I can enjoy a bit of action… sometimes, but I’m clearly not an action addict. So when I got the chance to fly in a 72-year-old Fokker aeroplane while getting hands-on with a Dutch-made pilot’s watch, the truth is that I was excited and a bit anxious. The Van der Gang Vlieger (pilot in Dutch) is celebrating its fifth anniversary and there is a shiny new version available; the Van der Gang Vlieger Satiné.
Flying in a classic plane
As the briefing commenced and we received information about what was going to happen, the room gradually quietened down. It turned out the flight was going to include formation flying (cool!) with former Dutch Airforce pilots on the controls, and some acrobatic stunts (perhaps not so cool). As I mentioned, I am not a daredevil, but I’m also not a chicken, so when I found out that we would be executing a full looping and barrel roll in a 72-year-old Fokker S-11, I was not sure I was going to enjoy the ride.
The Fokker S-11 was developed shortly after WWII as a learning aircraft for the Dutch Airforce. A plane with low mounted wings and a side-by-side seating position with double controls allows the instructor to teach learners how to master flight. Four of these aircraft are being looked after by a team of 17 former and active pilots, mostly from the Dutch Airforce. The Fokker S-11 is a piece of Dutch aviation heritage and is kept in top shape to do demo flights, aerobatic flights, charity exhibitions, commemorative flights and so on.
Right before we got on board, a Van der Gang Vlieger watch was strapped to my wrist. I was in the second group to go up in the air so had a little hands-on time with the watches. It is cool though, to wear a pilot’s watch on when you’re do something directly related to aviation! More on the watches a little later.
Stepping into one of these aircraft with my 2-metre frame is a bit tricky, and once strapped in I got a bit of a cramp in my legs because of the unnatural position I found myself in. Strapped in my seat, we headed out to the runway and took off two by two. The weather was just about perfect so the canopy was opened for most of the flight – with the exception of the acrobatic manoeuvres. I even got the chance to handle the stick myself and fly the plane for a bit, making some turns left and right.
Shortly after that, the pilot asked if I was ready for the looping and the barrel roll and I reluctantly gave him a thumbs-up signal. The pilot put the S-11 in a sharp dive, counted down, and then sharply pulled back the stick. The pressure of 3G’s on my body was something I had never experienced before. I tried to focus on my breathing and kept looking straight ahead as we completed the loop. Next up was the barrel roll, something even more hair-raising than the loop!
After both moves, I felt quite queasy. All of us stepped out looking a bit paler than before we took off, so no shame there. Despite the slight discomfort, the experience was impressive! To fly in formation, with only 2 metres of distance between the four aeroplanes is something hard to describe in terms of sensation. It takes tremendous skill to master this and to keep it safe for everyone. After about 45 minutes of flying, I was glad to be back on the ground but in all honesty, I would do it again without a second thought! If you ever have the chance to do something like this, go for it!
The Van der Gang Vlieger Watches
Van der Gang organised the event to showcase its Vlieger collection. The Vlieger was introduced five years ago and comes in two sizes (41mm and 44mm) and in various different colours and finishes, strap options, etc. All feature a Valjoux 7751 chronograph movement that has been converted (in-house) to a bi-compax layout. A 12-hour GMT indication, AM/PM indicator and the date at 6 o’clock are adjusted with the pushers on the left, with the red pusher at 8 o’clock linked to the red GMT hand.
Previously, the Van der Gang Vlieger was available in steel, with or without an anthracite DLC coating, or a white aluminium hydroxide composite, which makes it very light and comfortable to wear. Now though, as part of the five-year anniversary celebrations, a full gold version is available. This already sizeable watch receives quite a bit of extra weight when encased in gold and I like that, but I’m not sure it’s to everyone’s liking.
Regardless of the diameter of the Vlieger – 41mm or 44mm – the watch is quite thick and sits high on the wrist. Despite the size and weight, with the exception of the aluminium hydroxide composite model, the watch remains comfortable. That is mostly due to the flexible textile straps and the sharp angled lugs. A pin buckle or a folding buckle are available, as well as various dial colours. A final touch, again optional depending on the version, is a green coloured sapphire crystal, which I think is pretty cool. The flattened oversized crown grips easily and feels extremely sturdy.
The rose gold Van der Gang Vlieger Satiné comes in a 41mm diameter with a matte white dial. The case is satin-finished by hand with a beautiful result. It is matched with a bright orange leather strap with a folding buckle in gold. The GMT pusher at 8 o’clock is orange to match the overall theme of the watch.
The Van der Gang Vlieger collection starts at just under EUR 10,000. The new 18k rose gold Vlieger Satiné tops the line at EUR 25,800 and will be produced in a limited run of 99 pieces.