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IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN PAYS TRIBUTE TO SAINT-EXUPÉRY’S LAST FLIGHT

70 years ago, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry took off on a reconnaissance flight over France and never returned. Now, IWC Schaffhausen commemorates the last flight of the celebrated pilot and author with three special limited editions, thereby strengthening its long-standing partnership with Saint-Exupéry’s descendants.

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Top Gun: The best of the best

Lieutenant Commander Guy Snodgrass is one of the best pilots in the American Naval Armed Forces, highly decorated with both the Navy Commendation Medal and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

Text — Dirk Rheker Photos — Jürgen Frank Date — 20 March, 2012

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—Lieutenant Commander Guy M. Snodgrass is one of the best pilots in the U.S. Navy. The battle-tested pilot has also trained elite Top Gun pilots.

Mission impossible? Not for Lieutenant Commander Guy M. Snodgrass. The experienced pilot looks out from the cockpit of his F/A-18E at the tiny dot bobbing way down on the Yellow Sea. With one eye, he checks the diagnostic data of the plane’s flight systems that constantly run across three screens.

His plane, a “Super Hornet,” is a fighter jet equipped with cutting-edge computer technology – and yet, at this moment almost everything depends on this pilot’s skill and his absolute mastery of the fifty-five million dollar flying machine at his hand. What from high above looks like a piece of driftwood floating in the endless seas is in reality the U.S.S. George Washington, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier of more than 97,000 tons displacement. It is a behemoth 332 meters (1,090 feet) long and 76 meters (250 feet) wide, powered by two nuclear reactors. If all works out well, that’s where Snodgrass plans to land shortly. As he already has more than four hundred times in his aviation career.

Lieutenant Commander Guy Snodgrass is one of the best pilots in the American Naval Armed Forces, highly decorated with both the Navy Commendation Medal and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. His career has been illustrious: from active duty, he was promoted to instructor at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center in Fallon, Nevada, home of the legendary Top Gun pilots. As an “Air-to-Air Mission Planning Subject Matter Expert” he had significant impact on the development of the aerial tactics for the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps. Snodgrass is an ace in every respect, with only a very few pilots coming even close to his abilities and achievements.

One may wonder – does it ever become routine? No, that’s not what landing on a floating air base can ever be, not even to a highly skilled professional like Guy Snodgrass. Even though, as he later admits with a smile, “the pulse frequency and adrenaline levels don’t quite shoot up like they used to in the early days of my flying,” he knows that his daily maneuvers are still the stuff of dreams. At the close of a flight, Snodgrass pulls the F/A-18E downwards and circles around the aircraft carrier, so he can lose both elevation and speed. Meanwhile, the four arresting wires on the aft flight deck are being set to the current landing weight of the incoming fighter jet. Ideally, Snodgrass will touch down so he can snag the third wire with his plane’s tail hook.

When the final approach is under way, the pilot lowers his landing gear. The landing officers on the flight deck now “talk” the pilot down, telling him if and how much his approach is off from the ideal landing line. If the plane comes in too shallow or too steep, the landing officers give the pilot the “wave off” signal, telling him to break off the landing attempt and retry. Of course, that basically never happens to Snodgrass. The expert pilot once again hits the perfect combination of angle and speed, the hook catches the third arresting wire, and the main landing gear touches down on deck. At the moment of touchdown he pushes the engine to full power, so that in case of a failed maneuver he would be able to lift right off again. But the hydraulic arresting wire safely brings the more than three tons of incoming jet to a dead stop within two seconds and in less than 50 meters (164 feet). “It feels as if you’re trying to maneuver into a tight parking space with your accelerator gunned down,” as Snodgrass later describes the landing procedure. “Mission accomplished.”

No doubt, the pilots who have the Top Gun badge on their overalls are the secret stars among the ship’s 5,200 crew. Guy Snodgrass, too, is well aware of that. Top Gun was founded in 1969, in Miramar, California, in order to build Navy pilot skills in successful air combat tactics. In 1996, the Top Gun program became part of the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center and was moved to Nevada. That’s where Guy Snodgrass used to train the best of the best. “It’s pretty easy to recognize a potential Top Gun pilot. He shows talent, passion and a strong personality – in exactly that order,” says Snodgrass, based on his training experience. Accordingly, the program doesn’t look for bold daredevil types, but rather for men with a strong drive to fulfill their mission. The daily routine of the elite fighter pilots has little in common with Hollywood’s glamorous movie version. “Our job takes 100 percent concentration, all the time,” says Guy Snodgrass. “Whoever believes this is just like the movie is definitely out of place here.”

—Guy Snodgrass: “Sure, we want to be the best of the best, but we have to prove that with every flight and every new mission – each and every day.”

Interview:

Lieutenant Commander Snodgrass, you are one of the elite pilots of the Top Gun unit and also have been an instructor there. Was this a dream come true for you?
Lieutenant Commander Guy M. Snodgrass: Absolutely! Ever since as a kid I happened to see a U.S. Air Force fighter jet at an air show in Texas I wanted to become a pilot.

So how did you end up at the Marines instead of the Air Force?
Even though we don’t like to admit it, the 1986 movie “Top Gun” has definitely influenced my generation in getting excited about an aviation career at the U.S. Navy.

Tony Scott’s movie as a recruitment instrument?
Yes, that’s about right. Although, without wanting to step on the director’s toes: the movie is pretty far removed from reality.

How so?
Top Gun is certainly not a flying school for daredevils and flying warhorses. It attracts skillful pilots who fulfill their missions with the utmost concentration and personal dedication. Sure, we want to be the best of the best, but we have to prove that with every flight and every new mission – each and every day.

Mr Snodgrass’ comments and views are not seen to be representative of the US Navy.
The views of LCDR Snodgrass are personal to him and may not represent the views of the Department of the Navy or any other agency of the U.S. Government. LCDR Snodgrass’s interview is not an endorsement by the Department of the Navy or any other U.S. Government agency of IWC, its parent company Richemont, or the goods or services thereof.

Pilot's Watch Chronograph Top Gun

—Ref. 3880

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Explore More Articles
IWC Portofino
Forever Classic: IWC's Portofino

IWC’s renowned Portofino line reflects classic design in its simplicity.

IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN PAYS TRIBUTE TO SAINT-EXUPÉRY’S LAST FLIGHT

70 years ago, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry took off on a reconnaissance flight over France and never returned. Now, IWC Schaffhausen commemorates the last flight of the celebrated pilot and author with three special limited editions, thereby strengthening its long-standing partnership with Saint-Exupéry’s descendants.

Kurt Klaus
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Aquatimer video Screenshot
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The evolution of the diver’s watches from IWC continues.

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For over 60 years, IWC has been training generations of watchmakers in its own workshops. Candidates need to be deft with their hands and have a flair for technology. After completing their training, most of them remain loyal to the company in northeastern Switzerland for many years.

Swiss National Day
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Experience the secret talents of the IWC watchmakers.

The Time is Right

The parallels are endless: technology, innovation and cutting-edge design dominate both businesses, and they’re both defined by time. The MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team tries to beat the clock in FORMULA 1 motor racing; at IWC Schaffhausen, we are the clock.

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The sculptor-designer is a phenomenon. Even if you are not at all design literate you will know him by reputation. His name has become a synonym for severity.