A Steely-Eyed Fighter Jock on the Aircraft Radio

Fly, fight, sound cool on the radio.

“Skyraider, two bandits left eleven high, nose on. Skyraider 1’s houndog on the singleton right one low. Two go cover.”

“Skyraider Two. Tally two, visual. Press!”

Writing about good old days. Must make impression. Hopefully getting through. Moving on now.

Okay, take a breath. Here’s what I’m trying to say. When you’re flying and talking on the radio, please realize you aren’t starring in Top Gun, Baa Baa Black Sheep, or, (I’ll try not to vomit after saying this,) Iron Eagle. (Lou Gossett Jr.: I realize you have to pay the bills, but come on!)

Act Civil

This is civil aviation, with an emphasis on civil. That means you not only have permission to use pronouns in your radio conversation, pronouns are highly encouraged. And, as a bonus, you may speak in full sentences. Here’s an example:

“Piper 569 Whiskey Papa, New York Approach, say your intentions.”

USAF Fighter Weapons School version: “Piper 569 Whiskey Papa, touch-and-goes Islip.”

Civil aviation version: “Piper 569 Whiskey Papa. I’d like to do touch-and-goes at Islip.”

Both answers are acceptable and understandable. You can even make an argument that the FWS* version is preferable to the civil version because it’s shorter.


Here’s why I don’t like pilots trying to sound like John Wayne on the radio. It’s not natural. It’s unexpected. Both problems are a setup for error.

Here’s an example of how incomplete, choppy communication can create an error:

“Hey John, you want me to make a left turn at the next intersection?”


Talking like Chuck Yeager on the radio doesn’t come naturally, so you have to work hard to say what you want to say. That effort that could be better spent on controlling your aircraft. Talking like a fighter pilot also forces your listener to spend more time trying to figure out what you just said. That isn’t healthy either.

The short answer? Of course, use standard phrases for aviation, but use those phrases in complete and natural sentences that anyone could understand. You’ll improve the safety of your own flight and keep the rest of us from shaking our heads.

*Apologies to the “Patch Wearers” of the USAF Fighter Weapons School. You guys are alright . . . as far as you know. Additional apologies to John Wayne and Chuck Yeager. Mr. Gossett? The jury is still out on you. Check six. JK

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bobby September 10, 2012 at 1:28 pm

I have found this site really useful. I am a “virtual” pilot on ann online game called Aces High2 been playin for 9 years now and am competent in the “virtual” skies. Why is this site useful? A squadron I “wing” with has a retired Air traffic controller in their squadron and when they launch missions they use for that exactly. Hearing them go along and I follow my flight leader I often find myself wanting to be a part of that experience wether it be in the “tower” or be a flight lead speaking with the tower.

This post made me think of how we sound in combat or patrolling. All I’m trying to learn is taxi takeoff landing and entering airspace communication with the tower. Any examples charts or descriptions would be a great help. Or any other websites explaining the processes previously listed would be a help as well. Thanks -bobby


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