Which Wrist Watches Do Fighter Pilots Actually Wear in Real Life?

An F/A-18 Hornet pilot at MCAS Miramar wearing a Garmin watch. (All photos: TheAviationist)

Marketing Aside, We Take a Look at The Most Popular Watches Among Fighter Pilots At MCAS Miramar.

According to several U.S. military regulations, service members are not allowed to endorse products. That being true, the military has been an effective marketing vehicle for consumer products since products started being sold.

One product category that relies heavily on military themed marketing is wrist watches. Several watch brands market specifically by inferring that their watches are used by Navy SEALs, fighter pilots and astronauts. Generally speaking, a quick look at the main social media will expose a wide array of military/aviation watches which have become popular among aircrews and aviation enthusiasts all around the globe. Some of these are custom made and reserved to squadron members only while others incorporate specific aircraft parts.

But what watches do fighter pilots really wear in the real world? We wanted to find out. At MCAS Miramar we took a brief, informal survey of which wrist watches fighter pilots were wearing. What we found there was interesting.

Beware, it’s not a complete research, it’s just an assessment based on what we have observed there.

A pair of USAF F-35A pilots ride in a golf cart after landing at MCAS Miramar.

Of the nearly 40 pilots whose wrist watches we got a good look at while visiting MCAS Miramar, the birthplace of TOPGUN, we saw two brands dominant among pilots flying the F/A-18 Hornet in several variants and the new F-35B and F-35A Joint Strike Fighter.

Garmin and G-Shock were the two prevalent brands among fighter pilots in our informal survey at Miramar, with every F-35 Joint Strike Fighter pilot we saw wearing a Garmin wrist top GPS enabled smartwatch. In fact, the proliferation of Garmin smart watches among the F-35 community we saw at Miramar was so prevalent, it caused us to wonder if there may be a reason so many F-35 pilots seem to be wearing a Garmin watch. Among the other pilot communities such as the F/A-18, numbers were split pretty evenly between Garmin and Casio’s military themed G-Shock line of durable watches first designed by Kikuo Ibe of Casio in 1981.

An F/A-18 Hornet pilot at MCAS Miramar wearing a Garmin watch.

Garmin, as a brand, does not offer significant discounts to military members. There is at least one online, military-only outlet that sells Garmin at a minor discount to military consumers who prove military membership, but the discounts amount to only 5-10% off retail prices, and not all Garmin models are available at these promotional prices. So, significant discounting to military pilots does not seem to be a motivating factor behind the number of Garmin watches we saw at Miramar.

We spoke to Garmin’s Jay Moncel about the number of Garmin watches we saw in the fighter pilot community at Miramar and why pilots may be wearing them. Moncel, a sales executive for Garmin, told TheAviationist.com, “With aviation, because we are most of the electronics in the dash of a (civilian) plane, Garmin released the original D2 Bravo to aviation enthusiasts. Following that, we released the D2 Charlie. Then, the latest version, which is the D2 Delta.” Moncel went on to tell TheAviationist.com, “Garmin International is based in Olathe, Kansas. The reason we are based there is because we need to be near the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) who is also based here.”

Another Casio G-Shock watch on a pilot at Miramar.

We also spoke with Casio G-Shock inventor Kikuo Ibe. Ibe, who spoke to us through an interpreter, told us, “G-Shock is the most durable watch, and military need durable watches. I design G-Shock because my own watch, given to me by my father, (was) broken. I test G-Shock by throwing out of third floor window. Many tests, many tries. I never give up, when you are working on a project, you must never give up. Finally, G-Shock is born as the most durable watch.”

The inexpensive, practical Casio G-Shock was common among pilots at MCAS Miramar.

While it is difficult to find any singular reason why the F/A-18 and F-35 fighter pilots we saw at MCAS Miramar tended to gravitate so heavily toward Garmin and G-Shock watches, it was interesting to see that this trend is so prevalent in the fighter community. It’s also interesting to consider that neither Garmin nor G-Shock uses fighter pilots in their marketing campaigns, while brands that do use Navy SEALs and fighter pilots in their marketing were non-existent on pilots’ wrists at Miramar. In fact, one watch brand who markets heavily using an association to the military and actually had a display at MCAS Miramar’s recent airshow, was not seen on a single pilot’s wrist.

Author Tom Demerly with Casio G-Shock inventor Kikuo Ibe.

If we learned one thing about pilot wrist watches at Miramar, the marketing does not reflect reality of what wrist watch pilots are actually using in the real world.

About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.