The time of her life

Type “women’s pilot watch” into an Internet search engine. Chances are high that the first — and possibly only — company name that pops up will be The Abingdon Co. And that’s just fine with 28-year-old Chelsea Abingdon Welch, the company’s founder.

    Welch3“I knew from about the age of 14 that I wanted a career in aviation,” Welch recalled, but admits that she didn’t plan to go into manufacturing timepieces for pilots.

According to Welch, the idea for the company got its start in 2006 when she was pursuing her private pilot ticket and discovered that no one made aviator watches sized or styled for women.

“You could buy a man’s watch, but it was bulky and black or brown, and you know a MAN’S watch,” she said.

Welch reasoned she wasn’t the only woman pilot who wanted the functionality an aviator watch that didn’t feel like a boat anchor on her wrist.

“A bunch of women got together and we did the first two designs, which were the Jackie model and the Amelia model,” she recalled, noting that they felt it only fitting to name the first two models after Jackie Cochrane and Amelia Earhart, two of the most famous female aviators. “The watches have Zulu time on them, a stop watch, and an E-6B slide rule — everything you need to make calculations in the cockpit.”

TheAbingdonCoJackieSunsetPinkAbingdon watches are finished with mother-of-pearl faces, crystals and diamonds and pastel colors. The watchbands are available in silver metal or black or white leather.

“As you can see, they are all sorts of brightness in addition to functionality,” Welch said, proudly displaying the two watches she wears, one on each wrist. “The faces are pink, or blue and green and all sorts of brightness.”

Welch’s flying career began at the same time her manufacturing career did, just after college and a stint in the Peace Corps.

“In 2006 I walked onto Santa Monica Airport to interview each of the schools. I had no job and little money. The questions I asked each of the five flight schools were, ‘Can you teach me how to fly quickly? Do you have any jobs available? And will you pay for my flight training?’ To my surprise, one school said yes to all three questions and I began a paid internship there that involved trading work for flight lessons. One year later, I left with a commercial rating and 230 hours of flight time.”

While most who desire careers in aviation become flight instructors to build experience, Welch built her hours by working as a demo pilot for Cirrus Aircraft.

“The Cirrus dealership was right next door to the flight school,” she said. “Cirrus hired me right after I passed my commercial checkride.”

For the next year or so Welch traveled around the country, showing Cirrus SR20s and SR22s to perspective clients and representing the company at various airshows and fly-ins.

The Abingdon Co. was a sideline, something Welch worked on in her spare time.

“I always kept the two separate,” she recalled. “In fact, most of the people at Cirrus never knew about The Abingdon Co. If I went to a trade show for Cirrus, then I was dedicated to Cirrus. It didn’t seem fair to try to market my company when I was on the dime of another. Only in my spare time did I work to grow The Abingdon Co.”

TheAbingdonCoAmeliaCloudWhiteSoon the watch company began to take more of her time, although she still made time to ferry airplanes around the country to aviation events, while working on getting her flight instructor certificate. The CFI ticket — and a chance encounter at last year’s AirVenture with the cast of the cable television show “Flying Wild Alaska” — opened another door for Welch. The reality television show focuses on the lives of the Tweto family and their family-run airline, Era Alaska, which services the remote Alaskan wilderness.

“I honestly didn’t have a TV so I had never seen the show,” Welch said. “I asked one of the characters, Ariel Tweto, what they flew. She said ‘oh a bunch of Cessnas. Caravans and 207s.’ I said ‘Carvans! that’s my favorite airplane!’ I told her that my idea of a good time was to get a Caravan and put it on floats and pack it full of beer and friends and disappear into a lake in Canada for a couple of weeks. She said ‘great, I need your number.’ We ended up becoming good friends.”

At the time Tweto was going to college in Southern California where Welch was living. Tweto was also working on her private pilot ticket, so she hired Welch for instruction.

“She hadn’t flown in a few months so we went up for a few lessons and I helped her get her landings back,” Welch said.

Tweto still hadn’t finished her ticket when the time came for her to return to Alaska.

“Without my knowledge she pitched it to the producers to bring me up as a flight instructor,” said Welch.

The producers said yes and Welch headed for Alaska to teach Arial to fly on television no less.

There were no Hollywood dramatics when it came to the checkride, said Welch, except for the fact that it had to be administered by an FAA representative who came out from Anchorage.

“The ride took seven hours,” said Welch, noting that is about three times the length of the average private pilot checkride, “because the FAA examiner went down through the practical test standards line by line because it had been so long since he had done a private pilot checkride. After the checkride he said that it was one of the best checkrides that he’d ever administered.”

The television show provided more exposure for The Abingdon Co. and during this year’s AirVenture the company’s booth had a steady flow of customers.

Welch2“The reception we got was amazing,” Welch said. The “we” she speaks of is a crew of six people, the men and women who make up the company. Many of the ideas for watch designs come from customers, she noted.

“We read every single email that comes to us and the messages that come to us via Facebook and Twitter to see what features people want in a watch,” she said.

As the clock ran out on 2012 Welch, who splits her time between Las Vegas and Southern California, was working on the expansion of the Abingdon product line, adding to her flight hours from the right seat, and working on giving back to aviation.

“In January we award the ‘It’s about time’ scholarship, which is designed to get more people involved in aviation,” she said. “We are also a sponsor for the Think Global Flight (an around the world flight to promote the study of science, technology, engineering and math).”

She also has plans for the company’s product line to extend outside the world of aviation, into sports like NASCAR and the like where women fans are in the minority.

When asked where she sees herself in five years, Welch replies, “I’m doing it! I’m living the dream — running my own company and ferrying airplanes around!”

For more information: TheAbingdonCo.com

Comments

  1. Christina Bryant says

    Great to meet you Chelsea, however, the FAA examiner was a she, not a he and because of uncooperative weather and flight schedules out to Unalekleet, the practical was not that grueling. It was a pleasure to work with you and again, great job!

    • chelsea welch says

      Hey Christina, I have not forgotten your gender, ;), that was a misprint by GA News, but no worries. You did a phenomenal job and the checkride was definitely thorough – everything I would expect from the FAA! Thanks again for coming out on such short notice. – Chelsea

      • Paul says

        Hi Chelsea
        Your a very inspirational and an amazing person, I wish you best of luck :)
        Kind regards
        Paul
        an Irish admirer…

  2. Terry says

    Nice to see some one who fell into it and knew to stick around. So many times an opportunity goes by and gets wasted. If the 99%ers had 1% of your gumption the economy would be better. As for the watch, just being a man doesn’t mean I can wear a large watch and I hate the 10 lb Swiss army knife look. I once knew a sailor who wore a pocket watch for a wrist watch. But not me. How about a unisex big number easy to read for the geriatric crowd? I’ll be glad to fly it around for you.

  3. Stephanie Millard says

    I love this story. The entrepreneurial spirit while respecting your employer is a great example. The watches are beautiful. Kudos to you!

  4. Gery Moret says

    I have watched this young pilot “Chelsea” as a studendt and for her entire career and always new she would do something special. I remember talking to her about her idea for watches befor she placed her first order, I saw the early samples and said she is a winner. You will hear a lot more about this girl.

  5. Michael Stanton-Hicks says

    Congratulations, wonderful story. Even over 45 ers. with contacts will be able use them. Timely product for the 99ers and increasing number of aviatrix’ in all aspects of the aviation scene. Refreshing to know there is always someone with a good idea, entrepreneurship and the fortitude to achieve success…..love it!

  6. says

    Hi,

    Great idea! Love to meet one day…
    Ever thought of expanding to Europe? If so, I’d love to help…
    Merry Christmas and many greetings from the other side of the Atlantic,

    Nico Rosier
    PPL(A) w ATPL-theory
    Psychologist/manager

  7. Deborah Hadler says

    Great idea… I was dismayed when I first starting flying that I couldn’t find anything for a woman pilot…. no watch, no leather jacket, etc., etc. A lot of us need a scaled down version that is much easier to read. At 50+, I am looking for digital, 24 hour, zulu and a stopwatch that is easy to read and fast to us. All the rest of it is pretty fancy (I won’t wear any jewelry while flying, so no need for diamonds), but the E6-B functions are found in many other, easier-to-read and use formats now between IPads and better and better avionics. I would still LOVE a female (but please more choices than pink) watch with just the above, and I doubt I am alone! You are off to a great start…. can you keep it up and expand? I am ready, willing and waiting for your next watch and a leather jacket (with all the “guy” pockets)! Thanks – we need you to keep designing… good for you!

  8. Carole Comeau says

    I was excited when I found out that someone was making a watch for female pilots. The problem is that I’m 67 years old and the data on the watch face is way too tiny for me to read. I need something functional, larger, and easier to read. I live and fly in Alaska so it needs to be able to stand cold and snow as well. I don’t care about glitz…….I just want it to work under all weather conditions. How about working up one for us older women pilots. I’d get in line to get one! Thanks!

    • says

      I’m 70 and I agree, I need BIG numbers. Maybe I do need a man’s watch. Pretty Schmmeettttyyy.
      DITCH the PASTEL colors, give me CONTRAST. When I look at the watch, I want the numbers to jump out at me. Man or woman, colors don’t matter… black and white, or red and blue… make them useful! I pilot a PA28-180, aerial photography, com. SEL. Midwest. Thanks, but don’t get SO feminine! I hate pink.

    • says

      And another thing… put a white minute hand on a white background? I want to know what time it is! We’re not going to the prom! We’re hanging up there in the sky, and I want to see at a glance the hands branded into an image on my brain. The numbers can be small, but the minute hand must be “black on white”.
      I applaud your achievements, and your entrepreneurialism! (is that a word?) Gogogogogo.

  9. says

    Fantastic story Chelsea, My Wife Joey and I watched the Flying Wild Alaska show and when we seen you, we were just amazed at the confidence and calm you showed when working with Ariel Tweto. I told my Joey, Chelsea is a show all by herself in the making. We hope to see more of you in the future. Maybe a recap with you and Ariel on an adventure to the Outback or New Zealand. Happy Flying and keep an eye on that AOA indicator.

  10. Albert Adams says

    Good for you! That is how to use the brains and talent you were given. You’ve accomplished so much and I am happy for anyone who learns how to fly. The way you went about it was by good old fashioned hard work and that is how anything worthwhile will come to any of us in this life. I applaud you and now my wife says I have to buy her one of your watches….lol…

    A. Adams, CEO
    FPM, Inc.

  11. Gordon says

    Great project, but there is an issue. No one over the age of about 45 will be able to use these watches. Teeny teeny printing may be viewable by you kids, but presbyopia will get you at some point, too. You’ve cut out a significant portion of your market right from the start. Suggest you consider a bone-simple version with a GMT readout.

    • chelsea welch says

      thanks Gordon, that is an excellent idea. GMT can definitely be enlarged, but how would you make the E6B easier to read without making the watch the size of a grandfather clock? Or would you?

  12. Dane Knowlton says

    Great article Meg! I was fortunate enough to meet Chelsea back in 2008 at a Fly-In and in fact, she was so friendly, professional and knowledgeable at showing the Cirrus, I was hooked and I bought one a few months later. It is no wonder she is successful!
    I wish she and you, Meg, A Wonderful Christmas and a safe, successful and Happy New Year! …. Dane

  13. Baldur Ágústsson says

    Congratulation to Welch the pilot, designer and entrepreneur!

    What a perfect combination of functionality and beauty. The watches are also very pretty!!
    I hope they sell well and encourage Welch to carry on in the same spirit.

    Baldur Ágústsson
    BIRK SUP TWR/APP (ret.)

  14. Anita Lewis says

    This lack of female anything in aviation was something I recognized years ago. But I just accepted the ‘status quo’ and kept buying the male stuff. Good Thinking and good inventing on your part. To see a need and go after it….Good Luck

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