There are some great TOPGUN stories out there where pilots overcome really tremendous odds. Rarely does the public hear about the FLOPGUN stories… when pilots aren’t quite at their movie star best. Even Maverick has bad days. Every pilot knows, there will be a time where their name is up in lights and not for a good reason. I’ve had bad days and bad landings but never had my callsign changed for bad behavior. Some pilots haven’t been so lucky. Man and Beast have gotten into the act of military callsigns.
An F-16 pilot from the 510th Buzzards at Aviano Air Base Italy on a mission over Serbia saw a bunch of enemy vehicles in a field during the Spring 1999 Kosovo air campaign, prime targets for a steely-eyed Fighting Falcon driver.
Receiving permission to drop on the vehicles from MAGIC the Air Battle Manager in the Airborne Warning and Control System E-3B AWACS and overcoming some protests from his wingman on what the vehicles might really be, the pilot released two five-hundred-pound laser-guided bombs on the vehicles. Just before the bombs hit the trucks, the collective heads of his targets all turned toward the sound of their impending doom. The vehicles were COWS and the two GBUs fused perfectly. The mission became known as “The Great Buzzard Bovine BBQ.” The pilot’s new callsign…? BOVINE!
Combat is about dropping bombs and shooting bullets. The movies make these simple events look like there are never any issues once the pickle button or trigger is pressed. Every once in a while, the bomb doesn’t get the message. During the same Kosovo air campaign, a Royal Canadian Air Force F-18 Hornet pilot had a “hung bomb,” a weapon which stays put on the jet. He just needed to find a place to shake it loose. There was plenty of ocean for this Canadian Warrior on the way home to work the problem though. Over the Adriatic, he rocked the plane several times trying to shake it loose. The Navy vessels from 12 countries sailing in the Adriatic had something to say about this and the F-18 pilot was told go to a spot away from all the ships. The bomb did come loose… and when a US Navy Frigate resumed course, they stopped immediately passing over the spot where the bomb hit the water. Thousands of delicious dead fish were floating where the bomb detonated. The Navy Frigate Captain had all hands man the rails to gig fish for the evening meal. They told MAGIC the AWACS please tell the pilot thanks for dinner!
The Canadian F-18 pilot’s new callsign…? FISH! The maintainers of this F-18 heard the story and painted a black salmon silhouette as the official mission marking on the Hornet.
We all make mistakes because we’re human. Learn from them… take responsibility and even laugh at them. Then file away what you learned and move on to your next target!