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. This was refreshed in 2006 with the updated Cal. 51110 as Ref. 5004 and again in 2012 as the Ref. 5009.
The Big Pilot line was quietly updated starting in 2017 with a new double barrel movement, Cal. 52110, replacing the single-barrel seven-day movement used since 2002. The first glimpse of the new Ref. 5010 came on Instagram, with IWC CEO Chris Grainger-Herr wearing a one-off Ref. IW5010-07 in titanium while on safari. This was introduced as a limited edition of 100 pieces later in the year along with an unlimited “Heritage” and limited “Heritage Bronze” models, both in titanium with beige markers. The regular-production stainless steel and “Le Petit Prince” models appeared in 2018 as corresponding Ref. 5009 models were phased out. As in the previous two generations, a special edition with small seconds at 9 00 has also appeared. Ref. IW5010-08 was limited to 138 examples for the London IWC Boutique.