Pilots play name game
July 9, 2003
Lt. Brennan Sweeney shouldn’t have eaten the oxtail stew.
The F/A-18 Hornet pilot was halfway through a flight when he found out the chow didn’t agree with him. Over the radio, he told his wingman about the messy results.
A call sign was born.
“From the time I landed to when I got to the ready room, there were probably 100 names up on the board,” said Sweeney, 27, who’s assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk.
The squadron’s decision? Pup, because he was like a puppy that’s not housebroken.
Cool call signs like Maverick and Ice Man are found only in movies. Real monikers are a jab at something the sailors did, or a bastardization of their name.
Kitty Hawk pilots said the recipient has no say in the matter.
“The more you dislike it, the more it’ll stick,” said Lt. j.g. Jon Welsh, 26, an S-3B Viking naval flight officer. Welsh’s call sign is Verbal because he doesn’t say much. His helmet even has a heart-monitor flat line.
Lt. Mike Chenoweth’s call sign is also a statement about his personality. The F-14A Tomcat radar intercept officer goes by Spock.
“Because I look human but I have no human emotions,” deadpans Chenoweth, 29, from Katy, Texas.
And call signs aren’t limited to officers. Petty Officer 2nd Class Warren Hill, 22, is a helicopter crew chief. “Eskimo” grew up in tiny Chevak, Alaska, and can speak Cup’ik.
“My mom was born in the middle of the tundra,” Hill said. “As a kid, the main transportation was a dog sled.”
Then there are the call signs that poke at personal appearance.
Lt j.g. Douglas “Dr. Phil” Watters, a Hornet pilot, looks like the famous “Oprah” counselor. The real Dr. Phil is actually his uncle.
Lt. Ben Finney, 30, an E-2C Hawkeyes pilot, goes by Frodo.
“Ben is our furry hobbit friend,” chuckled Lt. j.g. Bret Kutansky, a naval flight officer. “He’s short, he’s hairy, he has furry hair feet. He lives in the bottom rack where it’s dark and cozy like a shire.”
The most amusing call signs, though, are those with a story behind them.
Lt. Jason Naidyhorski, 28, a Hornet pilot, goes by “Padi” (psychotic anti-social diving idiot).
He was at a scuba diving school in Guam and couldn’t clear his ears while descending. After a few tries, he surfaced.
“The instructor blatantly told me I didn’t know how to clear my ears,” he said. “I told her I indeed did; I do it every day for flying. She proceeded to tell me I needed to listen to her as a dive instructor. It escalated from there, and words were exchanged.”
The exaggerated story that made it back to the ready room was Naidyhorski yelled, “I’m a goddamn fighter pilot!”
Perhaps the most unfortunate call sign is Fluffer.
The officer to whom it belongs didn’t want to be named (call signs aren’t supposed to have sexual references). The officer didn’t know what the term meant when he volunteered to be the squadron’s fluffer for cross-country trips. The term refers to a certain service performed to assist male actors in porn flicks.
“What’s bad is when they get it wrong and call me Fluffy,” he said. “And I have to say, ‘No, it’s Fluffer.’