The characteristics of watches - lightness, precision, sophisticated engineering - make them analogous to certain aspects of human endeavour in which timing is of the essence, such as diving, and of course, flying. Breitling's passion for aviation - the Swiss brand's watches have always been designed primarily for aviation use, from not long after the marque's foundation in 1884 - has become a yearly occasion in which the skies become the theatre for a celebration of flight. The venue is Buochs airport, on the shorts of Lake Quatre-Cantons near Lucerne, and this year it took place from 21 June to 2 July 2010.
The event featured many flying teams and their aircraft, and visitors had the chance to take part in airborne activities, such as visits to historic planes, aerobatics over the Alps in a jet or propeller plane, parachute jumping and helicopter flights. The Breitling Jet Team is exceptional in itself, as it is the world's only professional civilian flight team performing on jets. The team routinely performs sequences in which planes fly at almost 700 km/h to within less than 3 metres one from another, reaching dizzying 8G acceleration. This sort of routine embodies absolute daring, speed and precision.
The aircraft are fast and powerful L-39C Albatros Czech-made twin-seater military jets, while the pilots are all experienced professionals, most of them from the French Air Force or the Patrouille de France. The Breitling Jet Team performs about fifty demonstrations a year, at air shows, Formula 1 Grand Prix races, sports events and other occasions. They have their own mechanics, with in total twelve people working full-time to ensure that the team can perform to full advantage.
Equally spectacular are the Breitling Wingwalkers, in which courageous acrobats ride on the top wing of two 1940s Boeing Stearman biplanes. The technique recalls the "barnstormers," teams of pilots and stuntmen who performed worldwide between the wars. At the Buochs show, the team can actually take passengers for a ride on the wing, watching the mountains and lakes flash by at about 185 km/h powered by the 450 HP engine and its characteristic roar.
Yet more aerobatics from the Breitling Devils, flying three Alenia-Aermacchi SF-260 C/D propeller planes. The Devils team is based near Vicenza in Italy, and the pilots are all former members of the Italian air force aerobatics team, Frecce Tricolori. Then there are the Breitling Angels who fly three Pitt Special S2A biplanes, in a bright yellow livery. These aircraft can fly inverted just as well as they do right way up, and again, the passenger seat is available for people interested in seeing what the world looks like from a kilometre or so up, and from upside-down.
Breitling's commitment to the world of flight goes yet further, and it includes one of the only three flightworthy Super Connies left in the world. The Lockheed Super Constellation was the "king of the Atlantic" in the 1950s, its four powerful turbo-compound engines enabling it to dominate long-haul aviation. It is beautiful externally as it was luxurious internally, with its characteristic dolphin-shaped fuselage and its treble tailfins. The Breitling Super Constellation was built in 1955, flew for 17 years in the American Air Force, and then became a civilian plane. It was restored in the 1990s, and made its European comeback in 2004. The Breitling squadron also includes the legendary Douglas DC-3, famous for its paratroop-dropping and glider-towing roles in the June 1944 invasion, and for its exceptional reliability and economy in civil aviation. The Breitling DC-3 was built in 1940 for American Airlines, and has clocked up 75,000 hours flight. At the Buochs show, it is used for passenger flights.
Further Buochs highlights include air race champion Nigel Lamb and his MX2, used for racing in the Red Bull Air Race World series and other competitions world-wide, and the Bücker HB-UVD aerobatic biplane. The Bücker dates back to 1934, designed in Germany as a training plane, though the model used at Buochs was built in Spain in 1961. Its excellent flying qualities meant that it was used by the Spanish air force right up to 1987. Last but not least, the boldest visitors to the Buochs show can make a maiden parachute jump, in extraordinary mountain and lake scenery, from the Pilatus PC-6 Turbo-Porter. The budding skydiver jumps with an instructor from 3,660 metres, and land on an area of grass just a few metres from the Buochs runway, after a six-minute descent.
Breitling would be justified in pointing out that a second is always a second, but that the human appreciation of that division of time depends on how you use it.
We'll be looking forward to the 2011 edition at Buochs. Meanwhile, enjoy the photographs!
Further reading: Superocean - Luxury Sport Watch for Divers
Breitling limited edition Superocean Héritage watch