HOW TO BE MARRIED TO A MARINE FIGHTER PILOT--A Marine Corps pilot's wife: F-4s, F/A-18s and aviators from my perspective.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Aviator Brief II: Call Signs

Bullet--Donald S. Jones USMC
Call signs--military nicknames used in air-to-air combat to avoid revealing an aviator’s identity to the enemy--served within the world of friendlies to identify members of the fraternity of airmen. Pilots always had a moniker, and RIOs--Radar Intercept Officers who navigated and worked the radios but didn’t have a control stick to fly the airplane, poor bastards--often earned a name other than their own. Easily recognized were the self-bestowed call signs of pilots versus those invented out of the fruitful and irreverent brain of a fellow flyer. If the call sign sounded too normal or too cool, the pilot had probably given it to himself.

An ideal name like Burner incorporated an aviation term so those not in the know would think its genesis to be from afterburner--a part of a jet airplane that when lit makes the plane very loud and very fast. The way the name game is played, he could be very slow, very quiet, or have a tendency to pass gas with explosive consequences. Burner wasn’t telling. The conical shape of Bullet’s head in the cockpit melded into his shoulders, mimicking the live ammo F-4 Phantoms carried. Was he named for that or for taking aim at a target (usually a member of the group he called ‘the idiots of the world’) and shooting it down?

Pipperburn’s call sign referred to the pipper being locked on, but not fired--burning a hole in the opponent. The pipper--predicted impact point, PIP--was the location at which a ballistic projectile--e.g. bomb, missile, bullet--was expected to strike if fired. Pipperburn’s youth, inexperience, and tendency to consume copious amounts of alcoholic beverages all precluded him from ever actually firing on any target: a bogey--any adversarial airplane--or a female.

A Musing:

Idiots of the world. We’ve all met them. I try to avoid them, and when I can’t, I find excuses for them. I’ve been an idiot more than I’d like. The world is a tough place, why make it harder?

Writing is a tough job--you know: sit around in pajamas all day with a lap top in front of me. Eat when I want. Sleep if I want. Sometimes tap words on to the page in front of me (or is it a screen?). My writing is tough because I have to persevere putting thoughts to page in a systematic and still creative way. No deadlines in these first manuscripts, only deadlines I set for myself.

The problem? The tough stuff? Not sounding like an idiot of the world in the words I put down. My self editor is a tough boss.


  1. Marcia, Don Jones was one of my favorite people. Met Don in Iwakuni in 1969 and flew in his back seat many times as well as with Andy. Lived short distance from them in Mission Viejo (sp) where Nancy and Kathy become close friends. Don Jr and my son are the same age. Nancy spent a week with Kathy in Yuma shortly before she passed away. How often do I think of them? Every day. Will get your book immediately. My best to you and Andy. Andy loaned me $200 in Iwakuni one month I was a little short and wanted to buy a Nikon camera. Rob Miller

  2. Robert! This meant so much. I, too, think of them and miss them everyday. Kathy served as my pilot through the rough air of marriage to a fly guy/deployments/military life/PCS moves and raising a family. Don was--well, you knew him--he was unique and talented and charismatic. He was also a great big brother and Andy's best friend.

    Are you going to the Phantom Foray in San Diego November 1-4th? Do you still live in Mission Viejo? We're in Southern California. My email is

    1. Joe Johnston johnstonmojo@cox.netDecember 17, 2013 at 7:13 PM

      I was Donald Jones roommate in Marine Basic Class 5-67. Am looking for any relative of Don. The alumni are erecting a memorial for those we lost in Viet Nam and those lost in training.

      If you can assist me please email at or call 604-557-3261---- Joe Johnston, Maj USMC (Ret)

  3. The correct phone number for the item listed above is 804-557-3261