How to speak like a pilot

In the past, I have written about using pilot lingo in every day communication (see Pilot Speak and I Speak Pilot 2). Communication is critical during any phase of a flight from planning to execution to completion. To enable clear and concise communication, pilots are taught the terminology to use from early days of flight training by their instructors.

Prior to the start of flight, a pilot communicates with  flight service station to obtain  weather information at the origin and destination airport, as well as along the route of flight; reviews NOTAMS and files a flight plan. It was necessary to communicate this verbally with a preflight briefer before the advent of internet and still occasionally be a necessary step when out of reach from online services. Today all this can be achieved  online such as on DUATS or through flight planning software tools, but taxi, clearance, departure instructions from an airport (controlled or otherwise), navigating in en route airspace, arrival clearance at a destination airport all still requires communication either via self announcement or with an air traffic controller.

With practice and experience, every pilot masters the lingo that is necessary for proper and concise communication. Eventually this becomes second nature: you find yourself using the phonetic alphabetic to spell your name; or when you don’t understand something that is being said or you want someone to repeat something, it comes naturally to you to say “Say again?”. You might say aircraft instead of car, hanger for garage, fly instead of drive, all unconsciously and naturally.

I came across an article entitled: How to speak like a pilot in the Business Insider (or the same one entitled: ITAWT ITAWA PUDYE TTATT: The Secret Language of the Skies) in The Atlantic written by Deborah Fallows. It presents an interesting view from a non-pilot’s perspective of this aviation lingo that pilots and ATC use so easily, while it sounds strange it to people disassociated with aviation.

What is entertaining is how different ideas influence and proliferate the choice of names that are used for waypoint and fix naming. Maybe after your mom, sister, girl friend or significant other (e.g. SUSAN), or based on location (e.g. NEWPO over Newport Beach) or context (e.g. WITCH over Salem) or sports themed (e.g. BOSOX near BOS) or presidents (e.g RREGN over Andrews Air Force Base).

In recent times, the fix naming has evolved further into more thematic naming. Don’t be surprised if you fly into DCA using:
FRDMM2 arrival over fixes that proclaim: WEWIL NEVVR FORGT SEP11 or
TRPSS2 arrival over fixes that declare: WEEDU SUPRT OOURR TRPPS

If food is on your mind you might want to fly to Pensacola Naval Airstation via the RNAV GPS RWY 1 approach:

or maybe on a lighter vein you approach Portsmouth International airport via the RNAV GPS RWY 16 approach:

Who said that the FAA doesn’t have a sense of humor?

4 thoughts on “How to speak like a pilot

  1. Camille October 19, 2013 / 2:59 am



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