IWC created a “Spezialuhr für Flieger” (“Special Watch for Pilots”) in 1936 with clean black dial, large hands, and luminous numerals. Although the 36 mm case was fairly large for the time, pilots preferred an even larger dial and crown for extra visibility in the cockpit. In 1940, IWC responded with an official product, the prototypical “Big Pilot's watch”. Created for the German Air Force, it had a massive 55 mm diameter case. The dial featured a luminous triangle at 12 flanked by two dots, plain numerals, and large luminous sword hands. Another essential element was a massive cone-shaped crown, allowing the watch to be operated while wearing gloves.
By the end of the 1990s, the Mark XV and Pilot's Watch Chronograph had become signature models for IWC. Watch case sizes were growing rapidly, and consumers were responding to “heritage” models that recalled the past.
In 2002 IWC resurrected the oversized “Grosse Fliegeruhr” as the Big Pilot, Ref. 5002. It used the new in-house automatic Cal. 5011, which used the company's trademark Pellaton winding system and boasted a seven-day power reserve. Notable differences from the original are the smaller 46 mm case, central seconds, a date window at 6 00, and a power reserve indicator at 3 00.
Limited-edition platinum versions were also created, with 499 of 500 units sold. 386 examples had a blue dial and strap, while 113 had a low-key black dial and strap. One unique aspect of the LE was the use of applied markers and numerals, a feature that carried over to the replacement Ref. 5004.