03. February 2009 · 8 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

For you South Park fans out there, this image came up while I was Google Image searching something else and thought it was awesome!

“What were you searching for?”

Well, it’s funny you asked. As a stray blog topic, I was going to discuss the art/science of the military pilot call sign.

[Wagging her finger] Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. You’ve all seen Top Gun! Maverick? Goose? Here, let me refresh your memory…

I’ve met two pilots here named “Tim [something]” and apparently they’re young enough to get the call sign “Timmay!” Exclamation point and everything. In other words, an officer who came into the service after about 2000, when Timmay! was first introduced on South Park.

Between meeting a couple of “Timmay!”s and dozens of other fighter/bomber pilots with the work I’m doing here, it got me thinking about these pilots and their call signs.

Working among this is new to me. You can read a bit about the Air Force call sign tradition here. I spent most of my aviation-weather-forecasting years among Army pilots, who don’t use call signs as much. I’ve never had to do weather work for fighter pilots before. Apparently they’re the ones who go by call signs. You ask a tanker or cargo pilot his call sign and he looks all confused at you. I’m now in a unit that’s run by call-signed pilots, and that’s the jargon around here.

“Hey, Squatter wants to know whether you’re changing the number of planes Claw can use for Cheetah’s missions”.

These call-signed pilots tend to assume that everyone around them has call signs.

“So, Major Vollmer, what’s YOUR call sign?”

Ummmm…..no? At most, I was called “WEATHER!” All caps and everything, and that was usually from someone angry with a bad forecast. I know some weather officers who did get theirs by working with fighter pilots early in their careers.

How do the pilots get their call signs? Sometimes it’s obvious…a guy with a big nose will get tagged “Nose”. And it sticks for the rest of his career. Sometimes it seems random. I know so many “Fang”s, “Snake”s and “Sparky”s from throughout my career. I believe they get named at a big Officer’s Club party during pilot training. It might be formal…but to be honest, I don’t know.

We have a Marine pilot named Farquaad here, you know…from Shrek. He’s short (5′ 7″) and his face seemed to be shaped like the Shrek character, with the square protruding chin. Really. If you didn’t say anything, you wouldn’t notice, but once I heard our chief scream “FAHRQUAAD!” across the room to this guy the first time, I had to stop and laugh.

Our former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General T. Michael Moseley, went by “Buzz” his entire career. (Note: that was among his peers and other fighter pilots…*I* would never get to call him “Buzz”). Since our current CSAF has a cargo pilot background, he allegedly doesn’t have a call sign.

Last week I took pictures of some of my colleagues at our social tent last week and I wanted to e-mail copies of the pictures to the subjects themselves. So here I am at my laptop, ready to fill in the “To:” block and I realize I’m stuck.

How do I send pictures out to “Runt”, “Stork”, “Trojan”, “Snake” and “Atlas”? That’s how these fighter/bomber pilots do everything at work — I really truly did not know these guys’ first or last names for my first 3 1/2 weeks here! I had to ask this week, “What’s so-and-so’s real name so I can e-mail him this picture?”

So there you go — hopefully Farquaad doesn’t see that I was talking about him on here. At least you won’t know his real name so I’ve protected the innocent, right?

Ok, workout time!