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Old 12-04-2000
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Crew Members Nicknames

I've heard radiomen referred to as "Sparks", doctors called "Sawbones", and gunnery sargeants called "Guns." Is there a military slang expression for navigators?

Lou Kates

Jim Sexton responds:

The short answer to the question is "no." But since this nickname is not so well known, here is the long answer.

In times of yore, the captain of the ship and the navigator were one and the same. In the modern era, the duties became too complex for one person to handle both and thus were divided up. The person who controlled the vessel (either boat or aircraft) eventually became the commander. So today, the pilot of an aircraft is usually in command and the navigator is just another crewmember. On a navy ship, the Captain is in command and another set of Officers and Chief Petty Officers are charged with navigation duties and function as a team. Merchant Mariners use the First and Second Officer for navigation duties and the Captain is very much in charge and responsible.

"Navigator" is a much more time-honored term than pilot, going back to Henry the Navigator and the early explorers who were honored because they were extraordinary navigators. Mark Twain, one early navigator, gave up being a Mississippi riverboat pilot to scribble some books.

A B-52 has three "navigators." One is the Radar Navigator or Bombardier and seated next to him is the Navigator who is officially charged with the actual navigation and aids the RN on a bomb run. The third navigator was trained as an Electronic Warfare Officer and would take the celestial observations for the Navigator when he wasn't jamming enemy radar and missiles. On all aircrews, every member had an "unofficial" nickname or "handle," but officially were always referred to by their crew position, i.e. Pilot, copilot, Nav, WSO, RIO, RN, EW, Chief, Gunner, etc. If you saw "Top Gun" you know what I'm talking about. Nav or "Naviguesser" also comes to mind from B-52 days. "GIB" for Guy in Back for the F-4, and the GIB's in turn called the pilots "Nose Gunners". Fighter-Gator, or just Gator was another common expression for a GIB who wore Navigator wings. (Initially all F-4 GIBs were pilots but when a fighter pilot shortage developed during the Vietnam war, navigators were trained as GIBs)

The Weapon System Officer (WSO pronounced "Wizzo") was the term used for the former Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) in the F-89, F101 and then the F-4 as newer navigators without training in celestial navigation came into the Air Force. In the F-105 Wild Weasel program they were called "Bears." The Wild Weasels would fire Air to Ground missiles at enemy Surface to Air (SAM) tracking radar sites when ever they came on the air.

Today. everyone aboard has a nickname or handle, which is the preferred way to refer to someone who occupies a crew position.

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