In Top Gun (1986), Cougar, who is piloting a jet, speaks to a radar operator on radio about unknown aircraft:

Cougar: Mustang. Mustang, this is Ghost Rider, 203. I've got him inbound, bogey heading 270. We're at ten miles, 900 knots closure.

Radar Operator: Ghost Rider, take Angels ten left, 30.

What does "203" mean?

  • $\begingroup$ It would help if you could point out in the timeline of the movie, where the dialogue happens. (I believe this is about 5:20 into this movie) $\endgroup$ Jun 25, 2022 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ Don't assume that Hollywood scripts necessarily correspond to reality in details like this. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Sorting out the script writer's misunderstandings & inconsistencies isn't really on-topic on Av.SE. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Jun 25, 2022 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ @RalphJ how come is this sort of question not on-topic here? It seems the "203" was at least somewhat legit rt phraseology. The purpose of the question is to find out what 203 means. Had it been total bogus, stating that would have been a good answer. Many questions here start off on false assumptions, that does not make them bad questions. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Jun 26, 2022 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ @RalphJ Hollywood scripts don't necessarily correspond to reality in much bigger things either, but Top Gun was filmed with Navy cooperation, so the chance it does match is much higher in its case. After all the scenes were filmed with actual Navy aircraft flown by Navy pilots. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Jun 26, 2022 at 21:19

1 Answer 1


Military flights use the nose numbers during some portions of flight. Cougar and Merlin fly nose #203.

Screenshot from about 9:40 in Top Gun.

enter image description here

From airport freak

Military flights often use more than one call-sign during a flight. Administrative call-signs are used with air traffic control facilities similar to those of commercial operators. e.g. Navy Alpha-Golf-Two-One, Reach-Three-One-Seven-Niner Two.

Tactical call-signs are used during tactical portions of a flight, and they often indicate the mission of the flight and/or an aircraft's position in a formation.

For example, Canadian Air Force 442 Rescue Squadron, based at Comox, British Columbia uses the call-sign "Snake 90x" depending on the tail number of the helicopter: 901, 902, etc. When tasked on a search and rescue (SAR) mission, however, the aircraft call-sign becomes "Rescue 90x".


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