Warbirds 4th Fighter Group Virtual Squadron

November 27, 2016

Why do pilots say ‘Roger’?

Filed under: — Bill Ellott @ 9:06 am

roger-wilco-1Even if you haven’t heard it in real life, I’m guessing you’ve heard a pilot on TV say “Roger.” I bet you’ve even heard pilots say “Roger Wilco.” Have you ever wondered who Roger Wilco is? And why pilots like to say his name?

When you use a system of communication that isn’t clear you find ways to eliminate common errors. I had to shout numbers to a colleague, it didn’t take long before 15 became “fifteen” while 50 became “five zero”. Movies portray radio communication as crystal clear it is still anything but. The use of “roger” wilco” and “over” are ways to eliminate errors and misunderstandings.

Another word used along the lines of “Roger” is the word “Copy” or “Copy that”.

Numbers, in particular, need to be enunciated clearly and precisely, to prevent what could be costly, and dangerous confusion.

For example, the number four is pronounced “Fower”, five is pronounced “Fife”, and nine as “Niner”, whilst the figure O is always pronounced as “Zero”, never “Oh” or “Naught”.

A ‘point’, as in a number combination, such as 125.9, is pronounced as “Decimal”, for example, “Change to frequency One Two Fife Decimal Niner”.

Some phrases, particularly in military use, are not used unless that phrase is for a specific instruction. The phrase “Say again” has become common in everyday, civilian use, and comes from the R/T request to repeat what has been said previously, for example “Say again all after …”, and is used to specifically avoid the use of the word ‘Repeat’.

This is because the word ‘Repeat’ is an order to repeat the same Fire Order, for artillery, mortars and other ‘heavy’ weapons, and should only be used in that context. Use in other ways could result in friendly forces being hit by their own fire support, commonly called ‘Friendly fire’, which is far from friendly when it lands!!

Even with modern technology, radio communication is still affected by atmospheric conditions, location, and terrain, and therefore radio traffic has to be organized in a precise and understandable manner, hence the use of such words and phrases as mentioned in these posts.

Not sure about current military TX, but in civil (emergency services), a pause in transmission is signified by the word “Break” and the request to repeat a transmission can be done with the phrase “Come Again?”

Yes, there are a lot of differences in the various ‘services’, right across the World, with no proper standardization, as there is in aviation comms. Listening to British Police transmissions makes me cringe, as the discipline is almost non-existent, and the terminology wide open to misinterpretation.

The ‘standard’ procedure for aviation use for signifying a pause in a message or transmission, adapted for military use, is to use the word ‘Wait’.

This can be done in one of three ways – “Wait”, where only a few seconds pause is required, perhaps just to check something on a screen or notepad; “Wait one”, where the pause required may be slightly longer, but the transmission can continue, the sender having released the pre-set PTT switch, and finally “Wait out”, where the pause required will be longer, and the sender has signified the end of that phase of the transmission by the use of the word ‘out’, ending his transmission by releasing the pre-set or PTT switch.

When the necessary response is finally transmitted, the sender will normally commence, after the I.D. phase, with “Reference your last (transmission) …”, followed by the part of the message which necessitated the original pause in transmission.

EDIT:- I forgot to add, the use of the word ‘Break’ normally indicates a break in transmission, in most cases in an emergency or for an important reason, where the sender will transmit “Break, break”, in order to temporarily end the current transmission, in the Police (or Fire) exchanges (mobile unit to dispatch or visa-versa) “break” became common in the older days of the high-power mobiles, because there was a time-out in the mobile transceiver to prevent burn-out or overdraw on the vehicle’s charging system. The older two-way mobiles drew a great deal of amperage (50 to 80 amps) in order to drive the typical 125 – 150 watt systems – some, like the old GE transceivers, even had a “spin-up” motor that would engage when the mic was keyed, generating additional power to the transmit portion of the transceiver.

So the continuous transmission time (which varied between 90 seconds to 120 seconds) would only allow the Officer a certain amount of time to relay information to dispatch before the transceiver interrupted the TX. This time-out also prevented an accidental open mic from blocking the frequency for an excess amount of time.

Even now, with the lower amp draw digital two-ways, they have a programmable time-out that’s more of an option to prevent an open-mic than preventing over-current on the vehicle’s system.

This “break” also allows other units to contact dispatch if necessary and dispatch can pause the current traffic to take the secondary traffic as a priority if the situation dictates.

All the agencies nationwide have a uniform radio protocol to enhance interoperability between all services. The one thing that’s interesting is that the phonetic code used, is name-based instead of the typical international/military phonetics.

A – Adam
B – Boy
C – Charles
D – David
E – Edward
F – Frank
G – George
H – Henry
I – Ida

J – John
K – King
L – Lincoln
M – Mary
N – Nora
O – Ocean
P – Paul
Q – Queen
R – Robert
S – Sam
T – Tom
U – Union
V – Victor
W – William
X – X-Ray
Y – Young
Z – Zebra



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