Antonio Gomes is not only a loyal collector of IWC timepieces. He’s also an experienced pilot who has flown in times of peace and war. During a recent IWC Collector’s Day, the Journal talked with Mr. Gomes about his time in the air and what he believes the future holds for those aspiring to follow his footsteps.
When did you realize you wanted to fly?
It wasn’t a child’s dream like most people. I was a university student in Portugal and studying to be a mining engineer. But at the time Portugal was involved in a colonial war in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea. Military service was compulsory.
I went to university at the age of 19 and partied a little too much. By my second year I realized that my grades weren’t good enough to delay my going into the army. So, it was 1968 and I said to myself, “They’re going to call me, so I must find a solution”. I didn’t want to go into the army to start with. I thought about the navy, but the navy was very small. They only chose who they wanted to choose. The air force was taking just about anybody, so they took me. Of course I’m joking! About 600 Portuguese men tried to join the air force. Sixty of us were approved. I started flight school in 1969.
Tell us about the first time you flew.
I loved it. The first aircraft I flew was the Harvard T6, an American aircraft. It was the plane that the US Army Air Force used to train their pilots for WWII. You give a 19- or 20-year-old young man a machine like that and, wow! I didn’t even have a driver’s license. Yes, I could fly an airplane before I could legally drive a car!
So I went to Mozambique where I flew several types of airplanes, while engaged in the local colonial war, which eventually Portugal lost. Mozambique is now, thank God, an independent country, but it went through a tremendous amount of turmoil. I had joined the Mozambique airline still in colonial times and became a captain of Boeing 737s and a flight instructor. But the situation in the country became difficult and my wife and I left for the US.
What was life like when you immigrated to the US?
In the beginning it wasn’t easy. I couldn’t find a job. I had to get a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airline Transport Pilot License, but the Administration didn’t make things easy for me. They had a hard time believing that at 28 I was an airline captain. I was trained and competent, but in the US there is a stratified way of going up and it’s very difficult for a 28 year old to become a captain. There are people on top. You can only climb up if there is space.
I had an interesting episode because of my age – or the fact I didn’t look my age. I was at the door of the cockpit when these passengers were entering the plane. A passenger looked at my four stripes on my shoulder and asked me, “Are you the pilot”? And I said, “Yes”. And he said, “You’re a child!” and left the airplane.
How did you restart your flying career?
By chance I met the president of a cargo company in Miami. He hired me and I flew for six months as a co-pilot. Because I’m good with people, I climbed up through the ranks and became an operations manager. I flew less and less, only when necessary, until I retired in 2008.
What changes have you seen in aspiring pilots between the time you became one and how?
The main difference I see is this: In the military I didn’t see an autopilot until I had accumulated 2000 hours of flight time. Everything was done by hand. Autopilot was a luxury. Autopilots and flight management systems of today are very sophisticated, and this new generation of pilots in the airline business can operate the systems very well, but flying manually is not encouraged which, in my opinion, may be a mistake. Automation is not yet perfect and pilots should be comfortable flying manually in all phases of flight. My generation relished switching off the autopilot and flying the approach and landing manually. They don’t seem do that anymore.
Also, when I started airline flying, there were four people in the cockpit: The captain, the first officer, the flight engineer and the navigator. The navigator was the first one to go when they invented the inertial navigation system and later the GPS. The flight engineer went soon after when everything became automatic. Now we have only two pilots in the cockpit. I would not be surprised if in the next 10 or 20 years, one of them will go. And in the next 50, all of them will be gone.
IWC is supporting the Silver Spitfire “Round-the-World” flight next summer. Have you ever flown a Spitfire?
No. But I would love to. Every pilot that ever lived would give 15-20 mins of his life for an hour in the Spitfire. Every pilot who has flown her says it’s the sweetest airplane to fly. It’s terrible on the ground. Once you start the engine and all the way to takeoff, it’s terrible. The wheels are too close to each other. The combination – tail dragger / powerful engine makes taxying challenging, the propeller is big and close to the ground. But once she is airborne and the gear is up, it’s a beauty.
Let’s move on to your favorite IWC timepieces. What are your favorites?
I like all the watches IWC made for the military, mainly the Mark 11. Of the modern ones, I do like the Portugieser Perpetual Calendar. It’s fantastic that you can do everything from the crown. This is engineering. This is what attracts me to IWC. I also like the Portugieser Minute Repeater and the Portugieser Chronograph Classic.
The fact that I’m connected to Portugal has nothing to do with this!
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