Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Airliner in the GMT-Master Brochure

Finally revealed...

The Airliner in the

GMT-Master Brochure


I was recently intrigued by the cockpit on the cover of the old Rolex GMT-Master brochure and wanted to see, as an aviation professional, if I could find the type of airplane depicted. Challenge accepted! (Also, scroll to the end for an announcement.)

The brochure is fairly iconic, even a collector's item, but until today, the famous cockpit was never identified. So I went to work. And a good place to start is the number of engines. I noticed three thrust levers on the center console, which indicates three engines.

This is key because there were very few trijets in service: The famous Boeing 727, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, and its updated version, the MD-11.

Cockpits have evolved over the years and simply googling each type yields many cockpit variances. Because this is Rolex, I had to assume it was a crew from a Swiss airline and decided to start there. 

I got a match when I found in the archive of a university in Zurich a picture dating from 1981 of Swissair Captain Niklaus Grob and co-pilot Rudolph Ledermann in the cockpit of a McDonnell Douglas DC-10. The instrument panel is exactly the same.

From the outside, the 237-passenger Swissair DC-10 looks like this.

I believe the DC-10 above is the exact aircraft from the brochure. I found it when I discovered one more clue: the tail number. Near the DC-10's tail, we see "HB-IHA."

When I zoom in on the brochure and compare the letters inside the cockpit with a full list of the fleet of Swissair DC-10s, I have a match.

Let's start with the bottom part of the red circle. The four letters ("CLDM") are a SELCAL code (or selective-calling) radio system that alerts a crew that a controller is calling, if the crew is not monitoring the frequency. I use SELCAL when I fly over the Atlantic or Pacific and HF radios have a lot of static. 

The letters starting with "HB" on the top part of the circle are the tail number. "HB" is the two-letter code for Switzerland. We can see that the last letter is a "A." I found that Swissair had its DC-10 registered as HB-IHA, HB-IHB, HB-IHC, etc... The full list can be found here

Here's a Swissair promotional picture featuring the airline's DC-10 with the tail number "HB-IHA," the one from the Rolex brochure. I love the retro livery!!!

The DC-10 was built in Long Beach, California, and entered service in the 1970s. It was considered a wide-body jet, but was built to be smaller than the B-747 at the request of American Airlines. Following is a 1972 Swissair letter introducing the new aircraft type to its customers.

I've been cleared to land for Baselworld 2019! Thank you to all those who follow me at @RolexMagazine. Thank you to Baselworld for the invitation and the press pass--and to Rolex S.A., who has been generous in accommodating me. Depending on my flight schedule, you might see me in the same latitudes! If you spot an airline pilot at Baselworld, please come and say hi!

--Capt. Danny