Airspeed LPA Part 2 – Military Pilot-Speak – Audio Episode Show Notes

These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here:  Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

We all admire military pilots.  They’re some of the best in the world at what they do.  And there are many reasons for that.  They’re talented to begin with.  They’re highly trained.  And they have built up around themselves a culture that preserves the mystique and morale associated with military aviation.

That culture is a really useful thing.  Especially its language.  Military pilots use a whole slough of technical terms, jargon, and inside jokes that do everything from make their communications more concise to instantly identifying one pilot to another in a crowd.  And it’s a major source of morale in what is, after all, a very demanding field.

Airspeed recently aired the first part of its series called “The Airspeed LPA.”  Many Air Force squadrons have “Lieutenant Protection Associations” or “LPAs.”  These are informal groups of O-1s and 2s who, among other things, ease junior members of a squadron into the life of a military pilot.  The Navy has its Junior Officer Protection Associations (or “JOPAs”) that include O-3s, but I’ve flown with mostly Air Force units through the first six years of Airspeed, so I’m using the LPA moniker here.

The purpose of the Airspeed LPA is to provide a primer – a gouge, if you will – about military aviation culture.  Some of it is entertaining.  Some of it is helpful to your flying.  Much of it will help you to avoid seeming like a rube if you find yourself engaged in conversation with a military pilot.  And all of it is a doorway to better understanding the military aviation community.

(And I wanted to do an episode that Matt would like.  Hey, Matt!)

The first installment of the Airspeed LPA featured the military tradition of challenge coins.  This, the second installment of the LPA, focuses on the language and nuances of military pilot-speak.

Some of the terminology you’ll hear in this episode consists of NATO Brevity Codes.  These are spoken code words designed to convey very specific information in a minimum amount of time on the radio.  In the show notes, most of the all-caps words that aren’t acronyms are NATO Brevity Codes.  For the spoken descriptions in the episode, I’ll call out NATO Brevity Codes as such.

Some of the terminology here might not be suitable for family consumption.  There are sexual references, allusions to bodily functions, and similar stuff.  Nothing worse than what you’d expect in a PG-13 movie, so don’t get your shorts in a bunch.

Much of the material applies generically to all US and NATO military aviation.  A disproportionately large portion comes from fighter-bomber operations.  A disproportionately large portion comes from the fixed-wing community.  And a disproportionate amount comes from US Air Force operations, if only because I haven’t spent as much time in the company of Naval Aviators.

So, with that, let’s kick off the second episode of the Airspeed LPA.

“So to Speak”

We have to start out any discussion of military pilot lingo with “so to speak.”  This pervades the Air Force.  I’m not as sure that it’s a Navy thing.  In any case, it’s a response to any double entendre where one of the potential meanings is erotic.  When such a double entendre is spoken, one responds “so to speak.”  For instance, if I say that I’m “going downtown,” you might respond with “so to speak.”  The custom of “so to speak” has even spawned its own derivative set of pilot lingo.  For example, virtually any reference to the word “head” (or, for that matter, “helmet”) invites a “so to speak.”  So much so that the practice has engendered a complete replacement of the word “head” with other terms.  “Cranium” is common.  My personal favorite is “brain housing group.”

Admiral’s Doorbell

The button in an Navy fighter that jettisons all of the external stores in an emergency. If you hit it, you’ll be “ringing the admiral’s doorbell” to explain why.


MSL altitude of a friendly aircraft in thousands of feet.  If you’ve seen Speed and Angels, you know that “speed and angels” is a call verifying altitude and airspeed just before the fight is on in basic fighter maneuvers training.


What the Navy calls a pilot.


MSL altitude of a friendly aircraft in hundreds of feet.  It’s nice to know that there’s a NATO Brevity code that’s mostly useful for CAP aircraft and helicopters.  “CAP 2027 is Cherubs eight over the target . . .”


What an F-15C pilot calls a “bomb.” The Eagle was originally designed with “not a pound for air-to-ground” and some members of the F-15C community don’t like to say “bomb.”  Note, of course, that one of the greatest air-to-ground attack platforms ever is the F-15E Strike Eagle.


“Basic Fighter Maneuvers.”  Maneuvers involved in dogfighting intended to teach gunnery and short-range missile skills.


“BeyondVisualRange.”  A sphere of engagement in which you can’t see your opponent visually.

Balls to the Wall

Full throttle.  This could be a reference to the ball-shaped ends of levers for throttle, mix, and prop and pushing those levers to the firewall.  It also includes the word “balls” and a word that rhymes with “balls.”  So it’s got that going for it, too.


BANDIT: An aircraft identified as enemy, in accordance with theater ID criteria.  The term does not necessarily imply direction or authority to engage.

BOGEY:  A radar or visual air contact whose identity is unknown.

FRIENDLY:  A positively identified friendly contact.

HOSTILE:  A contact identified as enemy upon which clearance to fire is authorized in accordance with theater rules of engagement.


BINGO:  Minimum fuel state needed for recovery.  Also used to state that the pilot is proceeding to a specified base or carrier.

JOKER:  Fuel state above BINGO at which separation, bugout, or event termination should begin.

The terms are also used in common speech to express quantities remaining of non-fuel items.  E.g. “JOKER beer” means that a trip to the store will be necessary if the gathering is to continue unabated and “BINGO TP” means that the rest room is almost out of toilet paper.


System indicated is inoperative.

Bitching Betty

The automated female voice that provides audible in-cockpit warnings in some aircraft.  “Bob” replaces “Betty” as a male voice in some aircraft.  If you’re a G1000 pilot in CAP, you’re familiar with the “Vertical Track” or “TIS Not Available” warnings.  Kind of like that.  Side Note:  If you have the Ford Synch or similar system in your car and you’re willing to play with the metadata of your music collection, you can get your car to say things like “Terrain!  Terrain!  Pull up!  Pull up!” or “Missile Lock!”


Informative call to aircraft that electronic warfare targeting information is available on a briefed secure net.


The planned landing time aboard a carrier.

Dead Bug

A game played in squadron bars or elsewhere.  A participant yells “Dead Bug” and all others in the bar must immediately assume a position on his or her back with both arms and both legs sticking up in the air like a dead bug.  The last to assume the position must usually pay some penalty, such as buying a round of drinks.  Note that some squadrons take the game very seriously.  Somewhere at Edwards or Nellis, there’s a butterbar lieutenant with an iPod who’s actually on his back right now.  Thus, the phrase should never be uttered unless you’re an actual squadron member at the squadron bar and you actually want to play.  For exercise and reference purposes, it is considered politic to refer to “deceased insects.”  Dead Bug actually belongs in LPA Episode 3, dealing with traditions, but it’s too good not to include here.


An instruction given by a carrier to an inbound aircraft.  It means that the pilot should enter a designated hold and conserve fuel.

Dos Gringos

A band composed primarily of Chris “Snooze” Kurek and Rob “Trip” Raymond.  Both are F-16 pilots who noticed that not many fighter pilot songs had been written since theVietnamera.  They undertook to remedy that and have since produced several albums that are popular all over NATO and among GA pilots.  Particularly tasty selections include I’m a Pilot, The Predator Eulogy, 2’s Blind, and HLTC.

Check Six

A reminder to look behind you.

Code (1, 2, 3)

An aircraft maintenance condition.  If an aircraft is “Code 3,” it requires maintenance before it is safe or useful for another flight.  A “Code 2” aircraft needs maintenance but can continue to fly.  A “Code 1” jet is fully operational.  Some refer to everything from cars to personnel using this system of codes.

Red X

A maintenance condition in which an aircraft is unsafe for flight.  It’s a Code 3 condition.


Directive to detect and identify unknown aircraft trailing friendly aircraft.

Dollar Ride

The first sortie of pilot training; sometimes applied to the first sortie of any flight training program in a new aircraft.  It’s tradition to give the IP a dollar at the conclusion of such a flight.


An exercise, such as a SAREX.  The suffix is often used to characterize other activities, such as a BOREX (a dull but compulsory activity), a SWEATEX (a tense or labor-intensive activity), or a LEAPEX (a hair-on-fire urgent activity).

Exposure Suit

Waterproof suit worn during over water operations when the water temperature is dangerously low.  For obvious reasons, it’s hard to get anything – and I mean anything – out of the suit without doffing it entirely.  Thus, it’s often called a “poopie suit.”

Fangs Out

A state of mind in which a pilot is ready for a fight or other challenge.


Abbreviation for “F-ing Magic.”  It’s used to describe the operation of any equipment that the speaker doesn’t understand.  The AHRS in the G1000 system works by FM.

FNG/ Nugget/FOG

Most used in the Air Force, an FNG is a F*cking New Guy.  Check out the film Flight of the Intruder for the proper ritual in introducing – and welcoming – FNGs.  The Navy calls an aviator on his or her first cruise a “nugget.”  An “FOG” is at the other end of the spectrum from an FNG.  I’ll let you connect those dots.


Foreign Object Damage.  Damage to engines from ingestion of small objects.  The term is also used to refer to the objects themselves.  Some use it in verb form to describe the departure of an object or structure from its appointed place, thus turning it into FOD.  Finer point:  There is no such thing as Foreign Object Debris.  Think about it.  It’s redundant.  Foreign Object Debris is strictly for rubes.  It’s Foreign Object Damage or FOD.  Period.


Flying over water/land.


NATO brevity code indicating a certain type of air-to-air missile has been fired; the type is designated by number:

“FOX 1” means a semi-active radar missile (AIM-7 Sparrow)

“FOX2” means a heat-seeking missile (AIM-9 Sidewinder)

“FOX 3” means an active radar missile (AIM-120 AMRAAM)

“FOX 4” is not actually a FOX code., but it is occasionally used to refer to guns.


“First Assignment Instructor Pilot.”  A new pilot whose first assignment is to return to pilot training as an instructor.  Some love the assignment and some dread it.


Setting up the switches in the cockpit to prepare for, or conclude, combat.

Flat-top February/Moustache March/Sideburn September.

Each of the armed services has rather strict regulations with respect to personal grooming, but the regulations do allow for some leeway.  Some squadrons promote flat-top haircuts, moustaches, and sideburns during the respective months as a morale booster, as a fundraiser, or just to see what everyone looks like with flat-top, moustache, or sideburns.  Females are presumably excluded.  Note also that some individuals and units grow moustaches during deployments or during other extended events.  They’re known as “deployment moustaches.”  If you can grow a moustache, I highly recommend growing a deployment moustache at CAP NESA aircrew school.


Acceleration or a unit of acceleration.  One “G” is equivalent to the acceleration of gravity at Earth’s surface, which is about 9.8 meters per second per second.  Note that G is not itself the force of gravity.  It is acceleration acting on a body.  I can be at the top of a hammerhead with my helmet cable floating around the cockpit and be under zero G.  But the force of gravity is definitely acting on me.  I can be at five Gs in a turn and, again, the force of gravity is acting on me, but the force I most care about is the acceleration into a new vector (or, if you like, deceleration from my previous vector).  In any case, remember that gravity itself is nothing more than acceleration.  The only difference is that gravitational acceleration is caused by the warping of spacetime near a massive object.  All gravity is G, but not all G is gravity.


G-induced loss of consciousness.  It results from positive intertial forces that force enough blood from the brain to cause loss of consciousness.


“Boredom-induced Loss of Consciousness.”  Can result from a BOREX.


The currency of a foreign country in which a fighter pilot is deployed.  It doesn’t matter what the foreign currency is.  It’s all gonk.


The lowdown.  The poop.  The skinny.  The inside scoop.  A concentrated collection of information about a topic.  The term is most used in the context of aircraft-specific training programs.  If you’ve been to law school, a particularly concentrated and useful outline of a subject would be a “gouge.”  It might also be a set of answers to frequently-asked questions.  The most frequent use I see of the term in this context has to do with military bases or places of deployment.  “Who’s got a gouge about being stationed at Elmendorf?”

Head on a Swivel

Pretty self-explanatory.  It’s the state of being very aware of one’s satiation and any threats, especially visually-identifiable threats.  Kind of like flying anywhere near the Salem VOR above  3,500 MSL.  Also known as “doing the Linda Blair.”

Helmet Fire

A mental state resulting from overstimulation or similar causes.  Intensive and frequent training for emergencies and nonstandard flight conditions are designed to avoid helmet fires.

Hinge Head

Navy term for an O-4 (LCDR). Naval aviator lore holds that, lieutenant makes lieutenant commander, he is given a lobotomy and half his brain is removed. A hinge is installed so that the brain half may be reinstalled later (or the other half removed).


To fail an evaluation flight.  So called because of the hook-shaped “U” of “Unsatisfactory” that constitutes the grade of such a ride.


Instructor Pilot.  The military equivalent of a CFI.

In the Spaghetti

What the Navy calls it when you land with the tailhook amid the arresting wires.


Radio call signaling that your quarry is in sight and you are taking control of the intercept.  If you’re familiar with a certain Dos Gringos song and you know the callsign of the 965th AACS from Tinker AFB, you now understand the line, ‘So Darkstar, Judy Judy!  I’m going in for guns!”

Jeremiah Weed

A 100 proof liquor that is the preferred drink of fighter pilots.  If Southern Comfort and Yukon Jack have an illegitimate child, Jeremiah Weed is it.  Jeremiah Weed deserves its own episode and I’ve made inquiries in the hopes of having a certain retired Air Force lieutenant colonel on the fully explain the legend.

For now, I’ll leave you with this:  There is no quicker way to be thought a rube than to get the proper variety of Jeremiah Weed wrong.  There are a number of products on the market under the Jeremiah Weed brand.  They include everything from a so-called “sweet tea” concoction to a whisky-and-cola beverage to a blended whiskey that comes in a square bottle.  The only Jeremiah Weed beverage about which fighter pilots care is the 100 proof bourbon liqueur in the round bottle.  You have been warned.

Knife Fight; Knife Fight in a Phone Booth

Close-in aerial dogfight with a nimble adversary. The terms come from the early days of John Boyd’s Fighter Mafia, when US air power strategy and tactics de-emphasized dogfighting and emphasized longer-range air-to-air engagements with missiles.  In fact, the F-4 Phantom came off the production line with no gun and relied entirely on missiles (and much was made at the time of the fact that missiles are called “missiles” and not “hitiles”).  Enemy tactics in theVietnam conflict made it obvious that close-in dogfighting remained essential and that trying to operate with only the missile-dependent Phantom was like “being in a knife fight in a phone booth when all you have is a spear.”  Boyd and the Fighter Mafia were successful in causing a shift in fighter design toward energy-maneuverability (“E-M”) theory and the movement resulted in the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-15 Eagle.

“Knock It Off” 

A radio transmission that tells all aircraft to cease tactical maneuvering because a dangerous situation has developed.  In Flags and LFEs, this call “stops the war.”  The term is part of doctrine in the airshow industry as well.  Anyone can call a “knock it off” at any time and the show stops until matters settle down.

In CAP aircrews, we add a phrase with similar effect: “This is stupid.”  Any aircrew member, even if it’s the greenest scanner trainee  in the wing, may call a “knock it off” or “this is stupid” at any time.  If one or the other is called, the mission pilot must roll wings-level (if not already in that attitude), climb to a safe altitude, and stabilize the aircraft.  Then, and only then, does anyone talk about the problem and try to iron it out.  Both calls are important safety procedures.


Explained above.

Landing Fee

A fee or charge assessed upon a pilot upon arriving at a new assignment.  The fee most often ostensibly covers the costs of things like squadron T-shirts, unit-colored name tags, and similar items.  The fee is sometimes based on the unit’s number, expressed as a dollar figure.


Radar off.

Martin-Baker Fan Club

You’re a member if you’ve ever punched out of an aircraft.  The term is a reference to Martin-Baker, a manufacturer of ejection seats.


The glideslope indication light for carrier landings.  At 3/4 mile from touchdown, aviators are expected to “call the ball” when the aviator first sees the meatball.

Military Power

Maximum jet engine power without engaging afterburner.

Mother or Mom

In the Navy, the carrier.


The Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization program, responsible for rules and regulations governing safe and correct operation of all naval aircraft. Sometimes means in jest: “Not Applicable To Our Present Situation.” NATOPS manuals are sometimes referred to as “the big blue sleeping pill” in reference to their blue plastic covers.


“Non-Flying Officer” or “Non-Flying Object.”  A non-pilot Naval Officer.


In the Navy, an underachiever.  The term comes from the process of warming up carrier catapults by engaging them with no aircraft (a “no-load”).


“OfficerTraining School.”  A three-month course by which the Air Force makes college graduates officers.  Often called “90 day wonders.”  The Navy OCS is essentially equivalent.


To expend ordnance.  To “pickle” a bomb or “hit the pickle button” means to fire a weapon.

A device held by the LSO that activates the “cut” light on the meatball lens.


Tactical situation status pertinent to mission.


Amount of time aircraft can remain on station.

Piddle Pack

A thick plastic bag with a small neck designed to be used as a urinal while in the cockpit of a fighter.  The piddle pack has a powder chemical in it that turns the liquid into gel, minimizing (but not eliminating) the potential for leaks.


A landing made at twilight between the official time of sunset (or sunrise) and “real” darkness; it officially counts as a night landing.  Pinkies are said to be preferred by Navy O-4’s and above.


Rapid descending spiral.

Pull Chocks

To depart, as from the bar.

Punch/Punch Out

To eject.


To depart a point; the time and place from which a fighter formation leaves its holding pattern and begins its planned route.  It can also refer to a meeting place from which a group proceeds to the bar, the flightline, or other ultimate destination, as in “we’ll push from the hotel lobby at 0700.”


A term that is used to describe onerous and tedious administrative requirements and/or the paperwork that accompanies them.  “Queepzilla” refers to a person who is overly energetic in pointing out or enforcing such requirements.


A WSO orRIO.  The term refers to R2D2 who, in the Star Wars movies, inserted himself in the back of a fighter in a manner not dissimilar to the placement of the WSO orRIO.


Replacement Air Group. A squadron in which newly-trained pilots are introduced to, and trained in, a particular aircraft type. The term, “RAG,” is actually outdated.  The current term is “FRS” of Fleet Replacement Squadron, but many Navy personnel continue to call them RAGs.


In the Navy, a Radar Intercept Officer, such as a back-seat crewman in the F-14 Tomcat, F-4 Phantom II, or the F/A-18F.  In the Air Force, a Weapons System Officer, such as the back-seater in the F-15E Strike Eagle.

RMO or Round Metal Object

Challenge coin.


“Return to Base.”  Radio call indicating aircraft is beginning journey home.


Situational Awareness.

SOS/Shoe Flag

SOS “Squadron OfficerSchool.”  Professional Military Education (“PME”) that all Air Force captains are required to complete either by correspondence or by attending the “Air University” at Maxwell AFB.  Pilots dread SOS because it forces them to be out of the cockpit for more than a month.  SOS is sometimes called “Shoe Flag.”  “Flags” are generally large-force flying exercises.  Many pilots refer to any non-pilot as a “shoe clerk.”  Thus, SOS is a “Shoe Flag.”

Shoe Clerk

Any non-pilot.


Situation Normal, All F-ed Up.


“Sensitive New Age Pilot.”  Disparaging term often used by old-line fighter pilots to describe newer pilots that they perceive to be overly concerned with political correctness or similar matters.


A direct hit on an air-to-ground target.  The term is used as both a noun and a verb.

Show; Step/Walk

Terms are used to denote times associated with preparation for a flight.  The “show” time is the time at which the aircrew arrives at Base Ops or similar location to commence in earnest the preparation for the flight.  The “step” time for the Air Force or “walk” time for the Navy is the time at which the aircrew plans to walk out the door of Base Ops or otherwise actually go to the aircraft with the intention of flying it.

Sierra Hotel

Phonetic abbreviation for “Sh-t Hot.”  Usually an expression of praise or approval.

Speed of Heat, Warp One

Very, very fast.

Speed Jeans

The G-suit. which applies pressure to the calves, thighs, and lower abdomen to aid in preventing blackout during high-G maneuvering.

Stick-Throttle Interconnect



Turn off equipment indicated.


In air-to-air engagements, target destroyed.  In air-to-ground engagements, weapons impact.


1. Equipment indicated is operating efficiently.  2. Valid response to an administrative IFF check. Opposite of SOUR.


1. Equipment indicated is operating inefficiently.  2. Invalid response to an administrative IFF check.  Opposite of SWEET.


Temporary Duty.  In the Air Force a temporary deployment to another location.


TALLY:  Sighting of a target, bandit, bogey, or enemy position; opposite of NO JOY.;

NO JOY:  Aircrew does not have visual contact with the target/bandit/ landmark. Opposite of TALLY.


Indicates limited situational awareness; NO JOY; BLIND; a request for information.


VISUAL:  Sighting of a friendly aircraft/ground position; opposite of BLIND.

BLIND:  No visual contact with friendly aircraft/ground position. Opposite of VISUAL.

Three-Nine Line

Imaginary line across your airplane’s wingspan. A primary goal in ACM is to keep your adversary in front of your three-nine line.  In airshow and other formation flying, it is very bad manners to fly forward of the three-nine line of any aircraft with a number lower than yours.


An occasionally used derogatory term for non-flight-rated officers.  It’s a reference to their camouflage uniforms.  Less used in the current Air Force because the woodland camouflage has been phased out in favor of the ABU uniform.


Navy term identifying a situation in which the pilot must land on the carrier, refuel in midair, or land ashore.


Undergraduate Pilot Training.  The year-long Air Force initial flight training course.

Voting Member

Early term for F-16 pilots.  The term refers to the fact that the pilot’s inputs are an important source of control movements, but not the only source. Several onboard computers also vote and the control results aren’t always what the pilot commanded.

Vulture’s Row

A viewing gallery on an aircraft carrier’s island where you can watch flight operations.



So that’s in for the second episode of the Airspeed LPA.  I’m sure that I’ve omitted your favorite expression.  And I’m sure that I’ve gotten at least some of the information wrong.  You can save your hate mail and vent your spleen in the comments section.  With any luck, we’ll end up turning the comment thread into a really long one like we did with the “You Might Be a Pilot” episode.


About Steve Tupper

Stephen Force is the superhero alter ego of mild-mannered tech and aviation lawyer, commercial pilot (glider, with private privileges in ASEL, ASES, AMEL, IA, and DC-3 (SIC) type-rated), and Civil Air Patrol lieutenant colonel Steve Tupper. Steve writes, records, and brings you the inside story about everything that really matters in aviation. He's flown with the USAF Thunderbirds, he's and airshow performer and air boss, and he's one of only five pilots ever to earn a FAST card in the glider category. Follow Steve's ongoing quest to do all that is cool in aviation at or on Twitter as @StephenForce.


  1. “Red-Ball”

    Maintenance action, jet has a system failure between start-up and launch. Typically handled at EOR (End of Runway). Red ball team troubleshoots, pops panels, swaps parts and the jet is GTG (good to go).

    Note: this is not formally documented anywhere in any Air Force directives, but is carried out everyday!

  2. My sister is in the Marine Corps. She is currently studying at the US Naval War College. In the course of her studies she came across the brevity code “Judy”. Since this is my name she finds it amusing. (So do I since I rarely shut up)
    I thought that I would look it up and somewhere find a picture of some guy’s wife that would never shut up. Or at least something that explains the origin of the term. I would really like to learn the origin. If you can help me out or forward me to someone that can I would appreciate it.

  3. This episode really made me smile. It brought back lots of memories from my Chinook days in the army, where the pickle is the hand switch held by the crew chief during a sling load. All while lying with his head out the center cargo door on the floor. Love the podcast, cant wait to see Acrocamp. Working on my instrument right now. Keep the good stuff up.

  4. Steve

    Great episode (as always). Really enjoyed it. Thanks, Pieter

  5. I thoroughly enjoy every podcast! Heard this one and thought I’d expound on one of the terms: I’ve also heard NFO as Naval Flight Officers (NFOs) which in the Navy and Marine Corps operate the advanced weapons and electronic systems on board F/A-18 Hornets and EA-6B Prowlers. The division of labor between the pilot and the NFO allows the pilot to focus on flying the aircraft and the NFO to focus on the weapons systems.

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