kairos and kronos are at play in much the same manner that Greek gods toyed with mere mortals for fun and amusement. For those observing such a spectacle from terra firma, the precision timing of a jet-powered aerobatic team is a source of wonder and awe of the disciplined precision—albeit nerve-racking—feats that steely-eyed aviators execute flawlessly, seemingly tempting calamitous results.

With opposing closure rates approaching 1,000 knots per hour, pilots rely on split-second kronos timing to arrive on station exactly when expected. Yet once all ships converge for their tightly choreographed subsonic ballet, it must feel as though time stands still—and alas, a moment of kairos has arrived.

A Life Turned Upside Down

You certainly don’t have to be an aviator to appreciate the skill it takes to do what aerobatic teams do. If you are an aviator, you’ll likely have an even deeper appreciation. And if you’ve ever done any formation flying, you’ll know that while exciting, formation work is extremely demanding, physically and mentally. Now turn that formation upside down, twist it sideways, and blend in some high G maneuvers and revel in the choice made to have a light breakfast.

The commitment to operate seven decommissioned military aircraft and the subsequent logistics to move them around the world is staggering.

Humorist Robert Benchley once wrote something that morphed into variations of “If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.” This paints a fairly accurate picture of what it’s like to be in formation—straight and level, inverted, or anywhere in between. The lead pilot has the chief responsibility to fly the mission profile. The balance of the team, while in formation, is focused on a fixed point on the aircraft they are joined to. That focal point could be a graphic, section line, access panel, or whatever. Regardless of what “it” is, wherever “it” goes, that’s where you’re going because that’s the only thing you see that matters while in tight formation. The lead pilot flies the mission; the balance of the formation goes wherever their reference point leads them.

Flying DNA

Image By © Katsuhiko TOKUNAGA / DACT, INC.

The team overflies iconic Niagara Falls on the Breitling American Tour.

Swiss watch company Breitling, established in 1884, predates powered flight by nearly 20 years. So when Jim “Guido” DiMatteo, Breitling American Tour director and former Grumman F-14 pilot, explains that aviation is in Breitling’s DNA, he can easily defend that claim. For more than 100 years, Breitling and aviation have been inextricably linked because time is an essential part of navigation. Before global positioning satellites, aviators relied on dead reckoning to arrive at prescribed waypoints or the intended destination. Simply stated, dead reckoning (short for deduced reckoning) is a basic formula of Distance = Speed x Time. If one hasn’t accurately calculated ground speed (true airspeed adjusted for wind correction to fly a desired course) and precisely measured time, the distance will be incorrect and thus the first link in a chain of events is forged—you’re lost. Charles Lindbergh used dead reckoning to make his historic nonstop trans-Atlantic flight in 1927.

In the 1940s Breitling incorporated the rotating bezel as the basis of the E6B (a circular slide rule/flight computer used by pilots) on the Chronograph. By placing another essential cockpit tool within easy reach, a love affair between aviators and Breitling ensued. In fact, if there is a pilot who is not familiar with the Breitling Navitimer, he or she is likely an imposter.

Over time, Breitling has also mastered the art of precision flying and has adorned an eclectic group of aircraft with the company marque including the curvaceous Super Constellation, venerable DC-3, Red Bull Air Racer MX2, aerobatic Extra 300, globe-circumnavigating hot air balloon, circa 1940s Stearman complete with wing walkers, and of course the only civilian jet team operating seven Czech-built L-39s. Truly Breitling does more than dabble in aviation for the sake of marketing wristwatches to pilots. Aviation is the beating heart of Breitling, and the very essence of its powerful brand.

American Tour

Image By © Katsuhiko TOKUNAGA / DACT, INC.

Breitling alone can boast having the only seven-ship civilian jet team in the world. The commitment to operate seven decommissioned military aircraft and the subsequent logistics to move them around the world is staggering. In 2015, Breitling, for the first time, brought the jet team to the United States, home to more pilots than any other country on Earth. But the desire to bring the team to American airspace was no easy task. Imagine the conversations with the Federal Aviation Administration and mountains of paperwork necessary to approve a Swiss-owned team, flying Czech-built decommissioned military aircraft, registered in Estonia, flown by French pilots.

And the approval process was just the beginning. With an extremely limited range and daytime flight limitations, a plan had to be developed and flawlessly executed to disassemble, containerize, ship, create a base of operations in Florida to reassemble, flight test and return to service all aircraft. While repositioning between performances, the airframe and powerplant technician for each aircraft flies in the back seat of the L-39. Others on the support team either fly aboard the company-owned Metroliner or by other means. The team also operates a 53-foot semitrailer hauling 60,000 pounds of tools, parts, hospitality tents and more.

No, Breitling does not dabble in aviation. They have created a precision aerobatic team unlike any other in the world and have built a support network behind it so the team runs—well, like a Swiss watch.

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