23 terms only fighter pilots understand

US Air Force F-35 pilot cockpit
An F-35 student pilot climbs into an F-35 at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, July 7, 2017.

If you’ve ever hung out with military aviators (or watched movies like “Top Gun” or “Iron Eagle”) you know they tend to use a lot of strange lingo when they talk, even when they’re out of the cockpit. Trying to hold a conversation with them can be tough – until now.

WATM presents this handy list of fighter speak that will help keep that social interaction going, which is important because fighter guys have a lot of wisdom to put out and it would be a shame if it got lost in translation.

So here’s the gouge . . . er, here you go:

1. ‘Angels’

Altitude in thousand of feet. (“Angels 3” is 3,000 feet.)

2. ‘Cherubs’

Altitude in hundreds of feet. (“Cherubs 3” is 300 feet.)

3. ‘Bandit’

A known bad guy.

4. ‘Bogey’

An unknown radar contact.

5. ‘Bent’

If a piece of gear is inop it is “bent.” (“Giantkiller, be advised my radar is bent.”)

Air Force fighter pilot
A US airman photographs himself and a three-ship formation of F-15Es, August 3, 2006.

6. ‘Bingo’

Low fuel status or direction to head for the divert field. (“Lobo is bingo fuel,” or “Ghostrider, your signal is bingo.”)

7. ‘Blind’

Wingman not in sight.

8. ‘Delta’

Change to a later time, either minutes or hours depending on the context. (“Delta 10 on your recovery time” means the jet is now scheduled to land 10 minutes later.)

9. ‘Firewall’

Push the throttles to their forward limit. (“I had that bitch firewalled, and I still couldn’t get away from that SAM ring.”)

10. ‘Buster’

Direction to go as fast as possible. (“Diamondback, your signal is buster to mother.”)

Air Force F-22 Alaska
A US Air Force pilot climbs aboard an F-22 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, March 24, 2016.

11. ‘Bug’

Exit a dogfight rapidly. (“Gucci is on the bug.”)

12. ‘Fragged’

An indication that the airplane is loaded weapons-wise according to the mission order. (“Devil 201 is on station as fragged.”)

13. ‘Grape’

A pilot who’s an easy kill in a dogfight.

14. ‘Naked’

Radar warning gear without indication of a missile threat.

15. ‘Punch out’

To eject from an airplane.

A pilot gets situated in his F-22 at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.

16. ‘RTB’

Return to base. (“Big Eye, Eagle 301 is RTB.”)

17. ‘Spiked’

Um, not that “spike.” The real “spiked” is an indication of a missile threat on the radar warning receiver. (“Rooster has an SA-6 spike at three o’clock.”)

18. ‘Tally’

Enemy in sight (as opposed to “visual,” which means friendly in sight). (“Nuke is tally two bandits, four o’clock low.”)

19. ‘Texaco’

Either a label for the tanker or direction to go to the tanker. (“Gypsy, Texaco is at your one o’clock for three miles, level,” or “Gypsy, your signal is Texaco.”)

20. ‘Nose hot/cold’

Usually used around the tanker pattern, an indication that the radar is or isn’t transmitting.

US Air Force Greece
A US Air Force pilot prepares for a mission at Andravida Air Base in Greece, April 1, 2019.

21. ‘Vapes’

The condensation cloud created when an airplane pulls a lot of Gs. (“Man, I came into the break and was vaping like a big dog.”)

22. ‘Visual’

Wingman (or other friendly) in sight (as opposed to “tally,” which means enemy in sight). (“Weezer, you got me?” “Roger, Weezer is visual.”)

23. ‘Winchester’

Out of weapons. (“Tomcat 102 is winchester and RTB.”)

Bonus 1: ‘G-LOC’

“G-induced loss of consciousness.” (Not good when at the controls of a fighter traveling at high speed at low altitude.)

Bonus 2. ‘The Funky Chicken’

“The Funky Chicken” is what aviators call the involuntary movements that happen during G-LOC.

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The Air Force has changed its height standards, opening the door for more women pilots

Zoe Kotnik F-16 Air Force pilot
Capt. Zoe Kotnik clips on her mask in her F-16 prior to a sortie at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, November 2017.

  • The US Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command announced interim changes to height standards for career enlisted aviators.
  • The changes will make those positions available to more recruits entering the enlisted ranks, particularly women, without needing a waiver.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

In keeping with their efforts to improve branch-wide diversity, the US Air Force (USAF) Air Education and Training Command (AETC) announced interim changes to their dated height standards for Career Enlisted Aviators (CEAs).

The updates come as the result of preliminary information gathered from an ongoing anthropometric study that the Air Force began last year.

The study’s aim is to provide the Air Force with current and accurate data on what is physically necessary for specific Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSCs). The revised height restrictions, effective immediately, are seen below:

Air Force height requirements
Air Force interim height standards.

The Air Force announcement will make CEA positions available to a significant portion of recruits entering the enlisted ranks, particularly women, without the need for a waiver.

This comes less than a year after a similar order that removed the requirement for pilots to be over 5’4″ or under 6’5,” the same standard that was applied to enlisted aviation careers.

The Air Force saw the need to update their requirements that were based on a 1967 study that observed almost entirely white male pilots. Much of that old study evaluated the subject’s ability to reach controls while in a seated position, which does reflect operational requirements for many modern CEAs.

“The former policy was not applicable to career enlisted aviators, as the vast majority of CEAs move throughout the aircraft for the duration of the duty day,” said CMSgt Philip Leonard, the Air Force’s CEA career field manager.

The new measure is a boost to the inclusion of women in the armed forces, most notably minority women. Monday’s statement from the AETC cites data from the US National Center for Health Statistics that says 43.5% of US women aged 20-29 (including 74% of African Americans, 72% of Latino Americans and 61% of Asian Americans) are under 64 inches tall. This compares with only 3.7% of American males of the same age.

Air Force F-35 pilot Kristen Wolfe
Capt. Kristin Wolfe, F-35A Demonstration Team pilot, prepares for takeoff at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, February 6, 2020.

The Air Force has approved 87% of the height waivers it has processed since 2015, but many applicants may not be aware of the likelihood that they’ll be approved, or may be discouraged from applying in the first place when they see they don’t meet the requirement, as noted by Stephen Losey of Air Force Times.

Expanding the range for eligibility without a waiver encourages the spirit of diversity the Air Force is setting its sights on.

“We’re really focused on identifying and eliminating barriers to serve in the Air Force,” said Gwendolyn DeFilippi last May. DeFilippi is assistant deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services. “This is a huge win, especially for women and minorities of smaller stature who previously may have assumed they weren’t qualified to join our team.”

35% of Air Force aviator careers are enlisted personnel. The interim revisions open up those fields to a much more diverse pool of candidates.

Women under 5’4″ can now serve without a waiver as in-flight refuelers, flight engineers, flight attendants, aircraft loadmasters, airborne mission systems operators and airborne cryptologic language analysts, among others.

The study that precipitated the shift in policy is expected to be completed by fall of 2022, and should give the Air Force more actionable data to remove unnecessary restrictions on service members of smaller stature.

“We must implement change with a sense of purpose and with the Department of Defense’s strategic position in mind,” added Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, AETC commander. “Enacting this meaningful change ensures the type of agile, lethal and diverse force we need to be.”
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