There is a certain image that all fighter jocks project: the fearless, macho sort of gunslinger associated with the old west. Indeed, many seemed to adopt a western drawl when talking on the radio and I have heard the term “pardner” used more than once.
There is also a very specific lingo that to the outsider might seem a bit strange. Non flyers are “Groundpounders,” a hostile aircraft — a “Bandit,” speed brakes — ” Boards; ” the backseater (in two seat cockpits) a Guy in Back or GIB;” “Bought the Farm” – plowing an aircraft into terra firma; “Bus Driver” a pilot of a tanker or bomber; and “Bag” a flight suit. “Carrier Landings” might suggest U.S. Navy and landing on a boat at sea. However, to an AF fighter jock, it would mean a bar game wherein less than sober pilots, GIB’s and others would leap unto a table or the bar and try to catch a rope and hook it with their feet, before they slid off on the floor. “Dead Bug,” is a similar. When someone called “dead bug,” everyone fell on the ground and put their hands and feet in the air, imitating the look of a dead bug. The person who called “dead bug” remained standing to see who was last assuming the position. That person buys the next round. As I said, this was done when less than sober.
Then there is the “F” word. It is hard to discuss fighter jocks without acknowledging the use of the “F” word. New guys were called FNGs. In the “Right Stuff ” an astronaut says “Don’t let me screw up,” only he didn’t say screw, it was the good old “F” word. This word is seemingly everywhere today, but forty years ago only fighter pilots, or drunken sailors, could the claim a mastery of it that was beyond compare. It was used as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, and in every conceivable combination that it could be applied to. Let’s face it Fighter Jocks swear at lot; I have a feeling you already knew that.
Which brings us to “Zoomies” — the graduates of the Air Force Academy, known also as the Blue Zoo or just the Zoo. It was a fighter pilot paradise and many of the officers there had flown fighters and projected that image to the cadets. And until 1976 it was an entirely male bastion (as were all the military academies). In 1976, women were first admitted and by 1978, when I arrived there to teach, were fully integrated into academy life. That is not to say that they were accepted without some resistance. There were many men in the services that did not want women there. A story making the rounds at the time said the class of 1979 had inscribed inside their class rings, L.C.W.B. ( Last Class with Balls). Later it was said that the class had to turn in the rings and get new ones because of the inscription.
No one ever confirmed if any of this ring business were true. But it did illustrate that change sometimes comes slowly and that some ideas and practices die hard.