Up close with the Air Command AC01

I have done two previous reports on the Blancpain Air Command AC01-1130-63A at the time it was introduced in 2019. Now that this amazing timepiece is part of my collection, let’s get up close and personal with it from all angles, albeit personalized with different straps than it comes with originally from the Manufacture.

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Since I could not really focus on the movement F388B of the Air Command AC01 in my previous posts, you will see a lot of this caliber and its refined execution in this essay. But before we get into more detailed views to prove the point that this timepiece is equally beautiful front and back, let’s take…

… a quick detour into history

The AC01 pays a very faithful tribute to the iconic and mysterious Blancpain Air Command chronograph from 1957. Following the successful competition that made the Fifty Fathoms MILSPEC an official dive instrument for the US Navy, Blancpain produced a dozen prototype Air Command watches for US distributor Allan V. Tornek, who wanted to pitch it to the US Air Force. This photo (credit to David Schank of Watchlounge) shows the 1957 Air Command belonging to Marc A. Hayek‘s collection:

The pitch to the USAF did not work out, but a small number of Air Command watches were subsequently sold in USAF PX stores (at least in Germany) and the watch also became an official pilots watch for the Colombian Air Force. The exact production number for the Air Command is not known, but most likely not even 100 pieces were made.

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The AC01 being the first real reincarnation

There were two modern Air Command watches preceding the AC01: in the late 1990s as part of the Trilogy series, reference 2285F representing the AIR component (the Fifty Fathoms stood for WATER, the FF GMT for LAND), and in 2007 alongside the launch of the 45mm Fifty Fathoms collection, reference 5085F.

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Both however had been a tribute in name only, with reference 5085F at least featuring the countdown bezel and some resemblance of the original dial typography.

The Air Command AC01 on the other side is very close to a true re-edition of the 1957 icon. Blancpain have put a lot of passion and attention to detail into this timepiece, and the result is amazing. Here’s an official Blancpain photo proving my point:

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Dial, hands and bezel

With the exception of a subtle sunburst finish, the larger signature and the additional Flyback text, the dial exactly mirrors the one from 1957. The bicompax chronograph layout, the tachymeter scale, the shape of the numerals, all these are true to the vintage Air Command.

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The white lacquered hands also follow the historic inspiration closely. Like the dial and bezel numerals they carry SuperLuminova® in the color ‚old radium‘, mimicking the look of aged luminous material used at the time. This color not only enhances the vintage feel of the AC01, it also works very well aesthetically with the black dial and white hands.

The bi-directional free turning bezel is one of my personal highlights with the AC01. Not only does it pick up the typical countdown configuration, it also brings the aesthetic component to a new level: the fine engravings match the original Air Command exactly, the ceramic material brings the look of the old Bakelite bezel back to life.

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Case and crystal(s)

The case of the AC01 measures 42,5mm in diameter at a height of 13,77mm, which is very close to the 1957 Air Command and its 42mm. The resemblance, though, is not limited to the size: the case shape and the lugs are picking up the design of the vintage watch, albeit slightly more refined.

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The AC01 features identical slightly domed sapphire crystals front and back. This is not only a first for Blancpain, it also emphasizes the the fact that this timepiece has two best sides, offering just as attractive views on the dial and the movement.

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Movement

The biggest deviation from the vintage watch is the movement of the AC01. The 1957 Air Command was powered by a Valjoux 222 hand wound movement, the AC01 features caliber F388B with automatic winding.

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The basis for this movement is the modern F385, a 5Hz column wheel vertical clutch chronograph with Flyback functionality known from the Bathyscaphy Chronographe and the Villeret Pulsometre Chronographe.

For the AC01 the movement was stripped of its date and running seconds functions to match the Air Command‘s original configuration. The bridge layout was also changed to support the winding efficiency of a spectacular rotor.

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Caliber F388B is not only a high performance movement but also a visual delight. The finishing is distinct, offering plenty of eye-catching details. Look at the brushed and polished finish of the propeller rotor as an example:

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On the wrist

Now that we took a close look at the various components it’s time for some wrist shots. The two strap choices for these are a sand Nubuck from ACM matching the lume color exactly…

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and a black Blancpain Barennia with contrast stitching. Please note that the Barennia strap is not available in the 22/20 dimensions which would fit the AC01 buckle, so I wear this strap with a 18mm Blancpain deployant.

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Conclusions

The Air Command AC01 is the closest Blancpain have ever gone to a historic timepiece (yet). They could not have picked a better watch for this, given that the vintage Air Command carries the aura of mystery and rarity in an unrivaled way.

It also is a very fine example for professional aviation instruments from the 1950s. Just as the Breguet Type 20 it showcases the particular needs various Air Forces had at the time: perfect legibility with white print and hands over a black dial, a bi-directional bezel and of course the Flyback functionality.

And it simply is a gorgeous timepiece from all angles, a masterpiece.

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The Air Command AC01-1130-63A is limited to 500 pieces worldwide and can be found here on the Blancpain website. You can find my hands-on report of the AC01 on its original distressed Barennia strap here and the first introduction to the timepiece here in the blog.

I hope you enjoyed this essay and the photos.

Cheers

Henrik

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