The Green's House

Command and Control

As 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 hands).

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 actually used.

A Short Mission

This 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.

Note: 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.

"Finder 41, Deadeye. Traffic zero-four-zero, 13 miles, heading three-four-zero, 16000."

Absolute silence. Did he get that call? 

Deadeye 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.

But 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.

"Finder 41, 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."

The 'Fight's on' call was a mandatory safety call that began the simulated engagement.

"41 copies. 41 has a contact at 095 for 40."

"41 Deadeye. Contact Bandit."

"41 has Judy."


"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.

I focused 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.

"41, Deadeye. Traffic on the nose, 10 miles, in a left turn at 14,000 feet."

Silence again. Was this bozo hearing me at all?

"41 Deadeye. Ten Miles, Ten Miles."

Well, 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.

"41 copies."

Oh, so he did have working radios!

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 the call.

"Fox 2, Fox 2, kill on the south guy." 

"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.

"Deadeye, 42, Bogey Dope."

The codeword meant: 'OK, where are the Bandits?'

"42, Deadeye, 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 Dope."

The lead aircraft, having come back to life, was heading North back into the fight. He was requesting information on the Bandits.

"41, Deadeye, two bandits mixing it up with 42, 2 O'clock, 8 miles. Unable on altitude."


Lt Griffith was having a good time. He (rather gleefully) yelled, "Fox 2 kill on the north bandit."

"Fox 2 kill on the north bandit,"

I faithfully repeated this into my microphone.

"41 flight knock it off."

"Knock it off! Knock it off!"

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 next pass.

"Deadeye, 41, say location of 42."

Looks like they are lost in more ways than one.

"41, Deadeye. 42 is at your 5 O'clock for 9 miles, about 2000 low.""

41 has Talley."

'Talley' was short for "Talley Ho", the code word that said the pilot had visual contact.

"41 flight, fuel check. 41 has 9300 pounds."

This was the amount of fuel he had remaining on board the F-15; it was always expressed in pounds. 

"42 has 4400 pounds."

What??? 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?

"42, 41. Say again fuel."

"42 has 4400 pounds."

"Roger. Deadeye, 41 flight is bingo fuel requesting direct departure VFR to Bitburg."

"41, Deadeye. Roger, contact approach control on 320.4, good day."

"41 flight let's go button 4."

The flight 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).


I leaned back again and said to Lt Griffith, "Phil, they're off my freq, gone back to home plate VFR. Better advise your guys."


I disconnected my headset and thanked the Weapons Controller Technician (WCT) sitting next to me."Well, Tommy, any comments?"

"Actually, 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 normal 14.

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 couldn't.

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 per year.

<<To be continued>>

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