Fighter Pilot Call Signs Reviewed After Military Police Probe

The RCAF has reviewed the call signs of all its fighter pilots after an investigation was launched into complaints of inappropriate comments at a “call-sign review board” at 4 Wing in Cold Lake in June. The event is an unofficial social occasion in which new pilots are assigned the radio names they’ll use for the rest of their careers. Although not an official or mandated function, such events are attended by senior officers from the squadron and are an institution in the military. They are held over drinks at the mess or other social setting.  Call signs are normally assigned at the review boards after other pilots in the unit share stories about the exploits or mistakes of those being named.

The attendance of the senior officers and the use of the term “review board” which is, in real military life, a menacing investigative process that can seriously affect an RCAF officer’s future career, lend a quasi-official note to the event. The military police investigation was begun after complaints were made about statements made at the meeting and it appears to involve at least one of those senior officers.

In late August, RCAF Commander Lt.-Gen. Eric Kenny announced that it was delaying a change of command ceremony at 3 Wing in Bagotville. The name of the officer who was to have been confirmed in that post was not disclosed but Kenny said the delay was a direct result of the military police investigation in Cold Lake. A military spokesman told the CBC that call signs are important both to maintain esprit de corps and to facilitate clear and brief communications between aircraft but he also said they need to be “aligned with our commitment to be an inclusive organization.”

The CBC talked to former Air Force commanders Tom Lawson (call sign Shadow) and Yves Blondin (Bad) and both said they hope the tradition continues but they agree the process may need to be reined in some. “I wouldn’t want to get rid of them,” he said. “But I think we need some formalization. In the days we’re living in now, some of the stuff is certainly not acceptable the way it is.”