Options catches up with Matt Jones, who will co-pilot the iconic Spitfire on a record-making round-the-world expedition in collaboration with IWC Schaffhausen

SINGAPORE (July 8): Just beyond the rolling green hills, the shape of the small aircraft is barely visible as it cuts effortlessly through the cloudless sky. In the cockpit of the meticulously restored Supermarine Spitfire, pilot Matt Jones is focused on his mission.

The iconic aeroplane had been built for battle — a symbol of Britain’s fight for freedom in World War II. On this day, however, Jones’ mission is for a celebration of love: to provide a dazzling aerial display for a wedding.

The father of the groom had rebuilt this very aircraft one rivet at a time, over 13 long years, in an amazing labour of passion. And the fly-by at the wedding would be a fitting tribute.

Jones knows how important it is for him to perform this flight exactly as planned. He would come in low at an angle and bank hard at just the right moment. As the guests gathered at the wedding in the garden look up, the first thing they will see is the glorious sight of the top of the Spitfire coming around the corner. It would be perfect.

The 45-year-old pilot is relaxed despite the bumpy ride. Gusts of wind seem eager to blow away the heat from the merciless sun bearing down on Devon in southwest England — and take the aeroplane away with it.

Jones barely winces even when the interceptor’s propeller suddenly decides to squirt a spot of grease onto the windscreen.

Co-founder of Boultbee Flight Academy, the only Spitfire training school in the world, Jones knows this is nothing out of the ordinary. After all, these historic fighter aircraft, first built in the 1930s, were rarely fully greaseproof.

But the propeller coughs up more grease, which soon spreads across the windscreen, obscuring Jones’ view of the skies ahead. And the sun glaring down from above makes it even more difficult for him to see.

Jones looks down at the GPS on his iPad to make sure he is on course. But, at that exact moment, the electronic device flickers — and dies. The pilot finds himself flying almost completely blind.

Immediately, Jones’ experience — he has more than 6,100 hours of flight time in the cockpit — takes over. He reaches instinctively for the map tucked away in his side pocket, even as his eyes flick to the chronograph on his wrist.

Jones can make out the position of the sun, still bearing down on him, and he knows that all he needs to navigate is a map and his IWC Schaffhausen timepiece. He is three minutes away from the display, Jones thinks, as he clicks to start the timer.

The next 180 seconds seems like an eternity. Jones glances at his watch every few seconds, as he holds the Spitfire steady on the right heading. Looking out the sides of the aeroplane, he can tell that the Spitfire is keeping level. Carefully, he keeps the vintage aircraft on altitude and flying at exactly 240 knots.

Keeping a close watch as the seconds tick by, Jones readies himself. Still unable to see where the Spitfire is going, all he can do is trust his experience and training. He starts to imagine what will happen if he turns a few seconds later — or earlier — than he is supposed to. He could miss the crowd gathered at the wedding and be forced to turn back. He pushes the thought out of his head and steals another glance at the watch on his wrist. The pressure builds with each passing second.

With 10 seconds to go, Jones takes a deep breath and banks. As the Spitfire comes around the corner, he starts to pull on the joystick. Then, he looks down the wing of the aeroplane. In the field beneath him, he sees the wedding guests looking skyward and cheering.

He has done it — mission accomplished!

Falling in love

“If I hadn’t had my watch on, there is no way that I could have done it,” Jones says, as he recounts the experience in an interview with Options in late May. “[A watch is] absolutely the last instrument we go back to, if everything else fails in the cockpit. If you have a map with you, you have a watch, and you know where the sun is, you can navigate to where you’re going.

“So, if every other instrument fails, you go back to your watch. It’s important you have a watch you can rely on and you can read easily. That’s why I wear them and why they are important to us. That’s why pilots love watches.”

Jones has a special place in his heart for IWC Schaffhausen. He first fell in love with an IWC Flieger-chronograph in a shop in Switzerland; it was 2004, when he got his first flying job.

“I thought to myself: When I get my command, when I get my captaincy, that’s how I’m going to reward myself for having become a captain. And that’s what I did,” Jones says. “I bought the Flieger-chronograph, and I loved it.”

As Jones learnt more about the IWC brand, he discovered that they shared a common interest. “I realised they have a huge range of Spitfire watches,” he gushes. “The aeroplane is about beauty of design, and form and functionality — nothing more than that is required to make them fantastic. And that’s exactly the same ethos that IWC shares.”

And when the idea came up for a history-making expedition in the Spitfire, IWC was the natural choice for a collaborative partnership.

Flying into history books

In August, Jones and his Spitfire training school co-founder, Steve Boultbee Brooks, will attempt to make aviation history with the first round-the-world flight in a Spitfire. IWC’s Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Spitfire Edition ‘The Longest Flight’ (Ref IW395501) was developed for Jones and Brooks to coincide with this expedition.

Brooks is no stranger to the record books. He was the first pilot to fly from the North Pole to the South Pole in a helicopter. Together, the two British pilots will cover more than 43,000km and 26 countries in a Mark IX Spitfire, which Jones describes as the “most successful” of the iconic aircraft.

“The Spitfire stands for so much to the people in our country and around the world,” he says. “It is a symbol of freedom; it is a symbol of a nation that was prepared to stand up against an oppressor… And that’s a very powerful message.”

More than 20,300 units of the extremely agile and powerful British fighter aircraft were built between 1936 and 1948. Today, fewer than 60 Spitfires remain airworthy.

The duo had tracked down the Mark IX in a museum. Built in 1943, it had seen 51 combat missions in the hands of 12 pilots during its term of service, Jones says. “We wanted to maintain the integrity of the aircraft and preserve as much of its history as possible. So, we decided to restore, rather than replace, as many of the original parts as we could. This represented a huge challenge in itself.”

The aircraft was stripped down to its individual parts for restoration. Each of the roughly 80,000 rivets was carefully examined, cleaned and replaced only when necessary. Every part of the “Silver Spitfire” was then polished to make its chrome design gleam.

For their mission, dubbed “Silver Spitfire — The Longest Flight”, Jones and Brooks will fly their Spitfire through the most extreme conditions, facing off against the Russian cold, the hot and humid Asian climate, storms over the Pacific, and sandstorms in the desert.

The history-making flight will also be a logistical nightmare. Each of the 26 countries in which the “Silver Spitfire” will land has different regulations and laws. And, owing to its age, the Spitfire will have to be serviced every 25 flying hours.

Jones is unfazed by the challenges that lie ahead. “Our aim on this trip is to inspire as many people as we can. We’re not in a rush; we’re not racing anyone. There’s no record we’re trying to break, other than just being the first Spitfire that has ever done this.

“We want people to see the beauty of flight and the world through our eyes, and see what’s possible if you just put your mind to it. If you believe it can happen and you work hard at it, you will make stuff happen.”


Spirit of aviation

IWC Schaffhausen presented a new Spitfire line in the Pilot’s Watches collection at this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva. The new items underscore IWC’s engineering finesse in making timepieces that are as sophisticated as the legendary aircraft.

Here are some of this year’s novelties:

Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Spitfire (Ref IW503601)

This watch needs no correction until the year 2100, as the perpetual calendar can identify the length of months and leap years. Kurt Klaus invented the perpetual calendar module for IWC.

Located on the dial is the double moon display that features the moon in the correct position in the northern and southern hemispheres. It takes 577½ years to require adjustment by one day. The see-through sapphire glass back allows the user to view the highly embellished IWC-manufactured calibre. The watch has a power reserve of seven days.

Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Spitfire Edition ‘The Longest Flight’ (Ref IW395501)

Collectors will want this timepiece, as it was developed for pilots Steve Boultbee Brooks and Matt Jones to coincide with their flight around the world in a Spitfire. This watch is also the perfect companion for the intrepid traveller, as different time zones can easily be set by rotating the bezel. The hour hand, the 24-hour display and the date rotate automatically simultaneously. The newly developed 82760 IWC-manufactured calibre has a Pellaton winding with components made from wear-resistant ceramic. It boasts a power reserve of 60 hours. The automatic winding system was developed in the late 1940s and early 1950s by Albert Pellaton.

Pilot’s Watch Choronograph Spitfire (Ref IW387901 and IW387902)

For the first time, IWC has integrated a chronograph movement from the 69000 calibre family into its Pilot’s watches. The 69380 IWC-manufactured calibre, introduced in 2016, powers two Spitfire chronographs in a 41mm case. Two high-quality automatic movements from the 82000 calibre family are also used in the Pilot’s watches for the first time. An inner cage made from soft iron protects the movement against magnetic fields.

The 69380 IWC manufactured calibre is a chronograph movement that features a classic column wheel design. The stopped hours and minutes are displayed on the two subdials at the nine o’clock and 12 o’clock positions. The pawl-winding system (also developed by Albert Pellaton) winds up on both sides. The watch has a power reserve of 46 hours.