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Fighter Pilot Speak

This "dictionary" of terms is meant to provide the information necessary to translate fighter pilot slang and jargon; it's a Rosetta stone to fighter pilot "lingo," if you will.  There is some language on this page that should not be repeated or may otherwise be inappropriate.  They are here only so that you can interpret fighter pilot terminology.  Some relevant non-fighter pilot terms are also included.

Ever wonder why you hear a fighter pilot say "cranium" or "skull" instead of "head?"  For insight as to why fighter pilots sometimes use "abnormal" words in an "normal" way, read here.

For information on specific aircraft, reference the aircraft page.

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Index

A B C D E
AAA
AEF
AFSC
Afterburner
AIB
ALO
AMRAAM
AWACS
Balls to the Wall
Bandit
Base X
B-Course
Beans
BFM
Bingo
Bitching Betty
Black Box
B-LOC
Bogey
BVR

B-word
Callsign
CAS
Centrifuge
CGOC
Chaff
Checkride
Check Six
Chick
Code 3
Coin
Crew Chief
CRM/FRM
Dash-1
Dead Bug
DNIF
Dollar Ride
Doofer Book
Dos Gringos
ECM
Exposure Suit
F G H I J
FAC
Fag-bag
FAIP
FEB
Fence-In/Out
Flare
Flat-top February

Flight Lead
FNG
FOG
Foul
Fox
Frat
"G"
GIB
G-LOC

Gonk
Go Pills
Gouge
Ground-Pounder
 
HARM
Heavy
Holding Hands
Holy Joe

Hook
Hostile
IFF
IP
 

 

Jeremiah Weed
Joker
K L M N O
KIO Landing Fee
LFE
LGB
Line of Sight

LPA

 
Mach
Magnum
MIL
MOPP
Mort
Mustache March
Mutual Support

 

Naming
No-Go Pills
NVG
O'Club
OPR
Ops Tempo

OTS
P Q R S
PATRIOT
PCS
Pickle
Piddle Pack
Pigs in Space
Poopie Suit
Procedure

Pull Chocks
Punch

Push
Push it Up

 

Queep

 

RCH
Red Flag
Redball
Red X
Remote
Rifle
RMO
ROE
ROTC

RTB
SAM
Sandbag
Scud
SEAD
SERE
Shack
Shoe Clerk
Shoe Flag
Short
Short Hairs
SIB
Sideburn September
Sidewinder
SIE
Sierra Hotel
Situational Awareness
SNAFU
SNAP
SOS
"So to Speak"
Spatial "D"

Step
T U W X Y
TACAN
Tango Uniform
TCN
TDY
Technique

Tree
Triple A
Tumbleweed
UAV
UCAV
UPT
USAFA
Washed Out
Wingman
WOM
WSO

WTFO
  YGBSM
Y Z
  Zipper-suited Sun God
 
     

   
A [Return to Index]
AAA "Anti-aircraft artillery."  Pronounced "Triple A."  Explosive rounds fired from cannons as a defense against aircraft.  Some guns are radar-guided, others are simply sprayed into the air.
 
AEF "Air Expeditionary Force."  The current means by which the USAF combines its fighters, tankers, bombers, airlift, etc., into a total force for deployment.  See article and explanation of TDYs.
 
AFSC "Air Force Specialty Code."  The alpha numeric system by which the Air Force designates career fields.  For example, the basic fighter pilot AFSC is "11F"; other specialties and qualifiers can make the AFSC longer.  An 11F1 is a pilot in training, while an 11F3 is a fully qualified fighter pilot, and a K11F3 is an instructor pilot.  A list of basic AFSCs can be found here.
 
Afterburner Combustion in a jet engine that occurs after the primary sequence.  Afterburners generally generate significant thrust at the cost of large quantities of fuel.  Known as "reheat" to our English friends.
 
AIB "Accident Investigation Board."  A team of officers and specialists assigned to investigate an aircraft accident with the intent of assigning blame.  Compare with SIB.
 
ALO "Air Liaison Officer."  A pilot who is temporarily removed from flying and is assigned to work with Army units to coordinate Army/Air Force operations, particularly within close range to Army units on the ground.  One of several potential assignments a fighter pilot might receive.  See the Air Force Assignment System portion of the article on God's Will.
 
AMRAAM "Advanced Medium-Range Air to Air Missile."  The AIM-120 is a radar-guided launch and leave missile primarily used for BVR engagements.
 
AWACS "Airborne Warning and Control System."  A modified 707, the E-3 Sentry serves primarily as an airborne controller by coordinating friendly aircraft operations.  AWACS also assists fighters with the location and engagement of enemy aircraft.  See the aircraft page for links to Air Force fact pages.
 

B[Return to Index]

Balls to the Wall To go as fast as possible; max effort.  Various internet sources claim the source of this phrase is actually benign.  Supposedly, some vehicle's throttles were topped by a ball (going back before aviation even to the steam engine, in some stories).  Thus, pushing the throttle forward as far as it would go--and thus asking for maximum power--was "balls to the wall."

It doesn't matter if the stories are true or not.  In fighter parlance, anything that sounds remotely like an illicit bodily reference is a popular idiom.
 
Bandit An aircraft that is likely, though not definitely, an adversary.  Often used loosely to describe any adversary, even in non-flying scenarios.  It fails to meet the criteria that would make it a Bogey or Hostile.
 
Base X A phenomenon in the Air Force where members cannot help but tell everyone about how good it was at some other base at which they were assigned.  For example, "At Base X, we used to do it this way...."  See the relevant article.
 
B-Course Basic Course.  The introductory training course for a specific fighter aircraft.  I.e., the F-16 B-course or the F-15 B-course.
 
Beans Slang for the BDU-33, a 20lb training bomb.
 
BFM "Basic Fighter Maneuvers."  The 1v1 aircraft combat most commonly known as "dog-fighting," intended to teach gunnery and short range missile skills.
 
Bingo The pre-briefed fuel state at which an aircraft needs to begin its return to base in order to land with the pre-planned fuel.  Also used jokingly; ie, being "bingo TP" may mean someone is almost out of toilet paper.  See Joker.
 
Bitching Betty The automated female voice that provides audible in-cockpit warnings in some fighter aircraft.  "Bob" replaces "Betty" in a male voice in some aircraft.  See an external related article.  Also a derogatory term for a person who complains or talks too much.
 
Black Box Literally, the data recorder that contains the computer memory and records all aspects of a flight, most often used in post-crash analysis.

Figuratively, anything a fighter pilot doesn't understand the operation of (and doesn't care about).  Synonymous with black magic, Magic 8 ball, or thermos (i.e., how does a thermos know to keep hot things hot and cold things cold?).
 

B-LOC "Boredom-induced Loss of Consciousness."  Pronounced "Bee-Lock," the term is a play on G-LOC and may briefed as a "threat" in terribly non-entertaining or repetitive situations.
 
Bogey An aircraft that is unidentified.  The aircraft must be identified by some means, visual or electronic, before action can be taken. See Bandit, Hostile.
 
BVR "Beyond Visual Range."  The ability to engage an enemy aircraft prior to being able to see him.
 
B-Word What an F-15C pilot calls a "bomb," since talking about Air-to-Ground is taboo in the Eagle community.
 

C[Return to Index]

Callsign Flight:  An airborne aircraft uses a "callsign" as an identifier when talking to the controllers.  This is generally a word and number combination.  For example, "Killer 01."  If Killer was a flight of four aircraft, the flight members would be numbered in succession; ie, 01, 02, 03, 04.

Pilot
:  A pilot's "tactical nickname."  In the Air Force, these names are "given" during a Naming. See the article on one fighter pilot's naming.
 
CAS "Close Air Support."  Attacking ground targets in close proximity to friendly ground units.
 
Centrifuge A device with a simulated cockpit on the end of a long arm that spins at extraordinary speed, allowing a pilot to experience controlled "G" forces. 
 
CGOC "Company Grade Officer's Council."  A committee of Air Force officers of the ranks Captain and lower.
 
Chaff A defensive device (essentially a bundle of shredded foil) that is dispensed from a fighter that desires to confuse an enemy radar.  As a verb, to "chaff" something off means to try to deflect it (to someone else), particularly when it comes to undesirable duties.  Often used in concert with flares.
 
Checkride An evaluation sortie.  A flight that is graded by an evaluator.  In training, these rides determine the ability to progress to further stages of training.  In an operational Air Force unit, checkrides are given approximately every 18 months to grade a pilot's ability to safely fly the aircraft and accomplish the mission.
 
Check Six A reminder to look behind you.  In an aircraft, 12 o'clock is directly in front of you, 3 o'clock is on your right, 9 is on your left, and 6 o'clock is directly behind you.  Often used as parting words (the equivalent of "good luck"), or as a "watch your back."  See the mutual support section of the article on spiritual requisites.
 
Chick An air refueling receiver.  A tanker that is giving gas to receivers is said to have "chicks in tow." 

The term's application to females has fallen out of favor due to political correctness.  In order to fight that politically correct perception, female pilots often refer to themselves as "chicks."  See the Chick Fighter Pilot Association.
 

Code 3 An aircraft condition.  If a jet is "Code 3," it requires maintenance action before it is safe or useful for another flight.  A "Code 2" jet needs maintenance but can continue to fly.  A "Code 1" jet is in perfect working order.  These codes are often applied to more than just jets.  That is, a pilot that is so sick he's on bed rest might facetiously call himself "Code 3."
 
Coin A unit medallion, often called an "RMO." The tradition of the unit coin is listed on virtually every vendor website in identical form.  (Notably, they all use the word "scion" to describe some well-to-do early fighter pilots; a generic summary can be seen here.)  Most websites did not credit the history, but some did list a Kelly Air Force dining out presentation as the source text.  I could find no original documentation.  See Fighter Pilot Traditions.
 
Crew Chief The enlisted person in charge of a particular airplane.  Just as a pilot often gets to have his name painted on the side of an aircraft, so does the crew chief who "owns" that jet.  Read about the relationships between fighter pilots and crew chiefs in the Enlisted section of the article on People and Relationships.
 
CRM/FRM "Crew/Fighter Resource Management."  A teamwork concept in which all participants are encouraged to call on the knowledge and experience of the other players.  C/FRM is explained slightly here.
 

D[Return to Index]

Dash-1 A reference to an aircraft's parent regulation.  The Dash-1 contains all the normal operation and emergency procedures required to safely operate the aircraft and is the final authority as to the official limits of the aircraft.
 
Dead Bug A fighter pilot drinking game.  See Fighter Pilot Traditions.
 
DNIF "Duties Not Including Flying."  The medical status of a pilot who is too sick to fly but can still perform other duties, as determined by the flight surgeon. 
 
Dollar Ride The first sortie of pilot training; sometimes applied to the first sortie of any formal flying training program in a new aircraft.
 
Doofer Book A running compilation of the missteps of the members of the squadron. They are most interesting when kept during deployments and often become a unique collection of history (and often humor) for a unit.

Generally, there are few rules, either about content or language—the only criterion is that the story must be at least 10% true. Doofer books have largely fallen victim to political sensitivity. See the relevant section of this article.
 
Dos Gringos A duo of F-16 pilots who revived the tradition of fighter pilot songs. See the FAQ, article on Fighter Pilot Songs.  Their website is located here.
 

E[Return to Index]

ECM "Electronic Counter Measures."  A means of attempting to confuse enemy radars.  Some fighter aircraft carry an ECM device internally, while others carry an external ECM pod.
 
Exposure Suit Rubber suit worn during over water operations when the water temperature is dangerously low.  Should a fighter pilot be required to eject, the suit is designed to increase his chances of survival in otherwise near-fatal water temperatures. Often called a "poopie suit," a reference to the fact that if you have to defecate, there isn't much you can do about it.
 

F[Return to Index]

FAC "Forward Air Controller."  In general, an Army or Marine on the ground who directs an airborne aircraft's attack runs in support of front line units.  A "FAC-A," or airborne FAC, is a pilot in another aircraft conducting the same mission.
 
Fag-bag A cloth bag that some pilots use to carry classified media to the aircraft.  So called because it resembles a "handbag," and any man that carries a purse...
 
FAIP "First Assignment Instructor Pilot."  A pilot who graduates from pilot training whose first assignment is to return to pilot training as an instructor.  One of several potential assignments a new pilot might receive.  See the Pilot Training section of the article on God's Will.
 
FEB "Flying Evaluation Board."  A committee of officers to which a pilot is referred if someone questions his ability to continue safely flying.  An FEB can take away a pilot's wings.
 
Fence-In/Out The procedure by which a fighter pilot sets his cockpit switches in order to prepare for combat.  When he "crosses the fence," he "fences in" and sets his switches to the appropriate mode.  He "fences out" when leaving.
 
Flare A defensive device expended by an aircraft in order to decoy heat-seeking missiles.  Often used in concert with chaff.
 
Flat-top February Fighter pilots get their hair cut in high and tight fashion for this annual event.  See Fighter Pilot Traditions.
 
Flight Lead The first aircraft in a formation; the experienced pilot in the formation primarily responsible for accomplishing the mission and leading his wingman.
 
FNG "(Expletive) New Guy."  The "nickname" given to pilots who are new to a squadron and have not yet received a callsign.
 
FOG "(Expletive) Old Guy."  Reference to those of ranks Major and above.
 
Foul Used similar to its sports origins, a pilot commits a "foul" when he violates protocol on a air to ground bombing range.  The range controller transmits, "Foul, 2," to let #2 know he committed the error.  Also used generically to express discontent with another's actions.
 
Fox Code word (slang term) indicating a certain type of air-to-air missile has been fired; the type is designated by number:
    "Fox 1" = semi-active radar missile (AIM-7 Sparrow)
    "Fox 2" = heat-seeking missile (AIM-9 Sidewinder)
    "Fox 3" = active radar missile (AIM-120 AMRAAM)
    "Fox 4" = facetious reference to missile shot; for example, if someone claimed to shoot a missile in an impossible situation, he might be accused of shooting a non-existent "top secret" missile requiring a "Fox 4" call.  Also jokingly used when an aircraft is brought down by something other than a missile; for example, a midair collision.
  Occasionally fighter pilots will simply say "Fox."
 
Frat Flight: Short for fratricide, which is the killing of a friendly by a friendly (blue on blue) whether on the ground or in the air.

Military: Short for fraternization, which is an inappropriate relationship between military members of unequal ranks.  Generally refers to unprofessional officer / enlisted relationships.
 
   

G[Return to Index]

"G" Literally, gravity.  Under one G, a pilot is in level flight and feels his normal weight.  Some fighter aircraft are capable of up to 9 Gs.  See centrifuge.
 
GIB "Guy in Back."  A reference to the backseater in two-place aircraft.
 
G-LOC "G-induced Loss of Consciousness," pronounced "gee lock."  A black out caused by the loss of blood flow to the brain experienced by fighter pilots when under high-G conditions.  See centrifuge.  See also B-LOC.
 
Gonk Currency of the foreign country in which a fighter pilot is deployed.  Doesn't matter which one; they all use gonk.
 
Go Pills An amphetamine pill prescribed by a flight surgeon for a pilot.  The pill is intended to provide the benefits of caffeine without the side effects (diuretic, jitters).  Because of the pill's similarity to illegal drugs, they are highly controlled and sometimes politically controversial.
 
Gouge A collection of questions, answers, data, and hints; the "inside scoop."  At one time, particularly in pilot training, to have test "gouge" meant simply to have a copy of the test ahead of time.  Testing scandals have reduced the occurrence of that type of gouge.  Generically, it just means helpful data, whether academic or otherwise; i.e., "do you have any good gouge on how to...?"  Sometimes synonymous with "poop."  See the article on the Ethics of Gouge.
 
Ground-Pounder Slang for Army troops; when used to refer to Air Force members, it is a derogatory term for non-aviators.
 

H[Return to Index]

HARM "High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile."  A supersonic missile designed to home in on and destroy enemy ground radars.  See the description of HARMs in the article on OIF.
 
Heavy A non-fighter aircraft.
 
Holding Hands In close formation.  Two fighters that are in a close formation are said to be "holding hands."  Often used to let Air Traffic Control know that the formation has rejoined and can be treated as a single entity.
 
Holy Joe Antiquated slang for chaplain.  Also, an overly pious or sanctimonious person.
 
Hook To fail an upgrade flight.  So called because of the hook-shaped "U" of "Unsatisfactory" that constitutes the grade of such a ride.
 
Hostile A targeted aircraft that has been positively identified as belonging to the adversary, and most often meaning friendlies are authorized to engage with force.  See Bandit, Bogey.

I[Return to Index]

IFF Avionics: "Identification Friend or Foe."  An electronic means of identifying aircraft.
 
  Flying training: "Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals."  Flown in the AT-38B, this is the last flying course a fighter pilot attends before going on to the B-Course for his operational Major Weapons System.
 
IP "Instructor Pilot."  A pilot with the qualifications to teach another.
 

J[Return to Index]

Jeremiah Weed A 100 proof liquor that is often the "traditional" drink of choice for fighter pilots.  There is an interesting description of Weed on Wikipedia, and the "true story" of how it came to be a fighter pilot icon is quoted here.
 
Joker Pre-briefed fuel state above bingo at which maneuvering should be terminated or separation/bug-out begun.  Joker may be understood as a 'pad' above bingo that allows for a certain amount of maneuvering before finally reaching bingo.
 

K[Return to Index]

KIO "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 "stops the war."  Sometimes used in non-flying scenarios to direct another pilot to stop messing around.
 

L[Return to Index]

Landing Fee Based on the practice of charging pilots for landing an aircraft at an airport, a "landing fee" is charged to a pilot arriving at a new assignment.  The fee most often ostensibly covers the costs of things like squadron T-shirts, unit-colored name tags, and plaques or lithos that the pilot will receive when he leaves.  The fee can be nominal and logical, but in many cases is simply based on the unit's number (i.e., a $137 landing fee for becoming a member of the 37th Fighter Squadron).
 
LFE "Large Force Exercise."  A gathering of a large number of aircraft, often from different countries, to participate in a single simulated "war."  Read about some LFEs here.
 
LGB "Laser Guided Bomb."  Free fall ordnance with a laser-seeker on the front that allows the bomb to be guided with impressive precision.
 
Line of Sight The ability to have an unimpeded view of the objective. 
 
LPA "Lieutenant Protection Association."  The unofficial organization of Lieutenants (the youngest officer grade in the Air Force).
 
   

M[Return to Index]

Mach A unit of speed relative to the Speed of Sound.  A Mach number of 1.0 is equal to the speed of sound.  Most modern fighters maximum speeds are in the vicinity of 2.0 M.  Because the speed of sound depends on multiple variables, it does not translate directly into a fixed "mile per hour" value.
 
Magnum Code word (slang term) indicating an AGM-88 HARM (air-to-ground missile) has been fired.
 
MIL "Military" (also known as "dry") power, it is the maximum non-afterburner setting of a jet engine.
 
MOPP "Mission Oriented Protective Posture."  A level of chemical defensive gear that must be worn, with a scale of 1 to 4.  MOPP 0 indicates that chem gear must be nearby; MOPP 4 indicates that overgarments, boots, gloves, and a gas mask must be worn.
 
Mort Synonym for dead, die, kill.  A pilot who is killed during a dogfight is a "mort."  When going into a dangerous situation, a pilot may be told "don't mort yourself."
 
Mustache March
 
Fighter pilots will often grow mustaches during the annual event.  See Fighter Pilot Traditions.
 
Mutual Support The ability of a pilot and his wingman to provide support for each other.  Visual mutual support indicates that two fighters can see each other and is the most desirable.  Detached mutual support indicates the fighters are separated but have awareness as to the other's location.  See the Mutual Support section of the article on fighter pilot spiritual requisites.
 

N[Return to Index]

Naming A traditional fighter pilot event at which young fighter pilots are assigned their callsigns.  See the topic of Namings in the article on Fighter Pilot Traditions.
 
No-Go Pills Sleeping pills provided by a flight surgeon.  They are often given to pilots to adjust their diurnal cycle after having deployed over several time zones or when they need to transition from day pilots to night pilots (or vice versa).
 
NVG "Night Vision Goggles."  Binocular type devices that attach to the helmet that allow a fighter pilot increased vision during night operations.
 

O[Return to Index]

O'Club The Officers' Club.  A social gathering place restricted to officer use, generally consisting of bars, restaurants, and auditorium/ball rooms.  Officers are "highly encouraged," though not required, to become members of the Officers' Club.  See the Article on People and Relationships for more information.
 
OPR "Officer Performance Report."  In the Air Force, an annual report on the professional performance of an officer.  See a description of "typical" OPRs in the article on Paperwork and Reality.
 
Ops Tempo Operations Tempo.  A means of describing the pace of operations at a particular base.  Ie, a "high ops tempo" indicates that there are continuous mission demands that tend to keep everyone busy.  See the impact of Ops Tempo in the article on Christian Fighter Pilot Priorities.
 
OTS "Officer Training 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.
 

P[Return to Index]

PATRIOT "Phased Array Tracking Intercept of Target."  A US air defense system designed to protect against enemy ballistic missiles and aircraft.  It gained fame for its performance in the Gulf War in protecting Israel and Allied forces against Iraqi SCUDs.  It gained notoriety for its ability to shoot down friendly aircraft in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (see the article on OIF).
 
PCS "Permanent Change of Station."  A USAF move from one base to another.
 
Pickle To expend ordnance.  To "pickle" a bomb or "hit the pickle button" means to fire a weapon.  Whenever a pilot pickles missiles or rockets he generally transmits a code word to let others know a missile is in the air.  See Fox, Rifle, Magnum.
 
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.  No, we do not know how female fighter pilots relieve themselves in the jet.
 
Pigs in Space Description of the performance of a fighter aircraft that is heavily loaded with fuel and weapons and at high altitude. Its maneuverability and agility is seriously degraded, causing some fighter pilots to refer to that situation as being a "pig" (poor performance) in "space" (generally at high altitude)
 
Poopie Suit See Exposure Suit.
 
Procedure A step or instruction that must be followed, regardless of the personal opinion of the procedure itself.  See technique.
 
Pull Chocks To depart.  The crew chief "pulls the chocks," which are generally just wooden blocks painted yellow, out from the tires, allowing the aircraft to taxi.  When a pilot is ready to depart (even if its just to go home), he may say he's "pulling chocks."  Sometimes synonymous with "punch."
 
Punch To "punch out" is to eject.  Sometimes used for other purposes that indicate a final departure.  Someone who is going home for the evening may "punch out" (or "pull chocks").
 
Push Flight: To depart a point; the time and place from which a fighter formation leaves its holding pattern and begins its planned route.  Also used generically; for example, when TDY, fighter pilots may plan a "push time" from the hotel front desk to head to the flight line.
 
  Ground: Something that is neither good nor bad, neither a win nor a loss; a tie.  Often represented by a "o" as opposed to a "+" or "-".
 
Push it Up In aviation, “pushing it up” refers to increasing the throttle setting; e.g., pushing the throttle up.  In the fighter pilot world, the phrase refers to a night of partying and heavy drinking.  See the Friday night event section of the article on Christian Fighter Pilot Participation.
 

Q[Return to Index]

Queep A term that is used to describe paperwork, reports, and other "extraneous" duties that keep a pilot out of the cockpit.
 

R[Return to Index]

RCH "Red Cunt Hair."  A vulgar, sexual reference to an infinitesimal unit of measure; to be within an RCH is to be immeasurably close.
 
Red Flag A Large Force Exercise that "simulates" combat for hundreds of aircraft in a single engagement.  The event is hosted at Nellis AFB in Nevada.
 
Redball A request for maintenance response, generally when a pilot is starting up an aircraft to go on a mission.  I.e., if a pilot has a radar problem, he will call "Redball, radar," on the radio, which is a request for radar specialists.
 
Red X A maintenance condition in which a jet is unsafe for flight.  Maintenance must be performed to remove the Red X before the jet can fly again.  A "slash" or "dash" are other lesser degrees of required maintenance action which allow an aircraft to continue flying until the condition is fixed later.  A Red X is a Code 3 condition.
 
Remote A type of tour to a "remote" location, which may include Greenland, the Middle East, Korea, or others.  Remotes are generally one year long.  Family members are generally required to stay in the states while a pilot goes remote.  See the relevant article.
 
Rifle Code word (slang term) indicating an AGM-65 Maverick (air-to-ground missile) has been fired.
 
RMO "Round Metal Object."  See Coin.
 
ROE "Rules of Engagement."  The regulations that govern a particular scenario.  There may be ROE specific to an event, a theatre, a battle, or a war.  The ROE are intended to deconflict friendly assets, prevent fratricide, minimize risk, and maximize efficiency.  Deviations from ROE can result in a pilot being rewarded, grounded, or court-martialed, depending on the outcome.
 
ROTC "Reserve Officer Training Corps."  A college level training program put on by each of the services.  Depending on the program, an ROTC cadet's college expenses may be partially or completely paid for.  If a cadet does accept such aid, he generally has a four or five year commitment to serve on active duty as an officer.
 
RTB "Return to Base."  Radio call indicating aircraft is beginning journey home.
 

S[Return to Index]

SAM "Surface to Air Missile."  An air defensive system that can be as benign as a shoulder-launched heat-seeking missile or as aggressive as a long-range radar-guided missile designed to bring down enemy aircraft.  Read about SAMs in the article on OIF.
 
Sandbag To "ride along" in the backseat of the two-seat version of a fighter, so called because single-seat fighter pilots generally don't like backseaters and sometimes view them as nothing more than extra weight.
 
Scud A theatre ballistic missile.  The name was popularized for the Soviet-made surface-to-surface missiles that are common in former Communist-allied countries.
 
SEAD "Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses."  A fighter mission that intends to suppress SAMs in order to support other fighter missions.  Read a short bit about SEAD here.
 
SERE "Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape."  Training for pilots and other specialties that teaches them how to survive in harsh conditions, evade the enemy, resist the enemy if captured, and escape from the enemy.
 
Shack Term used when a fighter pilot drops a bomb and makes a direct hit on a ground target; a bullseye.
 
Shelf Check Browsing at the local military exchange.  So called particularly during deployments to austere locations, where people often go to the BX/PX to see what's for sale not because they need something, but because it's "something to do."
 
Shoe Clerk A pejorative term sometimes used by pilots to describe non-aviators. It is generally reserved for those who attempt to assert the importance of their non-flying expertise in order to assume an air of superiority over an Air Force aviator.
Shoe Flag A play on words, since "Flags" are generally large force flying exercises; a derogatory term for SOS.  So called because of the apparent importance of SOS to non-fliers and its sometimes nuisance nature to the flying community.
 
Short A term that describes a person who has little time remaining either until they PCS, separate, or retire.
 
Short Hairs A (vulgar sexual) reference to being in something's final or closing stages.  "To be in the..."  is to essentially be "at the last minute."
 
SIB "Safety Investigation Board."  A team of officers and specialists assigned to investigate an aircraft incident.  An SIB looks only to determine cause to prevent future mishaps, it does not look to assign blame.  If the Air Force believes a criminal or otherwise negligent act may be the cause, it may stand up an AIB.
 
Sideburn September Fighter pilots will often let their sideburns grow to the regulation limit during the annual event.  See Fighter Pilot Traditions.
 
Sidewinder AIM-9.  A heat seeking missile carried by US, western, and some allied nations' fighters.
 
SIE "Self-Initiated Elimination."  Withdrawing from a training program, particularly pilot training.  See the article on pilot training.
 
Sierra Hotel Phonetic pronunciation of "S.H.," which stands for "(Expletive) Hot."  An exclamation that something is good, particularly in reference to a fighter pilot or flying skills.
 
Situational Awareness "SA."  The ability to know and understand what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen, as well as where you are in time and space.  By the time loss of SA is recognized, it has been gone for some time.
 
SNAFU "Situation Normal, All (Expletive) Up."
 
SNAP "Sensitive New Age Pilot."  Disparaging term often used by "old" fighter pilots to describe the personalities of the younger "kinder, gentler" pilots.  Often generically used to describe any thin-skinned, hypersensitive, or easily offended person.  Political correctness is the epitome of a "SNAP."
 
SOS "Squadron Officers School;" 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.  Attending SOS is often a "prized opportunity" in the non-flying community.  For aviators it is often dreaded because it forces them to be out of the cockpit for more than a month.  See Shoe Flag.
 
"So to Speak" A fighter pilot expression that follows any phrase that may, in some way, be construed as a double entendre.  See the relevant section of the article on "Christian Fighter Pilot Living."
 
Spatial "D" "Spatial Disorientation."  A loss of correct understanding as to which direction is up, down, left, or right.  Often occurs in clouds or at night, when a horizon is not discernible.  The condition, when unrecognized, has resulted in the deaths of several pilots.  It is often corrected by simply referencing the aircraft instruments, though it can be incapacitating.  See a short description of Spatial D in the article on God's Will.
 
Step Though there may be slight variations from unit to unit, in general, a fighter pilot "steps" to his aircraft from the Operations Desk.  The "step time" is the time that the pilot and any wingmen he may have with him depart the building for the aircraft or flightline.  The Navy uses the term "walk."  By setting a step time, everybody gets on the same schedule from that point forward.
 
   

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TACAN "Tactical Air Navigation system."  A beacon by which pilots can navigate.  See the article on TDYs about the "Two TACAN Rule."
 
Tango Uniform Phonetic pronunciation of "T.U."  Literally, "tits up."  Something that is "Tango Uniform" is dead, inoperative, broken, or otherwise malfunctioning.
 
TCN "Third Country National."  A foreign national who is contracted to work on US military bases in the combat theatre who is not from the host nation.  See the article on Chaplains and their interactions with TCNs.
 
TDY "Temporary Duty."  In the Air Force, a short, temporary deployment to another location.  See the article on TDYs and the related FAQ.
 
Technique A method that has been determined to be successful, but is not required to be done.  See procedure.
 
Tree An occasionally used derogatory term for non-rated officers; a reference to their jungle camouflage uniform.  See zipper-suited sun god.
 
Tumbleweed A phrase indicating that a pilot has a complete loss of situational awareness.  Often occurs when a wingman is so confused that all he can do is stay visual with his flight lead and hope he'll eventually figure out what's going on.  Utterly confused, clueless.  Sometimes generically used to describe people who have no idea what's going on.  If someone is describing a difficult concept (or just poorly explaining it), a pilot may say "I'm tumbleweed, can you explain that again?"
 

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UAV "Unmanned Aerial Vehicle," sometimes "Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle" or "Unmanned Aerial System (UAS)." A remote controlled aircraft that is directed by a pilot sitting at a console.  Piloting a UAV is one of several potential assignments a fighter pilot might receive.  See the Air Force Assignment System portion of the article on God's Will.
 
UPT "Undergraduate Pilot Training."  The year-long Air Force initial flight training course.  Read about one pilot's UPT experience here.
 
UCAV "Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle," sometimes "Uninhabited Combat Aerial Vehicle." A UAV that is capable of carrying weapons.
 
USAFA United States Air Force Academy, located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Sometimes jokingly called the "Colorado School for Boys" or "that little engineering school in the Rockies."
 

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Washed Out To be eliminated or removed from training
 
Wingman The second or fourth pilot in a formation whose primary responsibility is to support his flight lead.  Generally inexperienced; qualified to employ the aircraft, but not qualified to lead another pilot in a formation.  Generically, any pilot who supports another.
 
WOM "Word of Mouth."  A WOM is generally an action or "rule" that is consistently quoted but no one can find any regulation to support.  It often occurs when someone quotes something as "fact," no one confirms it, but everyone accepts it.  Eventually someone questions it--when they discover there is no basis for it, they realize it's just a WOM.
 
WSO "Weapons System Officer."  The Air Force equivalent of the Navy Radar Intercept Officer (RIO).  In the F-15E, the backseater who is responsible for air to ground weapons employment.
 
WTFO "What the (expletive), over?"  A questioning expression of shock or surprise, as in "What's the deal with this, over?"
 

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YGBSM "You've Gotta Be Sh_tting Me."  A term of shock, disbelief, or resignation at a realization of institutional stupidity that originated with the invention of the Wild Weasel role, in which aircraft would bait SAMs on-air in order to destroy them.

See the relevant article.
 

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Zipper-suited Sun god A derogatory term for fighter pilots, referring to their zipper-front flight suits and arrogant personalities.  See Tree.
 
   
     

Last Updated: 05/29/2014
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