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How Do Navy Pilots Get Their Call Signs? (Answered)

Written by Everett Bledsoe / Fact checked by Brain Bartell

how do navy pilots get their call signs

Call signs are a fundamental part of naval aviation, serving as a personal identifier for pilots, enabling communication and fostering camaraderie among crew members. But how do Navy pilots get their call signs?

Call signs are often assigned to the pilot based on their personality or past incidents. The process of receiving a call sign is steeped in tradition and history and can often be a memorable experience for the pilot involved.

In this blog post, we will explore the origins of call signs in naval aviation, their importance, and the process of receiving a call sign. We will also examine some common call signs ideas, themes, and trends.

What Are Navy Call Signs?


Navy call signs are personalized pilot nicknames based on a variety of factors, such as their personality, physical characteristics, or even their hometown. These names often have a humorous or lighthearted tone.

How Are Call Signs Assigned to Navy Pilots?


Pilots don’t get to pick their own call signs. Instead, they’ll get one when they become a junior officer at their first operational squadron. While some aviators may get their call signs before this milestone, it rarely happens.

So, what are the steps involved in the naming ritual? Below is the standard procedure within the Air Force:

  • The experienced aviators within the group observe the newbies during flight training or combat operations.
  • The group will then propose a few nicknames based on the new pilot’s characteristics or past incidents.

In recent years, the military has made special efforts to make sure the nickname isn’t offensive or demeaning. As such, the call signs are usually lighthearted and humorous in nature.

  • After being voted on by the squadron, the nickname will be approved by the squadron’s commanding officer. The individual sometimes may have input in the final nickname, but what they will be ultimately called is up to the commander.
  • Once the name is decided, it will be the pilot’s identifier within the squadron.

Why Are Call Signs Important for Navy Pilots?

1. Establish security


Call signs serve as a way to identify specific pilots during radio communication without giving away their real names to potential enemies.

2. Build a sense of camaraderie


In addition, call signs help to establish camaraderie and identity among fellow pilots. They can be a way for them to bond and joke around with one another. Pilots will often use each other’s call signs in conversation, creating a sense of camaraderie and inclusion within their group.

3. Create a sense of identity


Call signs can also create a sense of identity and belonging within a squadron. Pilots may choose to adopt a certain persona based on their call sign, and it can become a part of their personal brand within the Navy.

Whether passed down through generations or developed on the spot, Navy call signs are an enduring tradition that will continue to shape Naval Aviation for years to come.

Famous Navy Aviator Call Signs and Their Stories

Check out some real call sign names in the following fighter pilot call signs list:


  • Viper—The call sign of the inspiration for the character “Maverick” in “Top Gun.” This name belongs to the pilot Pete Mitchell. It stemmed from his aggressive flying style and lightning-fast reflexes.
  • Puff—The call sign given to Robin Olds due to his love for cigars. This pilot operated the aircraft for operations in Vietnam, Korea, as well as during World War II.
  • Ghostrider—The call sign given to the pilot Ron McKeown because he once successfully flew through a heavily defended area without being detected by the enemy.
  • Banzai—Given to the naval aviator James B. Stockdale due to his love for everything Japanese.
  • Pappy—The call sign of Gregory Boyington, one of the best pilots during the Second World War, because he was the oldest pilot in his squadron.

Now that you have gone through a sample list of Navy call signs and have gotten a rough idea of the best call signs, let’s look at the common themes and trends.

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the purpose of call signs in naval aviation?

Call signs serve as a personal identifier for pilots, enabling communication and fostering camaraderie among crew members. They also allow pilots to easily distinguish between different aircraft on the radio.

How do you get a call sign?

Call signs are often assigned by fellow pilots or crew members based on certain characteristics or behavior exhibited by the pilot. In some cases, call signs are based on a personal interest or an inside joke.

Common themes and trends in naval aviator call signs

While there is no universal rule for what makes a good call sign, there are some common themes and trends that have arisen over the years.

  • What are some common themes in Navy call signs for pilots?


One common theme in Navy call signs is the use of animals and insects. For example, the call sign “Moose” might be given to a particularly tall pilot, while “Bee” could be given to someone who is always buzzing around.

Another popular theme is pop culture references, such as “Maverick” from the movie Top Gun. Additionally, many call signs are inspired by the pilot’s last name, such as “Jonesy” for someone with the last name Jones.

  • What are some trends in modern Navy call signs?


In recent years, modern Navy call signs have begun to reflect the changing culture in the military. There is a growing trend toward encouraging inclusivity and diversity, which is reflected in call signs.

For example, a female pilot might be given a call sign that reflects her gender or heritage. Additionally, there is a greater emphasis on safety and professionalism, leading to fewer call signs that might be seen as inappropriate.

If you want to get your own call sign, search up a pilot call sign generator or call sign test!

Do Navy pilots keep their call signs after leaving the military?

In many cases, Navy pilots will continue to use their call signs after leaving the military. However, this ultimately depends on the individual and their personal attachment to their call sign.

Callsign history in naval aviation

The use of call signs in naval aviation allegedly originated during the 1930s and became popular during World War II, when pilots began to adopt code names to identify themselves during radio communications.

However, the problem with using code names is that it can be confusing, as it wasn’t uncommon for pilots back then to have the same code names. As such, naval aviators started relying on call signs based on phonetic alphabets so pilots could quickly identify themselves while on the radio.

Gradually, call signs evolved beyond just being a means of identification. Soon enough, they became a part of naval aviation culture.

What are some examples of well-known Navy call signs?

There are many famous cool, funny Navy call signs, such as “Maverick” (Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun), “Goose,” and “Iceman.” However, these are often fictional or exaggerated versions of real Navy call signs. Some real-life examples of Navy call signs include “Charger,” “Boomer,” and “Viper.”

What happens if two pilots have similar call signs?

It could potentially lead to confusion on the runway, which, in turn, could cause runway incursions and other problems like loss of separation, level bust, air prox, etc. As such, call signs are carefully chosen to ensure that they are one-of-a-kind.

Do Navy pilots pick their own call signs?

Usually, pilots are assigned call signs by their fellow pilots and commanding officers. Although they don’t get to pick their own call signs, they do have some input into what they will be nicknamed.

Are call signs used in other branches of the military?

Yes. Like the Navy, other military branches, such as the Army and Air Force, use call signs. Army and Air Force pilots would have call signs.


Call signs are a crucial aspect of naval aviation that serves several important purposes. Not only do call signs enable effective communication among pilots and crew members, but they also create a sense of identity and camaraderie among fellow naval aviators.

Now that you’ve known how do Navy pilots get their call signs, we hope you understand how the naming ritual is steeped in tradition and vital for bonding with other pilots within the squadrons.

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