Saturday, May 23, 2009

Vulcan Force Seiko (updated)

In recent months, I have grown an interest in military watches (actually I have been interested on and off). In my quest to learn more, I came across an interesting article on RAF issued Seiko. I was very interested in a particular Seiko that was rumoured to have been issued to Vulcan Force pilots. That Seiko is the 7A38-701B. I wanted to find out if this watch was really a military issued watch. Thus my quest began and this is what I found.

Photo: Bill of MWR

This Seiko chronograph (with its distinctive yellow dial) is rumoured to have been issued to the Vulcan Force from 1983. What I seen from postings and pictures on the Internet, these watch do not have the normal military markings. The typical markings would be the upward facing arrow (broad arrow) or the lettering 'WD'.

Photo: Broad Arrow

Newer RAF watch markings are as follows:

1. NSN number (NATO Stock Number) and is usually 13 digits long. Typical NSN would be 6645-99-XXX-XXXX. The 6645 is NSN for timing device, 99 is for UK, and the rest shows what the item and where it comes from.

2. The Broad Arrow

3. The Serial Number, typically 4 digit/ and year issued, e.g. 1234/83

Sources have put the number of these watches at 700 and not available commercially. The reason for the selecting the yellow dial was it would be visible in the cockpit of the Vulcan bomber. Other than these bits of information, there seem to be nothing else that can be found on these watches.

Lets look at the Vulcan Force. From wikipedia, we know that the Avro Vulcan flew from 1953 to 1984. My understanding is that the last Vulcan bomber squadron, 44 Squadron was disbanded in December 1982. The last Vulcan, 50 Squadron was a tanker flying out of Waddington was operational until March 1984.

From my readings and research, it seem unlikely that these yellow dial Seiko were issued to the Vulcan Force. The rumoured number of watches issued is 700. Yet, based on my experience working on aircraft, it would not take more than 30 people to keep 1 aircraft in tip top flying condition. I don't think that the RAF would purchase the watch for such a small team. It was also rumoured that it was a 'local purchase' by the RAF purchasing officer. I doubt that he would be allowed to make such a huge purchase as a 'local purchase'.

The story also stated that these watches were not issued commercially. That would account for the low count number. However, the watch do appear in Seiko catalogue. This means that there watches were available commercially.

Photo: Time2fly (

I am not saying that these watches were not issued to the RAF or the Vulcan Force, but thus far I have not found anything that can confirm this fact. I contacted my lecturer in the UK who I knew worked in the RAF. He in turn contacted one of his friend who worked with the V Force. I quote "I was issued with a pilot's watch. It has a khaki-coloured, simple to operate strap and buckle. It has a black face and a unique serial number engraved on its stainless steel (I think) back". When asked about the Seiko, he response was "I never saw, or heard of, the yellow dialled model". As for an issued watch not having any military markings, he response was "All War Department kit either had 'WD' marked on it or, more commonly an upward facing arrow. My watch has the arrow just below the main, central spindle on which the hands are mounted".

Even Seiko UK and Japan have no knowledge of these watches being issued to the military. They do acknowledge that 2 Seiko models were issued, the 7A28-7120 and 7T27-7A20. The 7A28 is the same as the 7A38, minus the day date display at 3 o'clock and having a black dial. Refer the photo below: the watch on the left 7A28-7120 (tri-compax design) and the right 7T27-7A20. These Seiko were issued to the RAF in general and not aircraft specific.

Photo: John of MWR

So far, from what I read and researched, not one RAF aircrew member or ground crew has been found with any knowledge of this watch being issued.

So my conclusion? Perhaps there were members of the Vulcan force who had purchased the yellow dial Seiko chronograph and later on sold it. That perpetuated that this was also another Seiko that was issued to the RAF. Who knows? It has been an interesting quest and one that I will continue.

1 comment:

  1. There has been a fair amount of corespondence various about these yellow dial Seiko chronographs being issued to Vulcan aircrew. Having served on Nos 35, 44 and latterly 50 Sqn I can assure readers that these watches were NEVER issued to Vulcan aircrew. Myths claim that there were about 700 purchased in 1983 for the Vulcan crews. By 1983, there was just 50 Sqn left and our Vulcans had been converted to tankers. I can`t remember now whether or not we then had 10 crews remaining (50 aircrew in total) or just 8 crews (40 aircrew).

    It goes without saying that the MOD would not have purchased 700 watches, knowing that 50 Sqn was going to be disbanded on 1 April 1984. Moreover, I can also assure readers that there was always plenty of light in the Vulcan cockpit to see our watches (during day and night), along with the myriad of instruments too of varying shapes and sizes. Moreover, I can`t imagine that the MOD would EVER issue watches without serial numbers, if for no other reason that the aircrew watch had always been a useful tool in identifying deceased aircrew following an aircraft crash. Lastly folks, if any of my colleagues and chums on No 50 Sqn had purchased such a watch privately and worn it, we would have undoubtedly have noticed it!