Most pilots and aviation enthusiasts tend to be gadget lovers. Whether it’s an entirely new digital avionics package in the cockpit, or one of the most advanced aviation watches on the market, we lust after it. So when the Citizen Skyhawk A-T was announced last year, my interest was piqued. While the Skyhawk line of aviation watches has almost 15 years of history and refinement, the combination of Citizen’s Eco-Drive movement with atomic timekeeping technology (as denoted by the A-T moniker in the name), and a new design, this watch not only makes a great companion while in flight, but looks great and gives you something to brag about back on the ground.
The Citizen Skyhawk A-T is the third generation in the Skyhawk line, and represents a major step forward in features. While you do lose one alarm (from three alarms to two), you gain functionality such as atomic timekeeping, perpetual calendar, LCD backlight, and world time pre-programming for 43 cities and time-zones. Additionally, the watch is now rated to be water resistant up to 200 meters (about 650 feet), versus the 100 meters of the previous generation.
Features of the Citizen Skyhawk A-T include:
- Citizen Eco-Drive movement. The combination of solar technology, a lithium-ion battery, and smart power saving functionality means no battery changes. Citizen claims that with no light and a full battery, the watch will maintain accuracy for six months, or up to two and a half years in power save mode.
- Atomic timekeeping. The Citizen Skyhawk A-T is a multi-band atomic watch which means it will receive time radio waves in the United States, Europe (England and Germany), and Japan.
- Two alarms.
- 24-hour chronograph with a resolution of 1/100th of a second.
- Perpetual calendar.
- 99 minute countdown timer.
- GMT subdial.
- Slide rule bezel which mimics the functionality of the popular E6B flight computer. The bezel allows you to do quick calculations such as fuel consumption, distance traveled, ground speed, and range.
- Non-reflective mineral crystal.
- Power reserve indicator. If the watch hasn’t been getting enough light, the power reserve indicator will let you know.
- Foldover clasp with hidden double push buttons.
- 200 meter (650 feet) water resistance.
The atomic timekeeping functionality of the watch (which sets it apart from previous models) is easy to use and gives you a sense of security knowing that you are almost never looking at an inaccurate watch. Every morning at 2, 3, and 4AM, provided it is within range, the watch will automatically synchronize with the atomic time radio signal. Only once, when returning from a trip in New Zealand, was I required to manually trigger the synchronization, mostly because I was too impatient to wait until the preset time. The process was very simple and required very few steps.
The control of the watch is based around a simple mode dial that is navigated by using the crown. Modifications to the selected mode require use of two well sized pushers above and below the crown, or the crown itself. While the mode dial is simple to use, and the geek in you will cause you to try to guess how the different features work, a quick review of the included instructions is mandatory. Luckily, Citizen had enough forethought to also provide an interactive CD-ROM which contains presentations on much of the functionality.
This version of the Citizen Skyhawk A-T is all stainless steel and looks great. The watch is very well balanced and feels solid. At 47mm in diameter and 13mm tall, it will not win any awards for being the smallest watch on the market. But because of the contoured design, it doesn’t feel like a watch of that size on your wrist. Also, you are not limited to the $599 (retail) stainless steel version. For those who are fans of other materials, the Skyhawk A-T also comes in an all titanium version which retails for $795, as well as one with a stainless steel case and a black rubber strap which retails for $575, all of which have the same features as described above.
One of my favorite features of the Skyhawk A-T is what Citizen calls a “double hidden push button clasp” which means the two release buttons are actually inset into the clasp. I have found that other clasps with buttons that protrude from the sides have a tendency to get caught or hung up on various objects. The Skyhawk’s clasp is smooth, simple to use, and the buttons operate with very little effort.
In the Cockpit
While the features of this watch make it great for day-to-day use and frequent travel, the real test of the Citizen Skyhawk A-T is how it performs in the cockpit as a true aviation tool. The GMT dial is one of the most attractive features from a pilot’s point of view. Not only can the watch display two different time zones (one analog, one on the LCD), but the GMT time will always be shown in the top subdial. This means that when you are getting that latest weather briefing from the tower, you won’t be required to remember how to convert from Zulu time to local time.
The Skyhawk A-T has also seen a redesign of the face from the previous generations. Sporting a black dial with thoughtfully placed white and orange accents, the watch is quick and easy to glance at and read. In the cockpit, your focus is required on many different things at the same time. A watch which requires you to push multiple buttons or demands too much focus is more of a distraction than a useful piece of aviation equipment.
The bezel itself is also very well manufactured and moves smoothly and quickly in either direction, making it practical to use the slide rule that is etched on the surface and the outer ring of the dial. The slide rule functions like an E6B flight computer that most pilots use to do simple flight planning calculations. Using the slide rule, you can do everything from simple mathematical calculations to figuring out fuel consumption rates and flight range.
One of the only disappointing aspects of the watch is how it performs in low light conditions, such as at dusk when flying. While the Skyhawk A-T added a red backlight to the LCD (which it lacked in previous generations), I found it difficult to read. And although the hands and hour indices are covered in luminescent paint (yet another upgrade from the previous generation), I found that the brightness didn’t last throughout my evening and night flights.
One other drawback of the Skyhawk A-T is the use of the mineral crystal. During pre-flight preparations, I find myself crawling around the plane, checking fuel and inspecting the aircraft. These are the times when things very easily get banged around and my wrist slams into either the asphalt or the aircraft itself. In the months since I received the watch, I have not yet scratched the crystal, but the use of sapphire would take a little bit of that worry away.
Retailing at $599 (it actually sells for significantly less after discounts), this Citizen Skyhawk A-T is a bargain. Despite the two small drawbacks I described earlier, when I put this watch on I feel like I am wearing something that could easily cost a lot more. It’s packed with some very advanced technology, and is designed in a way that makes it easy to use. Whether you are a pilot, a traveler, or even someone who keeps themselves planted on the ground, the Skyhawk A-T is a busy but great looking watch that you will will get a lot of use out of.
By Daniel Dura