12/26/2014 07:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Do Fighter Pilots Earn Their Nicknames and Call Signs?

How do fighter pilots typically earn their call signs?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.


Answer by Tim Hibbetts, A-6E and F/A-18C Naval Aviator

Naval aviators aren't allowed to have cool call signs.

If it sounds cool, it's a secondary effect. There are some really cool ways to earn them, though. The main way is usually via your name and if there's a way to make it sexually suggestive, it usually happens (up until about 10 years ago). You can also get it for how you look (large ears can get "Boards," tall can get "Cloud," etc.) The better ones are when you bone up something:

  • Accidentally drop something off your airplane into the water (like a drop tank): "Splash"
  • Fall down while intoxicated: "Thud" or "Timber"
  • Forget to release the parking brake prior to being catapulted off the carrier: "Pops" or "Bam Bam"
  • Hold the brakes so long and hard on landing you wear down the tires and start working on the hubs: "Grinder"
  • Trip over a knee knocker on the carrier and smash your nose: "Face"
  • Snort so your laugh sounds like a horse: "Trigger"
  • Hair turns white in your early 20s: "Ghost" (now that's cool)
  • MAD boom in your S-3 doesn't come back with you to the carrier: "Nomad" (another seemingly cool one)
  • Eject on deck and find your chute has tangled in the ships antennas: "Swinger"
  • We had a nugget who was just magical in the airplane; he could bomb, fight, land like a dream: "Onion" (because he was eye-watering; even then, no cool call sign)
  • Show up mid-cruise, a couple days after combat ops ceased, having lost all of your bags: "DLDS" (day late, dollar short; one of my personal favorites, having dubbed him, and yes, you pronounce it "Dildis")
  • Date the older ladies: "Morc" (master of retired chicks)
  • Your air-refueling hose doesn't retract and you have to land with it out: "Hozer"

The list goes on and on. My call sign is "Dogfood." I'll let you sort it out.

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