noted on my Bio page, I spent 9 years in the
US Air Force. I was an Air Weapons Controller
(back then it was called career field 1744).
I thought it might be fun to list some principles
of air control and my experiences in working
with the finest Air Force in the world, for
those with an interest in these things (Or
just WAY too much web surfing time on their
Please note that I have changed the
names of the people to protect their privacy.
The events I list are accurate to the best
of my recollection, although the exact call
signs and such details may vary from those
is a representative sample of a training mission
involving two flights of F-15s conducting simulated
combat. I am controlling one team while another
controller worked with the other flight.
When making a radio call, the first words are
the call sign of who you want to talk to; the
second words are your call sign. Then the message
follows. Numbers are always said phonetically,
so "41" is pronounced "four-one",
rather than "forty-one". The exception
is for ranges, which are always pronounced
as a whole. This was so that if a pilot heard "Zero-four-zero" he
would know this was a compass bearing, while
hearing "Fourty-five" meant a range
of 45 miles. Altitude was also read out as
a whole. A "Four Ship" means a flight
of four aircraft; "Two Ship" = a
flight of two aircraft, etc.
41, Deadeye. Traffic zero-four-zero, 13 miles,
heading three-four-zero, 16000."
silence. Did he get that call?
was my personal tactical call sign; every weapons
controller in the Tactical Air Control System
(TACS) had one. Finder 41 was a four-ship of
F-15s out of Bitburg AFB, in the Federal Republic
of Germany. The year was 1983, about 0900 (9
AM for those who don't know military time).
The aircraft had been on our radio frequency
for about 10 minutes, just long enough to separate
to the ends of the 204 airspace. My eyes were
glued on the yellow tinted screen, which presented
a bright blip for each radar return as the
sweep went through, every 10 seconds. In between
I had to estimate what the returns meant for
the aircraft flying at 400+ miles per hour.
My listening was focused on my left ear, which
is where the headset brought the radio calls
into my head. I used a grease pencil to mark
the locations of the aircraft each sweep.
my mind was nowhere near the console. It was out
there, building and updating the picture
of what was happening in the airspace, in three
dimensions, covering about 800 square miles
from 1000 to 24000 feet, which were the airspace
boundaries. I was responsible for everything
that happened there. The air space had military
traffic everywhere, since any military aircraft
was free to go in there, without telling us
or anyone else. I had just made a safety call
on one of those aircraft.
Fight's on, fight's on, Bandit zero-nine-zero
forty-five. Two ship, line abreast, south Bandit
at 14,000 feet, north Bandit at 12,000."
'Fight's on' call was a mandatory safety call
that began the simulated engagement.
copies. 41 has a contact at 095 for 40."
Deadeye. Contact Bandit."
"Judy" was the tactical codeword that meant the pilot was assuming responsibility for the intercept; it relieves the controller (me) from responsibility for the engagement results. "Roger" simply means that the radio transmission was received.
my attention on the wayward stranger, most
likely another military aircraft, either an
F-4E or F-16. I could tell immediately that
he was in the approach pattern for the Hahn,
Spangdahlem, and Bitburg airbases. Which meant,
of course, that he would fly almost directly
into the 4 ship of F-15's, of which I was controlling
two on my frequency. Lt. Griffith (on the scope
to my left), was controlling the other two.
Deadeye. Traffic on the nose, 10 miles, in
a left turn at 14,000 feet."
again. Was this bozo hearing me at all?
Deadeye. Ten Miles, Ten Miles."
mark that one off, the '10 miles' safety call.
This told the pilots that they were now inside
the safety zone and had to take more precautions
about their location and altitude.
Oh, so he did have working
The 4 blips on the screen moved closer
together. I watched as my two ship split up,
which they really shouldn't have done. The
other two ship promptly homed in on the right
hand F-15, which made it 2 against 1. But the
pilots had called "Judy", which was
the codeword that said they wanted no further
control from me. So I watched them take it
in the shorts. Lt. Griffith yelled out "Fox
2, Fox 2, kill on the south guy." I immediately
relayed this to my guys. 'Fox 2' was the code
for an Infrared (IR) missile shot, and the
'kill' indicated that the probability was that
the target (my aircraft!) had been destroyed.
The pilots were really good about calling accurate
shots, since their Heads Up Display (HUD) had
a video tape that recorded everything. Mistakes
cost the pilots a round of drinks at the 'O
Club' (Officer's Club) after work. I relayed
"Fox 2, Fox 2, kill on the
"41 Lead is out
of the fight."
I watched as the lead
aircraft, who had just been 'shot down', went
out to the south. The Rules of Engagement (ROE)
for this mission were that as soon as he got
10 miles out, he could turn around and 'regenerate',
i.e. become 'unkilled', and get more training
out of the engagement. In wartime it wouldn't
be so simple. Meanwhile my wingman to the North
had stopped sightseeing, or whatever he was
doing when he should have been supporting the
flight lead, and turned back to the fight.
42, Bogey Dope."
The codeword meant:
'OK, where are the Bandits?'
two bandits directly on the nose, 6 miles,
heading two-two-zero in a right hand turn.
Unable on altitude."
The hostiles were
now so close that I could not make out their
altitude, and it is better to give no information
than wrong information.
"42 has Fox
1 on the lead bandit."
This was the
codeword for a radar missile shot. At least
my flight got one missile off on Lt Griffith;
otherwise he might be insufferable after the
mission. I leaned back and yelled to Lt Griffith: "Fox
1 on the lead Bandit!" As I turned back
to the scope I heard him relay the 'missile
shot' to his aircraft. Meanwhile the radar
paint and SIF (Selective Identification Feature)
returns merged. I could hear 42 'grunt' into
the headset as he took the "Gs";
he was experiencing the force of multiple Gravities,
and his body probably weighed about 6 times
normal right now. For about a minute I watched
the blips turn around each other. I was expecting
the wingman to get 'waxed' any second, but
it didn't happen.
"Deadeye, 41. Bogey
The lead aircraft, having come
back to life, was heading North back into the
fight. He was requesting information on the
"41, Deadeye, two bandits mixing
it up with 42, 2 O'clock, 8 miles. Unable on
was having a good time. He (rather gleefully)
yelled, "Fox 2 kill on the north bandit."
2 kill on the north bandit,"
repeated this into my microphone.
knock it off."
"Knock it off! Knock
This was the safety phrase
that was used to stop all maneuvering, so I
quickly yelled it out to Lt Griffith, who just
as quickly passed it on. The lead aircraft
had just decided that there was no point in
continuing this training pass; this call would
allow all players to set up for another simulated
engagement. In the air, the aircraft went to
pre-assigned altitudes to avoid running into
each other. 41 flight headed west to the 'CAP'
(Combat Air Patrol) point to prepare for the
"Deadeye, 41, say location
Looks like they are lost in
more ways than one.
"41, Deadeye. 42
is at your 5 O'clock for 9 miles, about 2000
41 has Talley."
was short for "Talley Ho", the code
word that said the pilot had visual contact.
flight, fuel check. 41 has 9300 pounds."
was the amount of fuel he had remaining on
board the F-15; it was always expressed in
"42 has 4400 pounds."
4400 pounds? I'm thinking this guy was in afterburner
way too long. Wasn't that just about the minimum
fuel (called 'bingo') for this mission?
41. Say again fuel."
"42 has 4400
"Roger. Deadeye, 41 flight
is bingo fuel requesting direct departure VFR
"41, Deadeye. Roger,
contact approach control on 320.4, good day."
flight let's go button 4."
had previously dialed in radio frequency 320.4
on the preset button 4 of their aircraft radios;
this was the call to change away from my frequency
to begin the process of returning to base (RTB).
leaned back again and said to Lt Griffith, "Phil,
they're off my freq, gone back to home plate
VFR. Better advise your guys."
disconnected my headset and thanked the Weapons
Controller Technician (WCT) sitting next to
me."Well, Tommy, any comments?"
Sir, that wingman was a real idiot, if I do
say so myself."
"Yeah, but he gets
the extra dough and all the glory," I
returned. "See ya for the 1300 go." We
were scheduled for another 4 ship at 1300.
I would sign off the official log of the mission
later, after he filled it out.
I walked out
of the "91", short for the TSQ-91,
which was a mobile radar control system. The
system had been designed as state-of-the-art,
that is in 1962. This was 1983. We called it
the "rubber duck" because of the
1 1/2 ton rubber inflatable roofs that covered
each "Cell". Our system had only
2 cells instead of the usual 3; the other one
was in Saudi Arabia, and had been there since
I arrived in 1981. So we had only 10 scopes
(radar and radio positions) instead of the
I walked down the hall to my desk,
in a big room with about 10 other "controllers",
the short name for "Weapons Controller",
career field 1744G. Our job was to watch radar
returns and get the weapons to the targets.
As I poured what was my 4th cup of coffee for
the day (I had come in at 0530 to pre-brief
the F-15 pilots), I tried to relax, but really
I was still hyper from the mission;
my mind was only about half way back from the "air
picture" I had built up during the mission.
I noticed that my hand shook a little as I
took out a pen to fill in some training paperwork.
I told myself that I really should lay off
of the coffee; I was up to about a pot a day.
But it kept me awake.
I stopped the paperwork
and considered the mission. The first mistake
was for the wingman to separate from the lead
aircraft. The Air Force first learned that
the concept of "Mutual Support" was
key to victory in the early 1940's, during
World War II. If the aircraft get separated,
the good 'ol controller (me) could have gotten
them back together. But they evidently had
some master plan to attempt to bamboozle the
other flight. Whatever it was, it didn't work. The
wingman used way too much fuel, but then he
also lasted a full minute against a 2 ship
of F-15s, which is pretty hard to do. Still,
for training purposes, the pilots should have
called this pass off a lot sooner. It is very
expensive to fly these missions, and once the
training objective is impossible to achieve
(or is achieved), it's best to just start over
while you have the fuel and the airspace. Plus
I only got one 'hack' (short for an intercept)
out of the mission. I usually get 3 or 4 hacks
per mission. Not that I was keeping score,
but I did have to keep up a minimum number