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Funny air traffic controllers quotes

real (allegedly) funny air traffic controllers and pilots conversations

These funny conversations took place between air traffic controllers, pilots and air crew around the world.

Many of these air traffic control quotes and piloting stories - especially those submitted direct to this website - are absolutely true stories and factual; others have perhaps been embellished a little.

These 'ATC' (Air Traffic Control) stories and quotes are included here because they are very funny, and also because the collection provides examples of confused and somewhat ineffective communications and relationships between 'customers and suppliers', and other similar situations.

These ATC quotes and stories therefore offer excellent quotes, stories, analogies and examples for training, speaking, presentations, writing, etc., about achieving quality of customer service and service delivery - and communications in the workplace generally.

There is certainly justification for fun, humour, firmness, and 'banter' in organizational communications, although good teamwork and relationships and quality can be undermined if messages/responses cause upset or confusion.

Organizational culture, leadership, attitudes, service, reputation, etc., are all weakened if communications are offensive, or rude, or could be perceived as such by the listener/reader (staff member, customer, supplier, whatever).

Discrimination, prejudice, xenophobia, arrogance, bullying, racism, sexism, ageism, etc., should not be permitted or tolerated or encouraged in organizational communications - whether in messages between staff, or from staff to consumers/customers.

These communications examples provide a wealth of material also for for students of transactional analysis and effective rapport-building.

If you know the original source of any of the unattributed amusing air traffic control discussions and pilot conversations (specifically the Fudpucker ATC stories in the right-side column), or you have others to contribute, please contact me.

The authenticity of some of the Fudpucker ATC conversations cannot be guaranteed, but generally the contributed original stories submitted to me, attributed and dated below, are real events told by real people.

If you find this sort of material useful for learning, training, public speaking, etc., or simply for personal amusement, you might also enjoy the legendary funny letters to the council quotes.

I welcome further contributions of your own original amusing airtraffic control stories, pilot stories, and engineering 'gripe sheets' and aircraft maintenance stories. Send your contribution.

By sending your contribution you agree to its being edited and published on this webpage. You retain ownership of the original material, assuming it's yours in the first place. Please provide details of how you'd like to be attributed on this page (e.g., name and title, or just initials, whatever) and a little background about the story, and briefly explain any complex jargon/abbreviations. Thanks.



aviation quotes - recent additions - warning: occasional fruity language

Due to the nature of these stories, flight terminology below may not always be technically correct, and may also be edited or explained in parts for the benefit of non-aviation folk.

I am grateful for these ATC and aviation quotes and stories sent to me by various people. Thank you. Please keep them coming.

From Zany Afandi (Aug 2017)

One evening during the Month of Ramathan (Ramazan) where most Muslims fast during the day, I was about to start eating and drinking. We were eager for dinner as we had not eaten during the day. Meanwhile, a Turkish airline pilot contacted our tower and said, "GOOD EVENING Suli Tower". Unfortunately, because I was very busy eating and the food was extremely hot, I became very distracted, and after hearing the call I replied to the pilot unintentionally "GOOD MORNING SIR". It was about 7:30 pm local time. After a brief pause he replied, "Good bye captain, and have a nice flight". He thought I was in the air!

From J Patterson (Oct 2016):

I was in the RAF during the early 1960s, stationed at Changi, Singapore. (Seletar was the nearby civilian airport.) I was working as a technician in the local ATC when an American aircraft took off, did a circuit of the airfield, and then called Changi tower.. The somewhat relaxed pilot asked, “Say buddy am I pointing in the right direction for Seletar?..."

From R Hankin (Jun 2016):

During my National Service (1959-61) I spent the majority of it in the tower at RAF Debden, an airfield steeped in WW2 history, but by the time I arrived there it was a lot quieter in operational terms. Occasionally pilots posted into Debden for a 'ground' tour (ie, not flying) would like to get into the air. They did this by flying an old plane based at Debden - a twin piston-engined Avro Anson 'tail dragger' (ie, two main undercarriage wheels and a non-retractable tail wheel). One such pilot, returning from a leisurely trip above the East Anglian countryside on a sunny afternoon, aborted an approach to land because he was seeing only two cockpit lights as an indication that the undercarriage was down and locked. With rising panic in his voice, he requested a low pass over the tower so that a visual inspection could be made of the perceived problem with his nose gear (wheel). It was only after an exasperated sigh from the controller that realisation dawned on the pilot that he didn't have one...

From S Dee (14 Nov 2011):

a lesson in making assumptions..

I overheard this amusing exchange while waiting for passengers to board my island-hopper, July 2010, Penzance field, UK..

Visiting light aircraft (in a posh English accent): "Penzance tower, Cessna Light G123 request approach instruction and landing?" 
Penzance tower (in a broad Scottish accent): "G123, Penzance tower welcome to my airspace, sadly we are not accepting your class, divert on heading and contact approach on Lands End." 
Visiting light aircraft: "Penzance tower, negative, request approach instructions, my landing approved earlier, I'm with my partner and will be landing for the day." 
Penzance tower, "G123, that is still a negative. Penzance field is a heliport. I strongly suggest diverting to Lands End airfield." 
Visiting Aircraft, "Penzance tower, please confirm heading to Lands End.."

(The above story is a lesson in making wrong assumptions - especially where an immovable obstacle is misinterpreted to be movable - in this case producing acute embarrassment as the stance was motivated by a wish to impress a girlfriend. For a similar lesson about wrong assumptions and immovable obstacles see the very funny naval stand-off story in the storiessection.)

From R Brown (19 Apr 2011):

A few years ago at our Air Traffic Centre we received warning that an undisclosed number of US Air Force B2 Bombers would be crossing our FIR [Flight Information Region] at a particular time on a particular day. They would check in with us as they entered our airspace and check out again as they left. They gave us the callsign to expect, and the route was known, so it was logical to assume that they would contact us at a certain time at a certain place. The callsign and reporting points have been changed to protect the innocent. Being the then famous new 'Stealth' bombers we would know little about it but they would pay us the courtesy of letting us know they were there. Eric, a very capable controller with a keen sense of humour was on position, and heard, "UAE Area, this is USAFB2. This is a courtesy call advising that we are about to enter your airspace." Eric replied, "USAFB2, welcome to UAE Airspace, we have you on radar 200 miles out over LOTUS, hope you enjoy your visit." Without thinking the Stealth Bomber replied, "Thank you UAE, it a pleasure to be... Wait - you got us on Radar? 200 miles out? You shittin' me?" "That's affirmative USAFB2," said Eric, "I'm shittin' you. Enjoy your visit."

Also from R Brown:

I worked at an international airport in the Middle East a few years ago. A local hero there and an all round good egg, Tom, in the tower one day received a call from the electrical guys on their way to do their daily checks. "Tower, Electric One. Request clearance to cross the runway at Yankee." "Electric One, Tower. Hold." A few seconds later Tom receives another call, "Tower, Electric One. Request clearance to cross the runway at Yankee." Tom replies "Electric One, Tower. Hold." A few seconds later, the same call again, "Tower, Electric One. Request clearance to cross the runway at Yankee." Tom replies, "Electric One - If you look to your right you will see a Garuda 747 about to land. If you’ve got the balls you've got the permission." After a couple of seconds, "Electric One - Holding."

And also from R Brown:

It was the protocol to practically close down the airport when the ruling Sheikh, affectionately known by expats in the UAE as Big Zed, was traveling. Tom a keen poker player, was sat in front of the screen. The airport was temporarily closed to traffic and aircraft are holding, waiting for it to open in a few minutes, when Tom received a call, "Abu Dhabi, this is XYZ12, we request permission to land immediately." Tom advises, "XYZ12 hold for the moment, the runway will be available in 10 minutes, as previously advised." The same request repeatedly persisted for several minutes, culminating in XYZ12 attempting to play his trump card. "This is XYZ12; we have a VIP on board, and he insists that we be allowed to land immediately." "XYZ 12," says Tom, "I'll see your VIP and raise you a VVIP, and he insists that you won't" "Big Zed?" asks XYZ12. "Affirmative," says Tom, at which the reply is heard, "This is XYZ 12 please advise when the runway is available."

From Hal (19 Apr 2011):

When instructing (as a young lieutenant in the US Navy in 1967) at NAS Beeville, Texas, we were tasked to add three night bombing flights to the air-to-ground syllabus, which had previously been day only. l took the first flight of four out the target that was located about 80 miles away from Beeville between Alice and Laredo. On arrival, we found the target completely obscured in fog and had to return home. Our ops officer decided that we needed to provide simple weather observation training to the range people, so a wx guy [weather specialist - wx is morse code for weather] drove down and gave the crew a two or three hour short course on how to report the weather. Th next time I had a flight there, I called the range up and asked them what the weather was. The range guy says, "Sir, the weather is clear, visibility 1/16 of a mile." I couldn't figure out what that meant, so I asked him what was the restriction to visibility. He replied, "Why, sir, it is dark..."

And also from Hal:

This was in 1990 when I was a 727 instructor for Delta Airlines in Georgia. On a 727 trainer working in Augusta, we were hammering landings in the VFR pattern when the tower told us to extend upwind to follow a US Air Fokker on a straight-in. I called back and told the tower I would take interval and that I had the Messerschmidt in sight. The keyed mike laughter lasted until I turned base..

(Hal also added - You will have heard the old joke about the old fighter pilot telling a high school class about dogfighting with German fighters in WWII. The pilot went on and on about fighting the Fokkers when the teacher interrupted and told the class that the Fokker was a model of German fighter. The pilot said, "Yes, but these fokkers were Messerschmidts.."

From Jim (Aug 2010):

In 1978 I was a trainee Air Traffic Controller under supervision at Collage Station Texas, Easterwood Tower. This is a true story of a radio discussion one afternoon:

Unknown Aircraft: "Hello?.." 
Easterwood Tower (me): "Please say again." 
UA: "What?" 
ET: "Who is this?" 
UA: "This is Joe" 
ET: "This is Easterwood Tower, where are you?" 
UA: "I'm in the plane!" 
(I looked down the flight line, checking if someone was sitting in a parked plane playing with the radio. I didn't see anything, and the senior controller was becoming more interested in my handling of the situation.) 
ET: "Joe, where is the pilot?" 
UA: "He got out when the engine quit.." 
(I could only imagine a bizarre scenario in which the pilot had jumped from the plane.) 
ET: "Joe, what does your airspeed indicator read?" 
UA: (Long pause) "Zero?" 
(So the plane was now in a stall I thought.) 
ET: "Joe, whatever you have in front of you - a stick or a steering wheel - push it forward - you need to get airspeed over your wings!" 
UA: "Are you sure?" 
ET: "Yes Joe you need to push it forward... (pause)... What does your airspeed indicator read now?" 
UA: "It's still zero." 
(I thought, oh my god, Joe's plane was in a falling leaf spin. I couldn't help him. Joe was going to die. I did not know what to do. I looked to the senior controller. He said, "Ask him where his plane is.") 
ET: "Joe, where is your plane?" 
UA: "We are parked down at the end of the runway, the pilot got out when the engine quit and walked back to the hanger.." 
ET: "Joe, get off the radio."

From Sue (July 2010):

I overheard this over the radio while on my cross-country flight today. I'm not giving the aircraft call-sign because the trainee is in enough trouble already..

Controller: I've got you on radar, state your intentions. 
Pilot: Can I fly around in circles Sir? 
Controller: Negative, you are in a busy airspace right now. 
Pilot: Ok then, I'll fly around in straight lines.

From Dr P Rutherford (May 2010):

This occurred while I was serving in Vietnam. As our unit had particularly strong radio equipment we were often tasked to listen in on different networks in order to back up the ground or air crews experiencing communications difficulties due to any number of reasons. One particular conversation had me in stitches for hours afterwards. I can't recall the callsigns so I'll just call them A and B. 
Callsign A (ground crew): "Callsign B. What is your location? Over." 
Callsign B (Birddog aircraft): "I am in the Hat Dich area. Over." 
Callsign A: "Say again your location. Over." 
Callsign B: "I am in the Hat Dich area, I say again, Hat Dich area. Over." 
Callsign A: "Sorry. Say again location. Over" 
Callsign B: "I am in the Hat - as in head - Dich - as in head, area. Over." 
Callsign A: "Roger out."

From AW (Mar 2010):

I met an SR-71 pilot a few years ago. (SR-71 was the USAAF advanced 'stealth' reconnaissance aircraft known as the Blackbird). He told me this story from his first flight with a new co-pilot: An SR-71 and crew were flying over Southern California when a bug smasher came on the airwaves in a dorky voice: Cessna 152: Ground Control, What's my airspeed? Ground Control: 100 at FL 100. A few moments later a cocky voice came on: Mooney M20: Ground Control, What's MY airspeed? Ground Control: 240 at FL 240. By this time the SR pilot was seething, but since communications were the duty of his new co-pilot, he remained silent. A few moments of radio silence passed, and in the calmest voice imaginable the co-pilot keyed in: SR-71: Ground Control, What's our airspeed? Ground Control: 1875 at FL 800. There were no more speed checks called in that afternoon, and the pilot knew that he had a cool partner in the back seat.

From Dave (Mar 2010):

I was told this story by an air traffic controller from his time at a joint military/civilian airport. An F-4 (USAAF fighter jet) pilot requested clearance to take off, but due to the amount of civilian traffic the ATC told him he'd have to hold. After a repeated impatient request by the F-4 to take-off the ATC suggested that if the pilot could reach 14,000ft within half the runway length he could take off; otherwise he would have to hold. To the ATC's surprise the F-4 pilot acknowledged the tower and began to roll. At the halfway mark the F-4 went vertically up until he reached 14,000ft, then levelled off. The ATC had no option than to hand the pilot over to departures and wish him a nice day, since he'd met the conditions laid down. The ATC said it was the darndest thing he ever saw.

From Stewart (Mar 2010):

Due to take off from JFK New York one morning in our Qantas 707 we were about eighth of fifteen aircraft in line. From one of the aircraft, presumably experiencing a slight problem, a voice over the radio said, "Fuck!" 
JFK Air Traffic Control (angrily demanding to know): "Who said fuck?" 
First aircraft in the line (gave callsign): "I did not say FUCK." 
Quickly followed by the second in line (gave callsign): "I did not say FUCK." 
Then the third, and then all of us, one by one, giving the same "I did not say FUCK" reply.

Another time, we were about fourth in a long queue waiting to take off in our larger Boeing aircraft. The JFK ATC allowed a B737 on a local flight to take a short-cut and start his takeoff run by joining the main runway from a taxiway causing us to wait for him to take off and clear. "How do you like them apples?" he said on local VHF as he started his takeoff run. Boeing aircraft had a warning horn for major problems that you can test. Half-way along the B737's takeoff run, 'someone' held their cockpit mike to the horn and pressed it as they tested it. The B737 abruptly stopped takeoff with full reverse and full braking and shuddered to a halt, tires (tyres) smoking. A few seconds later we heard a voice on our VHF: "How do you like them apples?.."

From L Miller (Jan 2010):

A British Airways 737 touched down at Frankfurt-am-Main. The tower controller, obviously in frivolous mood, transmitted: "Speedbird 123. Nice landing Captain, But a little left of the centre-line, I think." Quick as a flash, the BA Captain replied in a cool English accent: "Roger Frankfurt Tower. Perfectly correct. I am a little to the left of the centre-line. And my co-pilot is a little to the right of it."

A KingAir had just rotated (lifted-off the runway) at take-off when there was an enormous bang and the starboard engine burst into flames. After stamping on the rudder to sort out the asymmetric thrust, trying to feather the propeller and going through the engine fire drills with considerable calmness and aplomb, the stress took its toll on the Captain... He transmitted to the tower in a level friendly voice: "Ladies and gentleman. There is no problem at all but we're just going to land for a nice cup of tea." He then switched to cabin intercom and screamed at the passengers: "Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. Engine fire. Prop won't feather. If I can't hold this asymmetric we're going in. Emergency landing. Get the crash crew out." The aircraft landed safely with the passengers' hair standing on end.

The late Captain Mickey Munn – an all-round fine fellow, highly experienced pilot and, at the time, Sergeant in the Red Devils (UK Parachute Regiment display team) - was piloting a Britten Norman Islander to jumping altitude with a full load of hairy-arsed paras crammed into the rear of the aircraft. With no warning at all, a bang and a flash of flame, the port engine blew itself to pieces. Mickey's hands flashed around the cockpit as he brought the aircraft under control. As soon as the aircraft was straight and level he turned to his passengers and said: "Phew. I think you chaps should…" But his words tailed away as he gaped at the empty passenger cabin. At the first sign of trouble, the paras had leaped from the aircraft and were at that moment floating serenely towards the earth. Mickey landed safely to tell the tale. 
(Thanks L Miller for these three wonderful stories.)

From P de Bromhead, Dec 2009:

My late father, who was on Fleet Air Arm Buccaneers, told this story involving a pilot operating on an exchange arrangement from an overseas developing country. My dad was sat waiting for take-off clearance when he heard the exchange pilot, somewhere, request a 'bearing' from the ATC (air traffic controller). This was duly given and after a few minutes a second 'bearing' was requested. This was the same as the first and after a third and identical 'bearing' was requested and given, the ATC asked the exchange pilot if he had any visual references. The pilot replied that he had a haystack to his starboard side, at which point it transpired that he was lost on the taxi-way.

From S Smith, Nov 2009:

I was working local control for the runway 25's at LAX one afternoon and a pilot reported a 'flock of seagulls' on final approach. Without hesitation, I replied, "Was that the band or the birds?" I got absolutely no response from the pilot... I guess not everyone has a sense of humor!

And in similar vein, from J Douglass, Nov 2009:

(December 2007, Seattle Washington)

Pilot: "Boeing Tower, Cessna 761 Uniform Alpha for a Mercer Departure at Alpha Niner with information X-Ray." 
Tower: "Cessna 761 Uniform Alpha cleared for takeoff, runway 13 right, fly the Mercer departure." 
Pilot: "Cessna 761 Uniform Alpha cleared for takeoff, is rolling." 
45 seconds later... 
Co-Pilot: "Boeing tower, please be advised, there is a flock of seagulls near the south end of runway 13 right at 400 ft." 
Tower: (singing) "And I ran, I ran so far away... I just ran, I ran all night and day... I had to get away.." 
Pilot: "Cessna 761 Uniform Alpha has humor..." 
Tower: (hysterical laughter)

(The lyric incidentally is from the chorus of the 1982 hit song 'I ran' by A Flock of Seagulls.)

From Chris, Jul 2009:

This happened at the small but busy Sarasota Florida airport in 1975. The tower was open from 6am until 10pm and most of the traffic was during daylight hours. There was a National flight in every night about 8:30pm and often had a joker at the wheel. On a particular dark night after handoff from Tampa approach the controller hears: "Sarasota tower, National123 with you... (pause) ... guess where?." The controller promptly turned off all the airport lights - there was no other traffic - and replied: "National123 - Sarasota tower - guess where?..." After a silence of about fifteen seconds the chastened National pilot came back: "Sarasota tower this is National Airlines flight 123 from Tampa and we are exactley 10.3 DME on the 300 degree radial inbound for landing.." The controller switched the lights back on and cleared the pilot to land.

And another from Chris: As a controller at a small busy airport in Florida, my story is about a student pilot talking to ground on an IFR morning (IFR means Instrument Flight Rules, necessitated by cloudy skies). At the time the transmission was made, there was an 800 foot ceiling (of cloud) with 2 miles visability in a light mist. Here is the communication - Student pilot: Ground, this is N12345 student pilot, and my instructor wants to know what the height of the ceiling is in the tower. Ground Controller: Cessna's about eight-and-a-half feet. There was then a pause in which both an Eastern pilot and a National pilot made similar comments. The student pilot came back on the radio. Student pilot: OK.. my mistake.. what is the reported weather ceiling at this time? Ground Controller: 800 overcast..

R Dillon sent the following, Mar 2009:

A controller at the Nashville, Tennessee airport told me about an incident from several years ago when he cleared a Cessna 172 (4 seater small aircraft) for landing. As the Cessna turned to final approach, an airliner called in 'over the marker' (5 miles from the airport). The Cessna was about a half mile from the runway, and the controller knew he could land and clear the runway well before the airliner would land, so he cleared the airliner to land as well. A few seconds later, the Cessna pilot asked the controller, "How far behind me is that 737?" Before the controller could respond, the airline pilot keyed his mike, and in a deep bass voice said, "Don't look back!..."

P White, Sep 2008, sent this fine story, in the longer stories section below

J Mears, Aug 2008, sent this amusing exchange between pilot and engineer via technical fault report forms... 

We received a fault report from the pilot of an HH-60 Pave Hawk (combat search and rescue helicopter). The pilot's fault report stated, "Pilot's side seat cushion will not cushion." The engineer's corrective action on the reply form stated "Put pilot on fat boy program..." 

From E Haigh, Mar 2008 - I thought I'd let you know about a time when I was up in the air doing aeros (aerobatics) and turning back into circuit as one of my other friends was coming into land... 

On contact with the runway the friend's plane veered off to the left and crashed, narrowly avoiding a large very deep pond, just to the left of the runway on the taxi hold point. The pilot still managed to report: "Runway vacated..." 

The airfield had a fit of the giggles, and happily although the plane was a very mangled write-off, no serious injury was sustained. 

From DG, Feb 2008 - At the initial pilot training bases for the military, the landing pattern tends to get packed (sometimes up to 12-15 airplanes for one runway) and some of those planes are being flown by students solo (yes, a $4m piece of tax-payer money being hurled around a strip of concrete at speeds of 200 knots by a 23-year-old kid fresh out of college with less than 30 hours of flying experience). Anyway, I was sitting a watch in the controlling tower for the runway on a particularly busy day, when one of my buddies from my class, who was flying solo at the time, pipped in with a PIREP (pilot report) for the pattern: 
Solo: "This is Solo 72, there is some turbulence at point initial." 
Controller: "Thanks for the warning." 
Some instructor also flying in the pattern: "It's called wake turbulence." 
(The term 'point initial' refers to about 3 miles away from the runway, used for preparing landing alignment. The term 'wake turbulence' refers to air turbulence caused by other aircraft.) 

From 'an aircraft mechanic', Jan 2008 - My instructer for My A&P (Airframe and Powerplant) training told a funny story from the 1980s... He had landed in Egypt to refuel the Gulfstream he was flying. On take-off he noticed a guard standing in what looked like a refrigator box. With the the guard behind him my instructer goosed the throtles - which sent the guard head over heels for about 20 yards...

From Rich, November 2007 (non-atc folk might want to read the technical explanation first) - This allegedly did happen although I wasn't on duty during the shift, so I can't verify it. An F-4 with a Colonel at the stick was entering the tower pattern at Osan AB, Korea, and wanted priority landing because of his rank and position. The tower controller was extremely busy recovering mission F-4s and OV-10s, not to mention the aircraft who were on final approach with approach control. The controller sequenced the F-4 and gave him a point at which to report. The pilot refused stating that, "It was his airport and he wanted to land," (it wasn't his airport as he would later learn from a 3-star and a 1-star). The control said "(acft call sign), since you can't follow ATC instructions, hold 5 miles north of the airport. Maintain radio silence unless an emergency condition exists. Report approaching minimum fuel." The reply from the aircraft was, "Roger Tower, we're number 5 and will report a departure end break." The controller didn't escape the situation unscathed. He had to take a pretty severe chewing out, but there were no more problems like that. Especially when busy. 

And another from Rich - This is one actually happened on my watch. Brand new trainee in the facility at a base in North Dakota. He is scanning the runway with binoculars and tells the local controller that he has a 'dog' on the runway. The local controller tells a B-52 on final, "Go around. Dog on runway." I told the trainee that he might want to let me know what the breed of the dog was, since I had never seen a dog with antlers. The 'dog' was a 2000 lb, bull moose. This guy still takes flak over that one, even though he deserved a save for catching it before the rest of us did.

From Bob Andersen, November 2007 - In November 1996 I was in a Angel Flight Piper Cub going to Tampa International Airport. I was in there because I got a call from Tampa General Hospital that a heart would be ready for me. Angel Flight planes are volunteered free of charge to transplant recipients. The pilot called the tower and told them who we were. The ATC said we could not land because President Clinton was there and the secret service would not let us land. (This was just after his California fiasco with his 400 dollar haircut.) The pilot told the ATC that he would call the press and TV stations and let them know a heart recipient could not land because POTUS (President Of The United States) was there. I think they thought about the bad publicity and said that they would hold him up and let us land, and they would escort us to the hospital. However we felt that this was not a good idea because of the land traffic wanting to get a glimpse of Clinton, and we so we should use the General Airport instead. We did so, and I got to the airport and the hospital on time. As it turned out, the heart was not good, but I waited another few weeks and finally got a heart on Jan 7th. It was a great heart as you can see I am still alive almost 11 years after the operation. (My thanks to Bob Andersen - illustrating that persistence, determination, and adaptability can overcome the most daunting obstacles.) 

From Dennis Rainwater, October 2007 - I have a (well, almost) personal ATC/Pilot conversation I thought I'd share with you. I was a weather guy in the USAF during the late 80s-early 90s, and while I was stationed at RAF Woodbridge in England I often hung out with a controller in the tower cab just above our office. This fellow shared a story with me that he claimed happened to him personally. I can't vouch 100% for the authenticity of this tale, but the guy was generally believable... Also, a detail or two might be blurred by my own faulty memory over the past 15-20 years, but here it goes: My friend says he was training an ATC rookie - I think he said it was out at Nellis AFB. Anyway, one day this kid takes a call from an aircraft requesting clearance to FL 800 (80,000 feet)... 

Rookie (dripping with sarcasm): "Okay, hotshot -- if you think you can take her that high, GO FOR IT!!" 
Pilot of the SR-71 on the other end of the radio: "Roger Control; now DESCENDING from 100,000 feet to FL 800...." 

From Luke Wray, August 2007 - From NAS Fallon NV, last week: A recently qualified Clearance Delivery operator was working a moderately busy period when a Navy DC-9 called, requesting clearance back to NAS Jacksonville, FL. The controller responded back to the pilot that the flight plan was not in the system. The controller hammered away at the FDIO with no success. The next transmission to the DC-9 was: "VVJV…, clearance, Mam your flight plan is not in the system, would you like to go back to Jax VFR? The pilot responded (while laughing) "No thanks, we'll file a flight plan.." 

From Dr Hugh David, June 2007 - Some years ago I was checking the record of simulated air-ground communication in a Real-Time simulation at the Eurocontrol Experimental Centre. Towards the end of one simulation I came across the following: 

French Simulator 'Pilot': "AF302 over NTM now." 
German Controller "AF302 Roger. Report names of stewardesses." 
FSP: "Claudette Colbert and Caroline Chose." 
GC: "Colbert I know, but who is Chose?" 
FSP: "You must know her, she was Alan Delon's third wife, between Truc and Nimporte!" 
GC: "Ach, these French actors, they marry and unmarry, I cannot keep track!" 
FSP: "Well, at least, the French actors, they marry VIMMEN!" 
... (long pause) ... 
GC: "AF302 continue descent as planned." 

A story from a friend in BA. He was overflying Aden, and saw an Aeroflot freighter climbing out. 
Heavily accented voice on frequency: "Hey, English, you used to have Aden?" 
BA: "Yes, we did. Why?" 
HAV: "Ve have had to overnight there, and you can have it back!" 

Light aircraft pilot asked Heathrow for the current cloudbase over Bristol. London relayed the question to an Air France flight near Bristol and got the reply: 

"Ve are at fifteen thousand, in and out the bottom." 
Anonymous voice on frequency: "Vive le sport!" 

Lufhansa Pilot to co-pilot, forgetting that the frequency was open: "We used to come up the Thames, and turn over here for the docks...." 
Voice on frequency: "ACHTUNG SPITFEUR" 

Novice female military controller to US bomber leaving radar coverage, forgetting the correct terminology... "You are entering my dark area" 

Tower Controller: "BA356, proceed to stand 69" 
BA: "Yes, Sir, Nose in or Nose out?" 

"Mumbai, what number am I in the landing sequence?" 
"By the time you land, sir, you will be number one." 

And (another) hoary old chestnut: QANTAS pilot to copilot landing at Sydney, forgetting the cabin intercom was live: 

"What I need now is a cold beer and a hot shiela" 
Stewardess hurries forward lest worse befall. 
Chorus of passengers "Hey, you forgot the beer!" 

(Ack Dr Hugh David for the above) 

From Brad White, June 2007 - One to share, from an uncle who was in the USAF until retiring several years ago. No other attribution unfortunately but here it is. A near miss occurred outside of Dulles International. The conversation went along these lines... 

Pilot: "DAMN! That was close..." 
IAD Tower: "Delta 560, what seems to be the problem?" 
Pilot (catching his breath), "Near miss- was he ever close!" 
IAD Tower: "Delta 560, how close was it?" 
Pilot: "Well, I can tell you one thing, it was a white boy flying it." 

From Mitch Reilly, May 2007 - I was listening to the radio, doing a preflight at MSP and heard the following exchange... My co-pilot did not hear it and gave me a strange look when I was doubled-over laughing. 'Northwest 605' was a DC-9. 'Flagship (Pinnacle) 5600' was a CRJ. The exchange went like this... 

Northwest 605: "Northwest 605 request taxi to the active MSP." 
Ground: "Northwest 605 taxi to runway **, follow the CRJ, you will be number two." 
Northwest 605: "Roger, we will follow the Smurf-Jet." 
Flagship 5600: "At least my airplane does not qualify for an AARP membership.." 

(For those who don't know, AARP is the American Association of Retired Persons, and CRJ stands for Canadair Regional Jet.)

From Andrew Walker, May 2007 - A friend of the family used to fly for US Air, and told us this tale of how one day his plane was one of many trying to land at a busy airport. One of the controllers came on and reported something happened to cause a further delay and that those planes in a holding pattern would need to stay there. Almost immediately, one of the pilots responded with, "Bullshit!" The controller then said something to the effect of, "Sir, the use of profane language is prohibited on this channel by FAA and FCC regulations. Please identify yourself." After a moment, one of the pilots reported, "This is flight 123 and we are negative on the bullshit." A moment after that, another flight reported in, "This is flight 456 and we are also negative on the bullshit." One by one, each and every one of the flights reported in as being "negative on the bullshit." 

This from Tom Comeau, April 2007 - My brother is an air traffic controller, and has two favorite conversations he recounts. One of them I'm sure is a true story, because I was there when it happened; the other is completely consistent with his personality. The first was as a small General Aviation airport in the midwest. A student doing touch-and-go's reported flying past some geese on his downwind leg. The controller responded with "Skipper 3846 Sierra cleared for the option break break attention all aircraft caution watertory migrafowl reported north of the airfield." After a pause somebody responded "You mean, like, birds?" The controller, without hestitation, replied, "Yes sir!" 

The second was at a commercial airport in Texas. The controller was trying to deliver a clearance that was mostly "cleared as filed" but with one change at the departure and arrival airport. After two incorrect readbacks, the frustrated controller blurted out "Okay, that's enough tries for you. Let me talk to Beavis." (Ack T Comeau)

A huge C-5 cargo plane was sitting near where a small plane was waiting to take off. The private pilot got a little nervous because the military plane was closer than normal, and asked the tower to find out the intentions of the C-5. Before the tower could reply, a voice came over the radio as the C-5's nose cargo doors opened, saying, "I'm going to eat you." (Ack E Scharzmann)

A story from the late 1950's Navy flight training at Corpus Christi, Texas. Instructors were known to party hard at night, even before a 'hop' the next morning. A common 'cure' was to put on the mask and breathe the pure oxygen while the trainee got the craft airborne. The SNJ training aircraft had a tandum cockpit with intercom for personal communication between the instructor and the trainee. These 'private' communications would be broadcast on air if the intercom switch were accidentally left open. One such morning following a heavy night for one particular instructor, not long after the flight was aloft, the following was heard over the air: "Boy, am I ever f...ed up this morning." After a lengthy pause a young lady air traffic controller demanded: "Aircraft making that last transmission, please identify yourself." There was an even lengthier pause, and then a voice said: "Lady, I'm not that f...ed up." (Ack Mike)

In 1958, I was bouncing down the runway trying to land in a big cross-wind when the instructor said "I trust we will be landing soon, because my medical permit expires next Tuesday." The same year, I was flying a Navy SNB (C-45) and the instructor began laughing as he read the squawk sheet from the previous flight. It said: "Order heater for co-pilot's seat." (Ack E Pisor)

The Stapleton runways were so close together that aircraft on parallel runways had to see each other and provide visual separation before Control could issue an approach clearance. Commonly when pilots were asked if had they had traffic in sight they would lazily respond with, "I see some lights," which, frustratingly, did not meet requirements for approach clearance. One very busy night a particular crew would not report the traffic in sight. Finally the pilot said, "I see some lights over there." The controller responded in a vexed tone, "Is there an aircraft attached to those lights?" Laughing, the pilot responded, "Why I do believe there is. Thanks we have the aircraft in sight." For that crew at least, the point was made. (Ack P Davied)

United cargo jet (with female pilot): "This is my secondary radio. Is my transmission still fuzzy? 
Oakland ARTCC controller: "I don't know. I've never seen it." (Earned him two weeks on the beach) (Ack 'a former ATC')

After being informed by a pilot cleared to land in Fayetteville that he now had two light aircraft cleared to land on opposite ends of the same runway, the controller paused and transmitted "Y'all be careful now." (Ack 'a former ATC' - he says this is true, he heard the tape.)

One very stormy morning in BOS, many planes were lined up on taxiways waiting for departure. A female pilot made a successful landing on a crossing runway after visibly wrestling her Flying Tiger stretched DC-8 through turbulence and blustery snow squalls, fighting it right down to the runway. An anonymous voice: "But can you park it?" (Ack 'a former ATC')

A newly promoted Military Liaison Officer was standing the morning watch at Oakland ARTCC. His former controller team mates sent an assistant to the front desk, requesting permission from the new MLO to start the 'wind tunnels' at Moffett NAS (there weren't any of course). Not wanting to appear ignorant, the MLO granted the request. After notifying the front desk a short time later that there were reports of severe to extreme turbulence in the vicinity of San Carlos, Palo Alto and San Jose airports, the controllers watched in glee as the rookie supervisor grabbed the 'hot phone' and bellowed to the watch supervisor at Moffett (and through the loudspeakers at every other ATC facility in Oakland's area), "This is the Oakland Center Supervisor and I'm ordering you to immediately shut off that fan!" (Ack 'a former ATC')

A young, newly checked out local controller at Logan Airport granted the request of a Trans Portuguese "707" to use non-active 15R (the longest runway) for departure and cleared the plane to "taxi into position and hold". Seeing what he thought was a short pause coming in crossing operations, he told the crew to "Be ready and spool 'em up!" The old "oil burner" sat on the runway with fire walled engines belching clouds of black smoke over nearby neighborhoods for many minutes. Only when the ground controller announced that airport fire apparatus was responding to a major fire in East Boston did anyone in the tower realize that the rookie (now stirring his newly poured coffee) had forgotten the plane and everything from Orient Heights to the Mystic River Bridge had disappeared in his exhaust. (Ack 'a former ATC')

A military pilot had been having difficulty with smooth landings and the crew was required to make note of the exact time the plane landed at different bases. One particular landing took several bounces before staying on the ground. The crew reportedly called up to the pilot, "Which landing shall we note for the record, Sir?" (Ack A & M Martin)

the 'Fudpucker' ATC quotes

The earliest reference I have seen for at least some of these quotes in the column below is the seemingly now defunct spoof 'Fudpucker World Airlines' website dating back to June 1996 (thanks Scott). Fudpucker World Airlines (whose business I am not entirely sure of) and associated merchandise apparently date back to the 1970s (thanks D Kennedy). When and if I have more detail I will post it here. If you were a 'Fudpacker passenger' and can help clarify the history and especially the origins of the funny quotes which appeared on the Fudpucker website, please let me know.

Tower: "Delta 351, you have traffic at 10 o'clock, 6 miles!" 
Delta 351: "Give us another hint! We have digital watches!"

"TWA 2341, for noise abatement turn right 45 Degrees." 
"Centre, we are at 35,000 feet. How much noise can we make up here?" 
"Sir, have you ever heard the noise a 747 makes when it hits a 727?"

From an unknown aircraft waiting in a very long takeoff queue: "I'm bored!" 
Ground Traffic Control: "Last aircraft transmitting, identify yourself immediately!" 
Unknown aircraft: "I said I was bored, not stupid!"

Control tower to a 747: "United 329 heavy, your traffic is a Fokker, one o'clock, three miles, Eastbound." 
United 239: "Approach, I've always wanted to say this... I've got the little Fokker in sight."

A DC-10 had come in a little hot and thus had an exceedingly long roll out after touching down. San Jose Tower noted: "American 751, make a hard right turn at the end of the runway, if you are able. If you are not able, take the Guadalupe exit off Highway 101, make a right at the lights and return to the airport."

A military pilot called for a priority landing because his single-engine jet fighter was running "a bit peaked." Air Traffic Control told the fighter pilot that he was number two, behind a B-52 that had one engine shut down. "Ah," the fighter pilot remarked, "The dreaded seven-engine approach."

Allegedly, a Pan Am 727 flight waiting for start clearance in Munich overheard the following: 
Lufthansa (in German): "Ground, what is our start clearance time?" 
Ground (in English): "If you want an answer you must speak in English." 
Lufthansa (in English): "I am a German, flying a German airplane, in Germany. Why must I speak English?" 
Unknown voice from another plane (in a beautiful British accent): "Because you lost the bloody war."

Tower: "Eastern 702, cleared for takeoff, contact Departure on frequency 124.7" 
Eastern 702: "Tower, Eastern 702 switching to Departure. By the way, after we lifted off we saw some kind of dead animal on the far end of the runway." 
Tower: "Continental 635, cleared for takeoff behind Eastern 702, contact Departure on frequency 124.7. Did you copy that report from Eastern 702?" 
Continental 635: "Continental 635, cleared for takeoff, roger; and yes, we copied Eastern... we've already notified our caterers."

One day the pilot of a Cherokee 180 was told by the tower to hold short of the active runway while a DC-8 landed. The DC-8 landed, rolled out, turned around, and taxied back past the Cherokee. Some quick-witted comedian in the DC-8 crew got on the radio and said, "What a cute little plane. Did you make it all by yourself?" The Cherokee pilot, not about to let the insult go by, came back with a real zinger: "I made it out of DC-8 parts. Another landing like yours and I'll have enough for another one."

Allegedly the German air controllers at Frankfurt Airport are renowned as a short-tempered lot. They, it is alleged, not only expect one to know one's gate parking location, but how to get there without any assistance from them. So it was with some amusement that we (a Pan Am 747) listened to the following exchange between Frankfurt ground control and a British Airways 747, call sign Speedbird 206. 
Speedbird 206: "Frankfurt, Speedbird 206 clear of active runway." 
Ground: "Speedbird 206. Taxi to gate Alpha One-Seven." The BA 747 pulled onto the main taxiway and slowed to a stop. 
Ground: "Speedbird, do you not know where you are going?" 
Speedbird 206: "Stand by, Ground, I'm looking up our gate location now." 
Ground (with quite arrogant impatience): "Speedbird 206, have you not been to Frankfurt before?" 
Speedbird 206 (coolly): "Yes, twice in 1944, but it was dark,... and I didn't land."

Allegedly, while taxiing at London's Gatwick Airport, the crew of a US Air flight departing for Ft. Lauderdale made a wrong turn and came nose to nose with a United 727. An irate female ground controller lashed out at the US Air crew, screaming: "US Air 2771, where the hell are you going?! I told you to turn right onto Charlie taxiway! You turned right on Delta! Stop right there. I know it's difficult for you to tell the difference between C and D, but get it right!" Continuing her rage to the embarrassed crew, she was now shouting hysterically: "God! Now you've screwed everything up! It'll take forever to sort this out! You stay right there and don't move till I tell you to! You can expect progressive taxi instructions in about half an hour and I want you to go exactly where I tell you, when I tell you, and how I tell you! You got that, US Air 2771?" US Air 2771: "Yes, ma'am," the humbled crew responded. Naturally, the ground control communications frequency fell terribly silent after the verbal bashing of US Air 2771. Nobody wanted to chance engaging the irate ground controller in her current state of mind. Tension in every cockpit out around Gatwick was definitely running high. Just then an unknown pilot broke the silence and keyed his microphone, asking: "Wasn't I married to you once?"


(Technical explanation background for Rich's story: When fighters enter the VFR (Visual Flight Rules) Traffic pattern they come in at a higher altitude and aren't flying the traditional rectangular traffic pattern. There two reporting points: Initial - which is generally a position entering the traffic pattern and lined up with the runway - and Break - which is the point over the approach end of the runway at which the pilot begins a descending 360-degree turn back to the final approach course. If a controller needs to space the aircraft out to maintain separation, he/she can specify a position at which the pilot should break. IE: Break midfield (the middle of the runway) or Break Departure End (the departure end of the runway ). The approach end of the runway is the end that is most nearly aligned to the wind direction and indicates the direction of arrival and departure. The departure end is the opposite end of that runway. If you ever have any questions about ATC procedure or traffic pattern things, you can google FAAH 7110.65 and look in the pilot-controller glossary or download the entire manual in PDF. Acknowledgements to Rich.)


longer atc/aviation stories

The following excellent tale (thanks P White) is a longer story than the quick atc quotes above. It provides the opportunity to invite other similar submissions of air traffic control and aviation stories. If you have an entertaining or amusing story from the world of flying and air traffic communications, please send it.

From P White, 17 Sep 2008:

One of my 'older retired' friends, Andy, used to fly Avro Ansons during the war...

Shortly after VE day (Victory in Europe, 8 May 1945) he was instructed to fly some high ranking officials, including many officers of Air Commode (Commodore) rank, and various other 'shinies' of brigadier and above, to the KG200 airfield at Gatow (Berlin). Andy was flying from England, and as fuel was limited to the exact gallon, he made a careful note of the fuel required. In this case it was a near full tank to get there and would allow for a straight in approach. So, flight planned, he checked the weather report, which indicated slight change of fog, and set off. To conserve fuel, careful engine management was vital. Upon approaching the border of Germany he radioed to the airfield met office and asked for the weather report. The operator indicated he was covering for the officer in charge, and read out the weather report for the airfield. As Andy approached Berlin airspace he could see fog but no airfield. He descended with caution and asked the controller to talk him in. The instructions were precise. He wound down the landing gear, deployed landing flaps, and heard the ATC's last comment, 'good luck'. The instructions, however, were not precise enough: he could see the airfield lights away at 10 o'clock position. Realising the fuel gauges needles were all on empty he slammed the throttle and pulled the Anson round hard. Under the sudden change of direction Andy noted the groans from the Anson's airframe, and also from the Air Commodes in the back. The aircraft was pulled around - no time to line up - just plant the wheels and line up after. About ten feet before the wheels touched down the engines cut out.

I saw the entry in his pilot's log: 'Engines cut on approach - shinies spilled soup on uniform - towed off runway..."

As soon the aircraft halted, Andy and all the shinies went to the met office, to interrogate the officer in charge.

What they found was an erk covering, who had no knowledge of met operations, and who hadn't even looked out of the window to warn aircraft of the fog. He was reading the weather report from the local newspaper. No joke, all the comments were clearly detailed in the pilot's log. Could have been a very different story of course.

The morale of the tale - always look out the window when reporting the local weather - never use the Berlin Times printed the day before.

(Thanks P White)


Send your ATC/aviation stories and funny quotes.

(By sending your contribution you agree to its being edited and published on this webpage. You retain ownership of the original material, assuming it's yours in the first place. Please provide details of how you'd like to be attributed.)


aircraft maintenance engineers 'gripe sheets' or 'squawk reports' comments

These aircraft maintenance comments are allegedly from 'gripe sheets' or 'squawk reports' which contain pilots' reports of aircraft technical problems and the responses from maintenance engineers. Various origins are suggested for these funny quotes, most popularly Qantas and the US Air Force, and more specifically Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (thanks J Williams). The earliest reference I have seen for at least some of these quotes is the seemingly now defunct spoof 'Fudpucker World Airlines', dating back to June 1996 (thanks Scott). When and if I have more detail I will post it here. If you were a 'fudpacker passenger' and can help clarify the history, please let me know. That said, it is unlikely that all these comments are from a single original source, especially given the mixture of technology featured, and given that some are probably military and others not. This is not an attempt to present a factually reliable or accurate listing of these alleged quotes, if one ever existed at all - it's just a list of the funniest examples. If you know the true origins of any of these - or if you were an original 'Fudpacker passenger' - please let me know.

These amusing communications illustrate the implications of using vague language, as well as the age-old potential for conflict and confusion between operational departments and functions, and the long-suffering tolerance of service and maintenance staff in support of operational personnel found in all industries.

Technical problem or defect reported by pilot or crew.Remedial action or answer reported by maintenance engineer
Something loose in cockpit.Something tightened in cockpit.
Left-inside main tyre (tire) almost needs replacing.Almost replaced left-inside main tyre.
Autopilot tends to drop a wing when fuel imbalance reaches 500lbs.Flight manual limits maximum fuel imbalance to 300lbs.
Unfamiliar noise coming from No2 engine.Engine run for three hours. Noise now familiar.
Mouse in cockpit.Cat installed.
Target radar hums.Reprogrammed target radar with lyrics.
Number three engine missing. [not firing properly presumably]Engine found on starboard [right] wing after brief search.
Pilot's clock inoperative.Wound clock. 
Aircraft handles funny.Aircraft told to straighten up, fly right and be serious.
Whining sound heard on engine shutdown. Pilot removed from aircraft.
Noise coming from under instrument panel - sounds like a midget pounding on something with a hammer.Took hammer away from midget.
Suspected crack in windshield.Suspect you are right.
IFF inoperative. [IFF = Identification, Friend or Foe.]IFF always inoperative in 'off' mode.
Test flight okay except Auto-Land very rough.Auto-Land is not installed on this aircraft.
No2 ADF needle runs wild. [ADF = Automatic Direction Finder/Finding?]Caught and tamed No2 ADF needle.
Turn and slip indicator ball stuck in center during turns.Congratulations. You just made your first coordinated turn!
Dead bugs on windshield.Live bugs on back order.
Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces 200 feet per minute descent.Cannot reproduce problem on ground.
Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.Evidence removed.
Three roaches in cabin.One roach killed, one wounded, one got away.
DME volume set unbelievably loud. [DME = Distance Measuring Equipment?]DME volume set to more believable level.
No2 propeller seeping prop fluid.No2 propeller seepage normal. Nos 1, 3 and 4 propellers lack normal seepage.
Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.That's what they are for.


another amusing gripe sheet story

My thanks to M Savage for this story. It provides an interesting example of managing a working environment, and notably the expectations/attitudes/habits of others. The tactic is not necessarily transferable everywhere, but offers the idea that sometimes a bit of humour and creativity can be a very effective intervention in changing behaviour and reconditioning attitudes:


While stationed with the USMC (United States Marine Corps) at Cherry Point, North Carolina, back in the the 1960s, I worked in a Headquarters Squadron that had three C-117s (a military version of the DC-3).

One of these aircraft had an unusual radio configuration that incorporated several circuit breakers on the bulkhead behind the pilot's head. Why? Who knows! But unfortunately we continually had many flights cancelled because of reports that the radios didn't work.

Well, the radios worked fine but some of the pilots refused to familiarize themselves with the airplane and perform proper pre-flight inspections. So they never turned on the radio circuit breakers.

After signing off about fifty gripes by saying "no problem found", I did something one day that cured the problem..

I signed off the aircraft yellow gripe sheet with the following comment: "Short between the pilot's headset".

This was an obvious comment on the deficiency of brain matter in the pilot's head. Well, that got me chewed out royally by the squadron maintenance officer, who I was told later had laughed uncontrollably after I left his office. The problem was solved though, because the negligent pilots were made the butt of so much teasing that nobody again forgot to turn on those circuit breakers.

(Thanks M Savage, former USMC Sergeant and later a long-time commercial pilot and flight instructor - 24 Sep 2010)


I welcome further contributions of your own original amusing airtraffic control stories, pilot stories, and engineering 'gripe sheets' and aircraft maintenance stories. Send your contribution. By sending your contribution you agree to its being edited and published on this webpage. You retain ownership of the original material, assuming it's yours in the first place. Please provide details of how you'd like to be attributed on this page (e.g., name and title, or just initials, whatever) and a little background about the story, and briefly explain any complex jargon/abbreviations. Thanks.


see also