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.

f22
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 highest-scoring F-14 Tomcat pilot ever set his record while flying for Iran

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Iranian F-14 fighter jets fly during the annual Army Day military parade in Tehran, April 17, 2012.

  • Jalil Zandi joined the Iranian Air Force when it was still the Imperial Iranian Air Force and the country was close to the US.
  • The Iranian Revolution changed that political relationship, but the Iran-Iraq war soon followed, meaning pilots like Zandi were badly needed.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Jalil Zandi’s Air Force legend almost never made it off the ground. He joined the Iranian Air Force when it was still the Imperial Iranian Air Force, under Shah Reza Pahlavi.

After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Zandi stayed blue – a risky move at a time when Iranian military officers were being executed for doing their duty to one’s country.

But fighter pilots need to be bold and take risks. Zandi did spend some time in a prison cell, sentenced to 10 years for … whatever. Does it matter?

In September 1980 – less than a year after the revolution in Iran – Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi troops invaded Iran, whose military was woefully undermanned.

So Zandi was back in the pilot’s seat within six months.

Jalil Z f 14

It was a good thing too. Then-Maj. Zandi had some serious skills at the controls of his F-14 Tomcat.

Forget what you think about the governments of Iran and Iraq in this time period, you have to admire a pilot who fought Iraqis in the skies for eight straight years to keep them from shooting chemical weapons at playgrounds.

Zandi survived the brutal eight-year-long war, and according to the US Air Force’s intelligence assessments, he took down 11 Iraqi aircraft – four MiG-23s, two Su-22s, two MiG-21s, and three Mirage F-1s.

His last engagement of the war saw him go up against eight enemy Mirage F1s over Iraq in 1988. He scored two unconfirmed kills but was badly shot up in the dogfight and had to break off. He was able to fly back to his base in Iran and the war ended that very same year.

He received the Order of Fath 2nd Class for his time in the skies over enemy territory. The Fath Medal is one of the highest awards an Iranian military member can receive and is personally presented by the Supreme Leader.

Jalil Zandi’s 11 kills in the F-14 make him the highest-scoring Tomcat pilot ever. Zandi died in a car accident near Tehran in 2001, having reached the rank of brigadier general.

The F-14 was retired from the US military arsenal in 2006 but is still in use in Iran.

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How video games can actually make you a better fighter pilot, according to a fighter pilot

Air Force Mike Holmes Twitch video games
Air Force Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, flying a F-15, plays his son, 1st Lt. Wade Holmes, flying an F-16, in an air combat video game.

  • Much of the training fighter pilots do takes place in a flight simulator, which is much like a video game.
  • That means video games, in moderation, can help with processing the information and making the quick decisions pilots need to make, according to Justin Lee, an active-duty F-35A pilot.
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Does playing video games and desktop simulators, such as Microsoft Flight Sim, prepare you to become a fighter pilot?

As a fighter pilot, much of our training takes place in a simulator, which is the ultimate video game. Stepping into these rooms, you’re dwarfed by a giant sphere that projects a 360-degree view of your surroundings.

After climbing into an exact replica of the cockpit, a motor then pushes you into the middle of the sphere and it’s fights on – you’re anywhere in the world with any weapons you want and adversaries that can be dialed-up in difficulty as needed. And it’s not just you in there, other pilots are in their own pods fighting alongside you on the same virtual battlefield.

Flying a modern fighter is difficult – these machines are designed to merge man and machine into a lethal combination that can have a strategic level of impact on the battlefield. The stick and throttle alone have dozens of buttons on them.

Most of these buttons can give five or more commands – forward, back, left, right, and down – as well as short pushes and long pushes and multiple master-modes that completely change the function of each button: It’s a PlayStation or X-box controller on steroids.

Air Force pilot T-38 flight simulator
A US Air Force student pilot in a T-38C Talon flight simulator at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, November 8, 2018.

Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, my generation was one of the first to have widespread access to video games. Nintendo, Xbox, PlayStation, N64-I played them all growing up. Using a controller was second nature by the time I got to pilot training.

Now trainers like the T-6 and T-38 don’t have a lot of buttons on the stick and throttle – they’re designed to teach students how to fly. However, the F-16 was a huge jump where we learned not just to fly the aircraft, but to employ it as a weapons system.

There we learned what, at the time, seemed like complex sequences to track targets, launch missiles, and drop bombs.

What I noticed was that my time playing video games allowed me to synthesize information while quickly and accurately passing decisions I made off to the jet. Many of my classmates also played video games growing up and collectively, the feedback we received was that we were a lot more advanced than our instructors were when they were in our position.

Now, a decade later, I can say the next generation, who grew up with smartphones and iPads, have an even greater capacity to process the multiple streams of information coming at them than older pilots like myself. The avionics in jets like the F-35 – which are essentially two large iPads glued together – are second nature to them.

So, to answer the question, do video games help prepare you to become a pilot? The answer is yes, to an extent.

For future fighter pilots out there, I would say a couple of hours a week can help with processing information, making quick decisions, and accurately passing it off to the controls. Anything more is likely a detriment in that it is taking time away from other things you could be working on.

As for the type of video game, it doesn’t matter. Realistic fighter simulators like DCS aren’t any better than Mario Kart: The procedures and tactics in civilian sims are off by enough that it won’t give you an advantage by the time you’re flying the real thing. If it helps stoke the passion, great, that’s the most important trait for success, but not playing them won’t put you at a disadvantage.

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