This SFF.SE question: " Why did Red Squadron give their call signs in random order? " raises a good point: for some reason, the "Standing by" responses Red Squadron pilots give before attacking the Death Star in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope are out of order:

Red Leader: All wings report in.
Red Ten: Red Ten standing by.
Red Seven: Red Seven standing by.
Biggs Darklighter: Red Three standing by.
Porkins: Red Six standing by.
Red Nine: Red Nine standing by.
Wedge Antilles: Red Two standing by.
Red Eleven: Red Eleven standing by.
Luke Skywalker: Red Five standing by.
Red Leader: Lock S-foils in attack position.

(to top off the mis-ordering, Red Eight and Red Four never respond).

This was of course answered in-Star-Wars-Universe, but I'd like a perspective of real aviation experts on this:

  1. Is this protocol (all fighters in a group should report in by their call signs) based on something real fighter pilots would do (either WWII era pilots - since Star Wars fighter combat was famously based by Lucas on WWII - or 1970s era).

  2. What is the main purpose of such a protocol? Communications check? Verifying who's flying? Verifying if someone has an issue? Team morale?

  3. In light of #2, does the real life protocol have a specific order of responses, or is it as "whoever responds whenever" as in the Star Wars example?

  • $\begingroup$ DVK you should crowdsource this to puzzling stack exchange in the form of a riddle. If there is a pattern to be had, they will find it. $\endgroup$
    – corsiKa
    Mar 6, 2015 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ @corsiKa - I am extremely hesitant to participate in that particular SE, but you're welcome to post your idea if you want to, no objections from me. $\endgroup$
    – DVK
    Mar 14, 2016 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ Obligatory silly dialog reference: "[the Millennium Falcon] once did the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs." $\endgroup$
    – pr1268
    Oct 21, 2017 at 15:31

1 Answer 1


Tactical call signs are typically given in the format "word" "number" - "number". For example, Camel 1-1. In this example Camel 1-1 is the lead Camel in the Camel flight. As you may have guessed, instructions are always acknowledged in order. This helps the lead aircraft determine who may not have received the instruction (and some instructions are extremely time critical), or worse, in the event of an accident, determine (by lack of communication) who might be involved. If someone does miss a comm, then typically the flight waits a few seconds and the next guy in line makes his radio call with the lead noting the person that was skipped.

Tactical call signs change with each flight, and may or may not have any real significance to the event being flown. Funny ones are usually best; i.e., Camel works really well if you want to Alpha check a point called "Toe".

Here's a typical scenario: While practicing a 2v1 in the MOA (military operating area), Camel 1-2 gets a HYD caution, and has to stop the fight.

Camel 1-2 initiates with, "Camels knock it off, knock it off."

Next the flight reports back in order:

  • "Camel 1-1, knock it off."
  • "Camel 1-2, knock it off." (Even though Camel 1-2 initiated it, he still reports in order)
  • "Camel 1-3, knock it off."

I would say that Lucas came pretty close to replicating the actual sequence. Sure, they're out of order and they're missing the "# - #" format, but its a decent attempt for Hollywood.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Does Camel 1-2 not identify that they're the one initiating the order? $\endgroup$
    – cpast
    Mar 6, 2015 at 19:41
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @cpast Since at least in civilian formation work anyone can make the "knock-it-off" call (& everyone is expected to abide by it) I would imagine if you're calling a "Knock it off" identifying yourself in that call is less of a priority than making sure everyone in the flight knows to stop whatever they're doing and move to whatever safe positions/altitudes you defined before the mission. You can figure out who made the call when everyone is safe and stable. $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Mar 6, 2015 at 20:09
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @cpast Voretaq is absolutely correct. Knock it off's are treated as a quasi emergent situation and anyone can call them. Since the greatest risk of a midair is generally the moments following a knock it off, everyone needs to expeditiously check in without trying to remember who already called what so that further deconfliction instructions can be issued. $\endgroup$ Mar 6, 2015 at 21:35
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @raptortech97 Because there might be several Camel divisions under the Camel call sign. In this case Camel 1-1 is leading 1-2, 1-3 and 1-4, while Camel 2-1 is leading 2-2, 2-3 and 2-4. $\endgroup$ Mar 6, 2015 at 21:38
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ One should also note that Lucas was inspired by the Dambusters, hence real air force experience, albeit from across the pond. $\endgroup$ Mar 7, 2015 at 4:55

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