Call it the Mick Jagger of the skies — the 77-year-old Breitling DC-3 is inching its way closer to becoming the world’s oldest plane to circumnavigate the globe. The legendary airliner, which kicked off its journey in March, touched down in Toronto earlier this month after completing its passage over Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. It’s currently completing its tour of North America before heading back overseas for the Breitling Sion Airshow in mid-September. Another notch in the belt for an aircraft that forever changed the course of aviation history.
The twin-engine, propeller-driven Douglas DC-3, which now flies under Breitling colours, was considered revolutionary in 1940s for its long distance capabilities and efficient usage of fuel. It was the first of its kind to fly a maximum of 14 hours without needing to stop for fuel. Initially flown as a commercial airliner for American Airlines, it was appropriated by the United States military from 1942 and 1944. (Then U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower credited it as one of the four most vital tools of victory in World War II.) It reassumed commercial aviation duties after the war.
In 2008, the DC-3 was resurrected by pilot Francisco Agullo and a group of his friends with Breitling’s support. The plane was faithfully restored back to perfect flying condition. Having flown in it myself, I can say it’s a smooth-as-Tennessee-whiskey ride, despite the odd whiff of fuel and a low underlying thrum from the twin Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Wasp engines.
This year, Breitling decided to launch its DC-3 on an epic world tour, punctuated with stints at various events and airshows. The “Breitling DC-3 World Tour” officially kicked off at press conference in Geneva on March 9th. The luxury watchmaker is marking the occasion with a limited-edition Navitimer, all 500 of which have been hitching a ride on the DC-3 since the beginning of the journey. Powered by the Breitling Caliber 01, the watch also features a 46mm stainless steel case features the circular slide rule bezel — used by pilots in making calculations during during flights, and one of the longtime defining characteristic of Navitimers — and a Breitling DC-3 World Tour logo engraved on its caseback. Each timepiece will also come with a certificate signed by the flight’s captain. Look for these beauts to go on sale once the DC-3 wraps up its record-breaking tour this fall.
Another personal highlight from my ride in the DC-3: the retro cabin with period wooden trim and ashtrays in the arms. A relic from a time when, as Louis C.K. would put it, “people wore suits on airplanes because you were going to fly and blow smoke in a baby’s face.”