Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph Review by Isochrono

Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph – A modern reissue from the inventor of the Flyback function.

While many watch brands purport to have some kind of link to aviation, the number that have actually served real pilots in real cockpits are few and far between. Longines is one of those brands, having existed way before the invention of the first aeroplane by the Wright Brothers in 1903, and being the choice of many of aviation’s early pioneers who wanted reliable, accurate and functional timepieces to accompany them on their flights.  

The Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph with Sunray Black dial & brown leather.

The latest addition from the brand, the Spirit Flyback Chronograph, reasserts its position as a legacy brand with significant contributions to the watchmaking industry and aviation as a whole. 

A Legacy Revisited

The facts of how the flyback chronograph function came to be is well-established but what led to the initiative to develop it remains unclear. The possibility is that as aviation developed, aviators required a way to take quick sequential measurement of elapsed time, necessary when navigating in correspondence with visible landmarks against waypoints on the map. In situations where pilots encounter poor weather conditions that hinder the pilot’s view of landmarks or light buoys at sea, a measurement of precise elapsed time from the last known waypoint, along with other tools such as a sextant and compass would help to determine position and distance from the next waypoint on the flight plan.

A flyback chronograph would essentially meet this requirement, an invention that took the basic chronograph and upgraded it with a flyback function, allowing the watch to instantaneously begin a new measurement without the usual start, stop and reset sequence. Instead of stopping after starting, a quick push of the lower pusher allows the chronograph seconds hand to instantaneously return to zero and begin measuring elapsed time again.

Being a supplier to pilots, it is no surprise that Longines would be the brand to come up with this complication, either through anticipation of this specific need, or in response to a request from the pilots who were already using Longines timepieces in their flights. In fact, it was Longines who supplied famous aviators such as Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to do a solo flight across the Atlantic, and Admiral Charles Byrd, the first pilot to fly over the South Pole. Even Charles Lindbergh, the first man who flew solo across the Atlantic from New York to Paris in 1927, sought the help of Longines’ to develop the Hour Angle watch in 1931, a tool that would enable easier navigation over long distances.

In any case, history records that the earliest mention of a wristwatch chronograph with flyback function comes from the Longines archives dated to 1925, making the brand the inventor of this complication. It was a calibre 13.33Z chronograph modified with flyback mechanism and not mass produced. Longines filed a patent for the flyback chronograph in 1935. The parent was awarded in 1936.

The Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph is a modern interpretation of a historical watch and movement
A modern interpretation of a historical pilot watch – Isochrono original photography

In the Spirit of Reinvention

The Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph is a modern interpretation of the brand’s historical pilot watches, with important functional elements that pay tribute to the spirit of the pioneers of aviation and their achievements, remade and dressed in contemporary materials and styling.

Rich coating of Super-Luminova on the dial and handsets of the Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph for great legibility, essential for a pilot watch.
Generous application of Super-Luminova coating on the dial of the Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph – Isochrono original photography.

The large Arabic numeral hour markers and hands are coated with Super-Luminova, ensuring that the time is easy to read and oriented to in the dark. Continuing on this theme as well is the 60 minute scale bi-directional bezel with ceramic inlay also coming with Super-Luminova coating – fairly uncommon still nowadays in the watch industry – which ensures that it also remains functional in the dark. 

Luxury detailing for the watch with PVD Bronze on the hand sets and dial of the Spirit Flyback Chronograph.
The Bronze accents on the dial of the Longines Spirit Flyback Chrono added a hint of vintage feel – Isochrono original photography

Being a chronograph, the dial is of a bi-compax design, with running seconds at 9 o’clock and a 30-minute chronograph minutes counter at 3 o’clock. The bronze hands and peripheral rings, and the sunk-in diamond-shaped relief for each hour are nice and subtle details, adding a hint of vintage feel to the watch. 

Well-proportioned pushers and screwed-down crown – Isochrono original photography

In a contemporary size of 42mm, the case is brushed and polished at the chamfer. To avoid making the watch any bigger than necessary, the lugs are well-proportioned and so are the pushers, which don’t protrude too much due to provision on the case for pushers’ travel distance.

Exhibition Caseback on the Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph showing the movement and the rotor etched with the globe and "Longines Flyback"
Exhibition caseback displaying the movement with the Globe and Longines Flyback etched on the rotor – Isochrono Original Photography

Produced exclusively for Longines by ETA, the Longines Spirit Flyback chronograph runs a  calibre L791.4, which  is a column-wheel actuated chronograph movement with 68 hours of power reserve, silicon hairspring and flyback function. The COSC-certified automatic movement with the globe and “Longines Flyback” proudly etched on the rotor, can be viewed through the sapphire exhibition caseback set in place by 6 screws. The watch comes in two dial variations –  Sunray Blue and Sunray Black.

The Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph on a 16.5cm wrist - Original photography by Isochrono
The Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph on a 16.5cm wrist – Isochrono original photography

A watch with a story to tell

The Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph may sit tall on the wrist at 17mm but this number has to be considered in context since part of the height is due to the use of a domed crystal as you look at the watch from the side. On the wrist, it wears like any typical 42mm wide chronograph and will tuck nicely under a shirt cuff that isn’t unreasonably tight. In any case, it is suitable as an everyday watch since it is formal or casual depending on how you dress it up, and best of all it is a watch with a plenty of aviation related stories to tell. The versatility of this watch is demonstrated through the availability of various band options, including matching leather straps to the two dial variations or on a stainless steel bracelet. The one I find most pleasing however, is the beige NATO strap that comes as an option with the black dial variant.

As part of the Spirit collection, the most distinguishing feature of the  Longines Spirit Flyback Chronograph is how it embodies the long-standing relationship between watchmaking and men’s quest to take flight. Furthermore, wearing a watch like this allows us to honour and remember the brave men and women who took to the skies more than a hundred years ago, into the development of aviation that we enjoy today.

As there are more watch brands than complications, wearing this watch on the wrist does feel a little more special since it made by the brand that invented the complication it carries. In a way, its like wearing a tourbillon watch from Breguet. The extra special dimension of owning such a watch is that Abraham Louis Breguet the watchmaker, was the man who invented the tourbillon. While flyback chronographs can be acquired from many other brands, none have as great a legitimacy for the complication than Longines.

Technical Specifications

Model No.:


Water Resistance:
10 bar (100 m / 330 ft) with screwed crown

178.3 g

Case Shape:

Width (mm):

Average Thickness (mm):

Lugs width (mm):

Case Material:
Stainless Steel & Ceramic Bezel
Transparent case back with 6 screws

Scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, with layers of anti-reflective coating on both sides

Dial Colours:
Sunray Blue or Sunray Black

Applied Arabic numeral with Super-LumiNova®

PVD Bronze color baton hands filled with Super-LumiNova®

Power Reserve:
68 hours

Longines self-winding column-wheel movement, L791.4
COSC certified
With silicon balance-spring and magnetic resistant
13¼ lines, 28 jewels, 28’800 vibrations per hours

Hours, minutes and seconds at 9 o’clock
Flyback function
Central 60-second hand
30-minute counter at 3 o’clock

Strap Details:
Longines interchangeable system

Strap Colour:
Stainless Steel Bracelet / Brown Leather/ Blue Synthetic strap / NATO synthetic strap

Double security folding clasp with micro adjustment system