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Surly Bonds by Michaels, English (1)


The world of the military pilot has a language all its own, as confusing as a foreign tongue to the uninitiated. This glossary is offered to assist those unfamiliar in navigating the technicalities, jargon, and buffoonery. A few medical terms are included for additional clarification. The first occurrence of each term within the text of the book is bolded.


A-10 Warthog—The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. More commonly, “the Warthog” or just “the Hawg.” The only USAF aircraft designed specifically for the Close Air Support mission: supporting troops on the ground in contact with the enemy. Designed around the lessons of Vietnam and the threat of massed Soviet tanks in Europe. Maneuverable, survivable, and lethal. Pilots refer to themselves as “Hawg drivers.”


Beer call—Official but informal meeting of squadron pilots held in the squadron lounge or bar , usually on Friday, after all flying for the day is complete.


Below the zone—Selected for promotion earlier than one’s primary promotion zone. A rare distinction and often an indicator of an officer whose career is on the fast track. A “fast burner.”


BFM—Basic Fighter Maneuvers. The essential building blocks of air combat maneuvering. When a single aircraft is engaged in aerial combat with another single aircraft, BFM is the set of maneuvers and techniques used to move from a neutral to an attacking position relative to one’s opponent. Developed in World War I and formalized by German ace Oswald Boelcke.


Blues—A common reference to the Air Force’s daily uniform. Flight suits or ABU’s (Airman’s Battle Uniform—camos) are considered utility uniforms and inappropriate for many venues. Pilots generally view being compelled to squeeze into their often ill-fitting blues as a particularly loathsome form of punishment.


BOQ—Bachelor Officer Quarters. A holdover from a bygone era. The “Q” would be a small efficiency apartment in a dormitory-style building on base, often with a shared kitchen. Unless required to live there, most single officers elect to live off base in apartments or rentals.


Butterbar—A second lieutenant. Newly commissioned officer recognized by his single gold bar rank insignia.


Call sign/Tactical—A fighter pilot’s semi-official nickname. Generally bestowed by other members of the squadron based on some egregious or hilarious buffoonery. Glorified in the movies with names like Viper and Maverick, but, most often, far less flattering. Pilots generally address one another exclusively by their tactical, and it goes with one to the grave.


Code Brown—Hospital-speak for an epic cleanup of actual feces. Often requires stacks of linens, more than one set of hands, and a mop bucket.


Cord accident—Disruption of the umbilical cord blood flow supplying a fetus with oxygen and nutrients before birth; ordinarily a knot in the cord or a prolapse. A prolapse occurs when the cord becomes pinched between the baby and the mother, commonly when the water breaks and “washes” the cord into the birth canal in front of the baby. Cord accidents are a relatively rare complication of pregnancy.


Crosscheck—The piloting skill of referencing all available instrumentation and visual cues to determine proper control inputs required to achieve desired parameters. The more complex and challenging the maneuver, the faster the required crosscheck.


Deployment—Moving some or all of a military unit away from its home base for a specific purpose and length of time.


FAIP—First Assignment Instructor Pilot (aka how the Air Force eats its young). Typically, the top ten percent of pilot training class graduates get one of their top three choices of aircraft assignments. The next ten percent are returned to their pilot training base as instructors which is almost universally regarded as a bad deal.


Field grade—A traditional term for officers of a rank to command troops “upon the field of battle.” In modern parlance, a major (an O-4) or lieutenant colonel (an O-5) in the Air Force.


FNG—Fucking New Guy. A term of endearment.


Fornicating the canine—Screwing the pooch, fucking the dog—a major screwup.


GAU-8—The General Electric GAU-8/A Avenger is the weapon mounted on the USAF’s A-10 Thunderbolt II. Its unique 30 mm Gatling autocannon can deliver up to 4200 rounds per minute and was designed specifically for the anti-tank role against Soviet armor. The heart and soul of the Warthog.


G-forces—Also “G’s” or “pulling G’s.” One G is the force gravity exerts on the body. Acceleration away from the earth increases the G-forces; the sensation of being forced down into the seat at the bottom of a big hill on a roller coaster is approximately 3-4 G’s of short duration. Fighter pilots routinely sustain 4-6 G’s; sustained G’s of 7-9 are not unusual.


G-LOC (G-induced loss of consciousness)—As the body accelerates away from the earth, blood supply intended for the head pools in the lower extremities. Manifestations of decreased blood supply range from a loss of peripheral vision to a complete loss of vision, followed shortly by G-induced loss of consciousness. Several tools are used to combat these effects: excellent anaerobic fitness and muscle tone, the anti-G straining maneuver, and the G-suit worn by every fighter pilot. G-LOC is—obviously—potentially fatal in a single seat fighter.


Gunsmoke—Formerly, a biannual USAF gunnery competition between teams in various fighter aircraft from across the Air Force. No longer held due to budget constraints.


Hard broke—An aircraft with a maintenance issue is referred to as “broke,” provided it’s expected to be repaired in time to launch with only minor delays. With a longer, or even indeterminate, delay of return to status by maintenance, the aircraft is said to be “hard broke.”


LPA—Lieutenants Protection Association. A mythical association of young officers in a squadron having one another’s back, protecting themselves from the OFA—Old Farts Association, aka everyone else. In reality, the LPA usually represents the lieutenants as a group when they are assigned unsavory non-flying tasks: snack bar maintenance, party planning, going-away skits, etc. A long-standing tradition in fighter squadrons.


Manual reversion—In the A-10, a rudimentary system connecting some of the flight controls to the stick via cables. This gives the pilot basic control of the airplane during flight in the absence of hydraulics. A key survivability feature designed into the A-10 to get the pilot back over friendly territory before an ejection may be required.


Missing man—Formation flown for a lost comrade at a funeral or memorial service. A flight of four aircraft in close formation approach; number three pulls aggressively up and out of the formation, symbolizing the lost pilot.


NICU—Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Nursery specializing in the care of ill or prematurely born newborns.


O-5—Fifth level of the U.S. Military officer’s pay scale. In the USAF, a Lieutenant Colonel. This officer will typically have 15-20 years of service.


Officers’ Club—Also O’Club, The Club; in the past, the Officers’ Open Mess. A members-only restaurant and lounge on base that is restricted to officers, their families, and accompanied guests. While membership is theoretically optional, not joining is an instant career killer. Site of most formal military functions. At a flying base, it usually includes a casual bar where the standards of decorum are somewhat more “relaxed.”


Operations officer—Second in command to the squadron commander. Focus is strictly on day-to-day operations like scheduling and training. Flight commanders report to the operations officer. “The OpsO.”


PACU—Post Anesthesia Care Unit. The “recovery room” where patients are moved immediately following surgery for stabilization after the administration of anesthesia and before transfer to a critical care or regular hospital bed.


PCS—Permanent Change of Station. Military-speak for a reassignment and move.


PDP—Pre-departure Piss.


Perch—In this context, a position for beginning a BFM exercise. The attacker is positioned above and behind the defender, figuratively “on a perch” with both an energy and positional advantage.


Piano burning—A Royal Air Force (RAF) tradition. When an exceptionally boisterous party at the Officers Club is drawing to a close, pilots will sometimes end the evening by hauling the club piano outdoors and, inexplicably, setting it on fire.


PROJO—Project Officer. An officer tasked with supervising a specific project, an additional duty.


Remote—A tour of duty, usually one year, unaccompanied by dependents (family).


ROK—Republic of Korea. The most common remote assignment for A-10 pilots.


SAREX—Search and Rescue Exercise. Leading and directing combat search and rescue of downed airmen in enemy territory is one of the primary roles of the A-10. During the exercise, various elements are able to train together in real time to recover the “survivor.”


Schoolhouse—Generic term for the organizations that qualify new or returning pilots in a specific aircraft type. For the A-10, the Schoolhouse is at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.


SNAP—Sensitive New Age Pilot. Mildly derogatory term for Gen Y and Millennial pilots who might get a case of butt hurt in the old-school fighter pilot Land of No Slack.


Socks check—Uniform regulations require the wearing of black or blue socks with any uniform. If one pilot suspects another’s socks may be in noncompliance, he may call for a socks check. The most expeditious way to perform this ritual in a flight suit (one-piece coverall) is to unzip and drop the entire garment around one’s ankles. Loser of this challenge buys a round.


SOF—Supervisor of Flying. A qualified pilot and supervisor on duty (usually in the control tower) as a resource to airborne aircraft. Makes decisions regarding weather, coordinates with outside agencies, and assists with checklists and technical support in the event of an aircraft emergency.


Squid—A member of the U.S. Navy, generally. In context here, a Navy pilot, though they prefer the term “Naval Aviator.”


Squadron tee shirt—Tee shirt in the squadron’s color emblazoned with the squadron patch (logo). Mandatory wear on Fridays under the flight suit. Failure to wear it costs the offender a round.


Stick—The control stick in an aircraft as differentiated from a traditional control yoke or wheel. In a fighter aircraft, the pilot flies with right hand on the stick and left hand on the throttles. Both stick and throttles are festooned with multi-function buttons and switches to control aircraft and weapon systems. Also, in context, a naturally gifted pilot.


TDY—Temporary Duty. Personnel temporarily performing duty away from their home base.


UCMJ—Uniform Code of Military Justice. An additional set of laws applicable to all military members in addition to local and national laws.


UPT—Undergraduate Pilot Training. Air Force flight school. A rigorous course, approximately one year long, culminating in students being awarded Air Force Pilot Wings.


Weapons Officer—An officer in each squadron who has attended an intensive, aircraft-specific course at Nellis Air Force Base, literally a doctorate in flying fighters. The singular expert in the squadron on all weapons, tactics, and employment. Often referred to as “Patch Wearers” or “Target Arms” owing to the distinctive bullseye patch they wear.


Wing King—The Wing Commander. Typically an O-6 (Colonel) but often an O-7 (one-star Brigadier General), depending on the size and complexity of the base. Commander of all functions on a base.


Zap—A custom adhesive sticker of the squadron patch (logo). To place a zap where it doesn’t belong or isn’t wanted is a point of squadron pride as in, “I zapped that Russian MiG at the airshow in Geneva.” Typically, zaps are seen in Officers’ Club casual bars, placed there by visiting crews.



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