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A Wing Of Flighters

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41 replies to this topic

#1 richardandtracy


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Posted 17 August 2010 - 08:18

This review is a comparison review of a number of recent Flighter pens and two older pens.
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Why choose Flighters? Well, mostly because I came across the Sonnet & saw that there were quite a range of Flighter finish Parker FP's, and as I had the P61 and my wife had the Targa, I thought I'd compare & contrast them.
All the new pens, with the exception of the P61, were bought new and somewhat below list price. The P61 was bought second hand, and the Targa was bought new in 1981 or thereabouts. I think the most expensive new pen (relative to list price) was 55%, and the cheapest was 21%. All the new pens were bought from reputable dealers either on E-Bay or over the web. I know the Sonnet is the genuine article, having got it from JML.
I may be being unfair in comparing a group of new pens with a couple of older pens, especially when the older pens are properly worn in and the new pens are still well within their 'Running In' period, however, it was just too tempting to include a P61 Jet Flighter and the Targa with all these new pens.
The Parker 45, 61 and Latitude have been withdrawn from Parker's range (in the case of the P61, 30 odd years ago), while the Frontier is due to disappear in December 2010. The Targa is no longer in Sheaffer's range.

Initial Impressions
There is a remarkable uniformity of colour. All except the Sonnet and IM have the same brushed finish that throws highlights in the same way. The Sonnet has a bead blasted finish, and is a slightly different, greyer, colour. The IM has a brushed finish that is then laquered with a finish that gives it a bronze tinge. It's hard to believe the oldest pen of this group could be up to 40 years old.
Almost all the pens have a roughness that is quite pleasant to hold. The new brushed finish pens have a higher level of roughness than the older P61 or the Targa. I don't think it's just down to wear, as I have 3 similar P61 Flighters of different usages and they all have a similar wonderful, smooth yet tactile surface. The P61 is a delight to stroke, while the newer brushed finish pens are not so nice. The Sonnet bead blasted finish is smoother than the P61, and surprisingly enough it isn't quite so tactile; I think it's just too smooth. The IM's laquered finish feels like plasic on the barrel & cap, while the unlaquered section is quite rough. The Targa has a similar, but slightly coarser feel to the P61.
The 'GT' (Gold Trim) pens show a difference in the colour of the gold plating. All the new production pens show a rich, deep gold colour while the P61 Flighter has a much whiter colour to the gold plating. The reason for this is, I think, that the new pens have a high gold content in the plating. This will make it soft and quite likely to wear rapidly. There is a possibility the pens have the 'Diamante' plating, which is supposed to be 50% gold and 50% titanium, but I have no evidence for this.
None of the pens look instantly ugly or repulsive, and it is interesting to group the design themes. The P45 & P61 have fairly similar profiles, as do the Sonnet & Frontier. The Latitude is reminiscent of the P75, the IM of the Parker Profile. The Targa is similar to Sheaffer Imperials, and is a fairly traditional shape for them, but unlike any Parker.
To be honest, the IM feels like a Jinhao, it may be made in China too, but this is impossible to confirm as there is no country of origin specified on the pen - contrary to EU regulations. The section is gold coloured (I hope it's diamante plated for wear) and looks quite smart, especially when posted.
The Urban is unlike any other pen I have ever seen at first glance, but when examined in more detail there are items copied from many other pens. The clip is like a less crisp version of the modern Duofold clip, the cap lip is similar to the Latitude and the tassies are similar to the IM. The cap click & section look very similar to any number of Parker rollerball pens, and the nib is straight off a Vector. The pen feels a good size and is solid.
The Sonnet stands out from the new pens in the way it feels. It has a remarkable solidity, strength and feeling of quality.

Parker 45: 7/10
Parker 61: 9/10
Parker Frontier: 8/10
Parker IM: 8/10
Parker Latitude: 8/10
Parker Sonnet: 9/10
Parker Urban: 7/10
Sheaffer Targa: 9/10

Packaging & Accessories
The P45 came in a clear polystyrene topped box with a silicone rubber base insert holding the pen. No c/c, with one blue cartridge.
The P61 was very used, and had no original packaging, it did, however have an original c/c.
The Frontier came in one of Parker's infuriating blister packs. No c/c, but with 5 black cartridges, a blue cartridge and a single pen zip up pouch.
The IM came in a plastic clam box. No c/c, with one blue mini cartridge and one black mini cartridge.
The Latitude came in one of Parker's very posh steel cored clam boxes inside a white card sleeve and card box. Much better than I was expecting. The pen came with a slide c/c and a single blue cartridge.
The Sonnet packaging was very stylish. The outer was a white card sleeve, inside was a thick card drawer box. Inside the drawer was a three pen pouch, with the Sonnet nestling comfortably inside it. The pen came with a delux convertor and a single black cartridge.
The Urban came in one of Parker's infuriating blister packs. No c/c, with one blue cartridge and a single pen zip up pouch.
The Targa packaging disappeared years ago, and I never saw it, but my wife remembers liking it. The pen came complete with a c/c, and as such will always score higher than a pen without one.

Parker 45: 3/5
Parker 61: 3/5
Parker Frontier: 2/5
Parker IM: 2/5
Parker Latitude: 4/5
Parker Sonnet: 5/5
Parker Urban: 2/5
Sheaffer Targa: 4/5

Construction & Quality
The P45 design is nice & sturdy - the design wouldn't have lasted nearly 50 years with so few changes otherwise. The cap, barrel and section all feel solid & reasonable quality. There are no sharp edges or burrs on the barrel or cap. The clip is well finished.
The P61 design is absolutely top of the range. It screams quality in all areas except one. That's the material selection for the hood, and in the 40 odd years this pen has been around it has warped and has character added, and the little arrow above the nib has dropped out. The clip is deburred, the cap lip is smooth and barrel edge doesn't feel sharp. The P61 was sold as being the P51's superior at the time. It was superb, and still is glorious, though a P51 Flighter would be in better condition with a similar level of use.
The Frontier is a cheaper Sonnet. There is no separate cap lip machining, and the cap edge feels as if it needs to be tickled with a file to finish it properly. The shape and overall design is almost identical to the Sonnet though. The clip has a couple of rough edges and feels a little spindly compared to the rest of the pen.
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The IM is a re-work of the Parker Profile, and feel really sturdy, having a metal section & section thread. The cap has a lip machining, the clip is deburred and the lip smooth. Possibly it should be called an IM Mk2, as the Profile was called the IM outside Europe. The two are shown next to each other below:
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The Latitude is like a modern, cheaper, re-work of the P75. The nib and section are new, but the cap and barrel shape is reminiscent of the 75, except for the chamfer on the end of the cap at the clip. The cap lip is a separate piece. The whole pen feels slightly flimsy compared to the rest, but there isn't actually anything to point to to say isn't right. The clip is as unfinished as the Frontier's and also feels as spindly.
The Sonnet is high quality without a doubt. The cap snaps on and off with a definite click. The section is beautifully proportioned and every part is well finished & de-burred. The fit of the threads on the barrel to section is excellent. The quality is top notch. The only possible thing against it is the clip, which is a well finished version of the Frontier clip. It's a little spindly.
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The Sonnet is a remarkably small pen, as shown in the comparison below with a modern Duofold Centennial:
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The Urban has a novel modern design, and shares no general inheritance with any other design. The nib is common with the Vector, Profile, Rialto, Jotter & IM. It is a radical rework of the pen shape and it does come off. Partially. I remain to be convinced about the large change in diameter of the section, which works aesthetically but I'm not sure it's comfortable. The narrow section of the barrel looks just too small a diameter. The cap lip ring is a separate item and feels well plated. The quality is quite good for the price. The clip is sturdy and well finished, however the feathers in the clip are not strongly stamped, so it looks like a blurred version of the modern duofold clip.
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The Targa shape is very novel to me, but feels good and sturdy. It's a classic shape, and seems well thought through. The cap clicks on sharply, and leaves a feeling of determined competance.

Parker 45: 7/10
Parker 61: 8/10
Parker Frontier: 6/10
Parker IM: 7/10
Parker Latitude: 5/10
Parker Sonnet: 9/10
Parker Urban: 7/10
Sheaffer Targa: 8/10

Sizes & Weights
Most reviews indicate whether a pen is 'small', 'large' etc. Not very helpful in my view, as each person has their own views as to the ideal size, so here are the sizes and weights in objective units.

Parker 45
Length Capped: 136mm
Length Uncapped: 126mm
Length Posted: 149mm
Max Diameter: 11.5
Weight: 18.25g

Parker 61
Length Capped: 135mm
Length Uncapped: 124mm
Length Posted: 147mm
Max Diameter: 11mm
Weight: 23g

Parker Frontier
Length Capped: 132mm
Length Uncapped: 122mm
Length Posted: 150mm
Max Diameter: 11.5mm
Weight: 23g

Parker IM
Length Capped: 138mm
Length Uncapped: 116mm
Length Posted: 154mm
Max Diameter: 11mm
Weight: 30.5g

Parker Latitude
Length Capped: 136mm
Length Uncapped: 122mm
Length Posted: 152mm
Max Diameter: 11.2mm
Weight: 21g

Parker Sonnet
Length Capped: 132mm
Length Uncapped: 122mm
Length Posted: 145mm
Max Diameter: 10.5mm
Weight: 26g

Parker Urban
Length Capped: 138mm
Length Uncapped: 123mm
Length Posted: 154mm
Max Barrel Diameter: 13mm. Max Cap diameter: 15mm
Weight: 32g (Cap = 11g)

Sheaffer Targa
Length Capped: 135mm
Length Uncapped: 119mm
Length Posted: 152mm
Max Barrel Diameter: 10.5mm.
Weight: 25.5g

Subjectively the P61 is the size and shape I prefer, and the Latitude is a good weight for all day use. The Sonnet is a good size & weight, but with its extra weight I think it would be slightly tiring for all day use. The IM & Urban are not pens I'd like to use all day due to their weight. I have large hands (well, my glove size is 'Extra Large'), and find all these pens large enough to use without posting them.

Nib & Performance
All the pens come with a Parker Medium nib - except the Sheaffer (naturally), which has a very well worn Sheaffer medium. The variability in line widths can be quite startling on different papers. The Sonnet has an amazing feed that will allow it to produce a BBB line on blotting paper without feeling dry, while the Frontier is less generous, providing a narrower medium line at almost all times.
The Parker 61 is a dream. The nib is soft, but not particularly flexible, and gives proper feedback. The nib glides over the page and takes you to another world of elegance and thoughtfulness. It's a pen that leaves you with a smile on your face after using it. The nib is the only gold nib of the lot, but the nib material isn't really relavent as the point is Iridium, just like on the other pens.
Unfortunately only half of the modern pens wrote on all the papers I tried - the P45, IM & Urban. This is a pretty damning finding from Parker's pens. Three pens refused to write on some types of writing paper I had (Frontier, Latitude & Sonnet). That's a 50% failure rate from the new pens. The reason, I think, is that Parker has tried to get the pens to write with beautifully smooth nibs on rough old photocopier paper. To avoid picking up fibres, the nibs have to be made with 'Baby Bottom' syndrome right from the start. The unfortunate side effect is that on hard papers, thin pads or coated papers the ink meniscus is held too far from the page to write with proper fountain pen forces. This means that writing becomes, erm, erratic. WHICH ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH. This problem was cured with some of the papers by changing the c/c to a 1970's/'80's vintage squeezy cartridge convertor, but it didn't cure the problem completely for any pen. A more drastic gentle grind on 9000 and 12000 grade micromesh was necessary to reduce the baby bottom syndrome, and unfortunately make the nibs less smooth. After this treatment all pens worked on all papers.

The Sonnet is the outstanding pen from the new pens considered. It has a firm steel nib, like all the other new pens, but there is something about the quality & care that has gone into the nib, feed and section. The nib is never short of ink, nor is it ever overloaded despite being able to write in a BBB line on blotting paper.
The P45 deserves a mention as a nice pen, because it wrote on all papers without fuss or modification. Its quality is not up to that of the Sonnet, but it's not bad.
The Latitude is a bit confusing in the way it writes. It leaves a wet line, but occasionally feels starved of ink. The nib feels stiff, but visibly flexes, without increasing the line width. Odd. The leaf shaped nib is nice looking, but has little resemblance to any of Parker's other nibs.
The IM and Urban both use the Vector nib, which is very utilitarian. The Vector nib works moderately well and there is nothing to like or dislike about it. Reasonable feedback comes to the hand from the nib. The Vector nib on the IM sticks out further than in any of the other Parkers, almost convincing you that it's a different nib. The nibs are shown below, alongside a Vector, Profile (IM Mk 1) and a Rialto. The Jotter also uses the same nib, but I don't have one.
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The Targa feels very nice, but after 20 years of intensive use and 10 years of occasional use, it has a marked foot. At the angle my wife writes at, it feels gorgeous, at any other angle it's very scratchy. The nib is firmer than I expected, but isn't a nail. The nib is on the narrow side of medium, but delivers a nice wet line with Parker Quink (black) that dries in 5 seconds or so.

The scores are based on the ground nibs. Deduct all nib scores from the Frontier, Latitude, and Sonnet for their performance on good quality paper if you are not going to grind the nibs. They won't write, so the score must be zero if unground.
Parker 45: 7/10
Parker 61: 10/10
Parker Frontier: 6/10
Parker IM: 5/10
Parker Latitude: 6/10
Parker Sonnet: 9/10
Parker Urban: 5/10
Sheaffer Targa: 8/10

Filling System
They are all c/c or cartridge. There isn't much to choose between any of the Parker c/c's, so there is no point in scoring these. I personally like the old parker squeeze c/c. The slide convertor in the Latitude isn't so good because I have found the end of the plunger can come off after a while. The Delux c/c in the Sonnet is, well, OK rather than what I would call 'Delux' - after all, something identical is found on a Jinhao, Duke, Leonardo or any one of a huge raft of Chinese pens.
One thing of note, I couldn't push the squeezy 1970's/'80's c/c into the IM's or Urban's section because the aperture was about 0.25mm too small, and the metal connector wouldn't give in any way.
The Targa c/c needed to be replaced a couple of years ago due to a perished bladder. It's a shame Sheaffer don't use a material similar to the Parker bladders, which don't seem to perish.

Cost and Value
This is a terribly subjective area. The best quality pens of the lot are, without a shadow of a doubt, the P61 and the Sonnet, and they are pretty good value for money at the prices I paid (P61 was £18 and the Sonnet £16.99). The Latitude (£24.70), as the most expensive pen of the lot, is probably the worst value for money. Of the Frontier (£7.99), IM (£12.48 for the GT, could have got a CT at £6.49) and Urban (£6.49), I don't think there's much to choose between them, possibly the Frontier just edging it. The Parker 45 (£4.56) is marginally ahead of the Frontier. For info, at the moment the approx exchange rate is £1=$1.50.
The Targa is a good pen, but I'm not sure of it's value for money as the current e-bay prices seem to be around the £50 mark, which seems a bit high compared to the P61.

However, how do they compare with Chinese pens like Hero's or Jinhao's?
Well, the P45, Frontier, IM and Urban are no better than Chinese pens for similar or less money, so overall are not good value for money. The Parker 61, Sonnet and Targa are better writing instruments than their legitimate Chinese rivals (can't comment on fake Sonnets, as I've never seen one) and, due to their higher quality, have no comparison.

Parker 45: 5/10
Parker 61: 10/10
Parker Frontier: 4/10
Parker IM: 3/10
Parker Latitude: 2/10
Parker Sonnet: 10/10
Parker Urban: 3/10
Sheaffer Targa: 8/10

Some Parker pens have durability issues.
From my personal experience, the life of a P61 is 25 years as your only pen. If you have more than two pens and rotate them, the P61 should last a lifetime, and is in my eyes acceptable.
Any pen with a plastic cap click is going to have problems in the long term with the cap coming loose as the plastic wears away - so the Frontier and Latitude will both eventually suffer from this. The IM, Sonnet and Urban have metal areas where the cap clicks, so the durability will be good. The P45 and P61 have slip caps, which feel very luxurious to fit. In the case of the P61, the slip cap can cause distortion of the hood due to poor material choice by Parker.
The barrels & caps of all these Flighter pens should be very durable.
The gold plating on the new GT pens looks to have a high gold content, so the durability may well be lower than the CT pens, as the gold will wear relatively fast.
All these pens should last 10 years of use as an only pen. Most will last at least 25 years. Given their prices, I think that's an adequate life.
The Targa is about 30 years old, and is showing no signs of significant wear, a target life of more than 50 years should be achievable.

I am disgusted with Parker in some ways, as three of the six new pens would not write on good paper. What more can I say? A pen manufacturer that makes & sells pens that can't write on all paper.. Unbelievable and despicable.
Once I had modified the nibs, all the pens could fulfil their function. But why did I have to modify them?

It has been interesting to compare these new pens against two established pens. The Sonnet is a really good new pen and the P61 is plain wonderful, the Targa is a fine pen, while the rest are really 'Also Rans', not because they are bad pens - far from it - but because the other three are so good. The Targa is a great pen, but didn't really suit my Parker trained writing style, and my wife's Targa trained hand finds the Urban the best of the rest to write with.
The overall scores below show the Sonnet ahead of the P61. I'm not convinced this is my personal conclusion as I have a preference for hooded nibs in general and the P61 in particular, but it is fairly representative of the overall feel of the pens. Possibly I still hold it against the Sonnet that it didn't write on all the paper I have without modification.

Scores out of 45
Parker 45: 29
Parker 61: 40
Parker Frontier: 26
Parker IM: 25
Parker Latitude: 25
Parker Sonnet: 42
Parker Urban: 24
Sheaffer Targa: 38

My advice is to avoid the Latitude. It doesn't know quite what it is, whether it's an expensive pen with shortcuts or a cheap pen with pretentions, and I can understand why Parker removed it from its range.
The lower price point pens are a little more difficult to decide between. I think the Parker 45 is the better one, closely followed by the Frontier. Once the Frontier has gone from Parker's lineup, the IM is the more conventional shape and possibly the one to go for, but there isn't much to choose between it and the Urban.

If you want a cheaper pen, I suggest you consider a Hero or Jinhao seriously, as they are better value for money than the lower end Parker Flighters reviewed here even though the Chinese pens are only on a par in terms of quality and overall feel.
For a higher end pen, your personal preference over hooded/open/inlaid nibs will be the only bearing on your choice between the P61, Sonnet & Targa. Each of these pens are superb.

I hope this comparison helps someone when considering a Flighter or one of these pens in the non-Flighter trim.



Edited by richardandtracy, 17 August 2010 - 08:21.

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#2 vans4444


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Posted 17 August 2010 - 08:55

A great post Richard, very informative.

Like you I rate the P61 nib, in my very limited experience it seems to be an improvement over the already good P51 nib.

My experience with a P45 is a better than yours. My P45 flighter is a very reliable pen, with the added advantage of having changeable nib, although they are now hard to find. I think the P45 flighter is much better pen than the ordinary non flighter P45s. I prefer the the little bit of extra weight.

I will now keep my eye open for a cheap Sonnet.



#3 akrishna59


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Posted 17 August 2010 - 09:03

thanks for the elaborate review. flighters have a way catching the eye anywhere. you seem to have concrete basis for your preferences, when it come to pens.

cheers and expecting more such comparitive reviews in future.


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#4 Namo



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Posted 17 August 2010 - 10:58

Great review!! Thank you.

I am not a hudge fan of Parkers. The only one I have is a 45 (although I used to have a 50). I find the nib far too stiff for my taste, but other than tat, the pen is reliable and a good writer.



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Posted 17 August 2010 - 12:16

Thanks for this great comparison! I would love to get a Parker "51" Flighter if opportunity ever came my way.


Need a pen repaired or a nib re-ground? I'd love to help you out.

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Posted 17 August 2010 - 13:58

What an interesting read. Thank you for taking the time to create it, and provide so many good images. 'Flighters' are a great concept.


#7 jniforat


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Posted 17 August 2010 - 14:24

this review gets a 10/10! i never seriously considered a p61 flighter, as i love my to P51 flighters, but now i'll be on the look out. i'm also now intrigued by the p75 flighter, though my last two p75s were less than good. as for the sonnet flighter, Wow! what a great review! i will for sure reference this article when people ask about flighters. thanks for such a thorough review.

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Posted 17 August 2010 - 15:11

Excellent, this makes want to get a P61! I have a Targa myself and can vouch for its greatness.
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Posted 19 August 2010 - 00:57

Excellent review, and a very nice collection of pens. I have a couple of Parker flighters, and I really like the look. I generally agree with your comments about the lower-end Parkers, but the variability from pen to pen makes it tough to make any general statements. I have two Frontiers, one of which writes like a dream, the other is only so-so. The 45's are generally good, but the last one I got is pretty finicky. My only Jotter, the cheapest of the bunch, writes as well as any of them. I have been considering a Sonnet. Your comments about the overall quality, even if you did have to work on the nib, are encouraging.
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Posted 19 August 2010 - 02:09

Great Article. Recently, I have been very impressed with 180 flighter. Extremely smooth nib right of the box. Wish you had included 75 and 50 in the comparo. Always wondered about the Frontier, IM and Latitude. Shapes are not inspiring any more.
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Posted 19 August 2010 - 02:11

Great review! I love those flighters! My little collection includes a Parke 51, 45, Frontier, Jotter and a Lamy Studio.


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#12 Jimmy James

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Posted 20 August 2010 - 15:06

This was a great read. I would add that to my eye the Parker Latitude is even more strongly related to the Parker Inflection than the 75. In fact, I have always associated the 75 with being the forerunner of the Sonnet.

The fatal flaw of at least my Parker Inflection is cap drying issues. Of course, that makes a bit of sense because Parker Sonnets from the same era often draw the same complaint. It does seem post-Inflection pens including the third variant of the Sonnet line don't suffer from that flaw.

#13 rochester21


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Posted 20 August 2010 - 16:50

very good review. large amount of information :)

#14 lws


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Posted 21 August 2010 - 05:28

I actually like the Parker Frontier - a Frontier SS/CT was one of the first two pens I ever bought, and I still have it. The plastic cap click is already looser than it was, though - after only about a year of intensive use. Not a heirloom item.

I inherited my mother's Parker 45 SS/GT with an XF nib, and it's beautiful. I'm after another one, if anyone's selling. ;)

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Posted 21 August 2010 - 09:01

I bought the IM Premium yesterday (the Premium part gives you a different finish on the outside as far as I can tell; have a look here, I have the Deep Gun Metal Chiselled finish). Having spent a few days unsuccessfully looking for a relatively decent pen in every bookstore I could think of or find, I was ready to give up and contact a company that sells office equipment wholesale, and sort of ask them to make an exception and sell me just one of their Frontiers I knew they had on stock. Good thing I didn't, though, because in the very last bookstore I was going to check I found the IM. It came in a decent case, with a converter and a 57 ml bottle of Parker's blue Quink included. It cost me about 50$, which may or may not seem expensive to you guys, but I found it a bargain, since the Frontier I was getting ready to buy would cost me more than 70$, without the converter or the ink.

Anyway, I'm very pleased with the pen so far, it looks nice, it writes smoothly on the normal 75 gsm paper I normally used, and will probably be slightly better when I buy some nicer paper. So I'd like to welcome myself back into the FP world :rolleyes: after, oh, 5 or 6 years, when I lost my last pen in a school accident (to put it bluntly, a friend broke it). :clap1:
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#16 Blade Runner

Blade Runner

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Posted 21 August 2010 - 12:34

What's the definition of a "Flighter"?

#17 theblackpen


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Posted 21 August 2010 - 12:36

This took a lot of time and work. Thank you!


#18 jniforat


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Posted 21 August 2010 - 21:34

i went on an ebay hunt and saw some 61 flighters after reading this article. can't afford the $100 ATM, but they look really nice. I also didn't know there is a Parker "21" Super Flighter...seems interesting!

#19 Jimmy James

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Posted 22 August 2010 - 02:04

What's the definition of a "Flighter"?

I think Flighter is actually a term that was applied to some Parker pen models that were SS/GT (stainless steel/gold trim). I don't know that there is widespread consensus on what exactly qualifies. Some may say just those pens explicitly billed as a "flighter", some may say any SS/GT pen, and some may say any stainless steel pen.

#20 Feanor



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Posted 22 August 2010 - 02:59

Very nice comparison. I must agree that the Latitude leaves something to be desired. It was one of my first pens and has always been one of my least favorite, quite difficult to get it started and it will dry out after seconds of not writing. And the converter that came with mine (twist) broke after about two years. I got a replacement, more out of habit than necessity as it's been used once. At least I figured out that it fits my Aurora pens so it wasn't a complete waste.

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