Tally ho!

While getting today’s strip ready to upload it here, I wondered where the term “roger” originally came from. So I asked Mr. Google and apparently it stems from the time where the military used a different spelling alphabet, where “Roger” stood for the letter “R”. And from a time even before that came the tradition of just replying “R” over the telegraph, which stood for “received”. So when people said “Roger” on the radio, they simply were replying “R”, meaning that they received the message.

Makes you think. If they changed the spelling alphabet to what we’re currently using a bit earlier, we’d all be saying “Romeo” or Romeo that!” instead.

Anyway, I heard that in aviation it’s sort of frowned upon to actually say “Roger” on the radio. Is that true?

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12 comments on “Tally ho!
  1. CaptAPJT says:

    I use Roger and Wilco all the time, during my flight training a decade ago our instructor told us just to reply with our callsign/registration so as not to block the frequency. There’s a lot of non standard phraseology about these days most commonly “copy” or the shortening of Foxtrot to Fox.

  2. CaptAPJT says:

    I use Roger and Wilco all the time, during my flight training a decade ago our instructor told us just to reply with our callsign/registration so as not to block the frequency. There’s a lot of non standard phraseology about these days most commonly “copy” or the shortening of Foxtrot to Fox.

  3. Franck Mée says:

    I’m French, and we might be responsible for the shortening of “Fox”: since all our registrations start with this letter, it’s probably the most used word in French aviation. I don’t remember hearing a Frenchman say “Foxtrot” like, ever, except on foreign trips with very standard-looking controllers. 🙂

    In Europe at least, the use of “Roger” varies a lot from country to country. In France, “bien reçu” is much more used, and if my memory serves, Germans and Poles seem to use a lot the registration as confirmation, but northern countries go “Roger” half the time they use the radio. The double-click on the TX button, without saying anything, is also used here and there.

  4. Luigi says:

    From my experience roger is still widely used. Usually as an answer on some information given (spot winds, direct/climb not available because…, …). Not as an answer for a clearance.
    In the UK the controllers use “Roger” in stead of “Identified” or “Radar Contact”. I find it a bit frustrating. You give them a full position report and they answer with “roger”, to me it almost sounds like “yeah yeah we don’t care”…
    In Spain it’s a bit funny when they use “Roger” since most controllers can’t pronounce it. They say “Royer” most of the time 🙂 Also in Spain, “Charlie Charlie” is still used for “affirm”!

  5. Ian says:

    In the US, the FAA’s Pilot/Controller Glossary (available via search at http://www.faa.gov) has an entry for “roger”. It’s correct radio phraseology to say “roger” to confirm that a message was received. It should never be used as a response to a yes/no question. It’s a common mistake, which of course means it was Chuck’s role to demonstrate that to us. 🙂

  6. Captain Dunsel says:

    As one of my USAF weather instructors said’ “‘Roger that’ is Air Force talk for ‘Uh-huh'”:-) After over 40 years, it’s still second nature to me, together with the 24 hour clock, phonetic alphabet (“Alpha, Bravo, Charlie”), and not wearing a hat indoors.


  7. Johsua says:

    “Roger” is still in the AIM as standard phraseology. It means “I heard that.” The proper usage is almost exclusively controllers replying to an aircraft because the aircraft should simply respond with their tail number.

    “Wilco” is perfectly acceptable, but finding a pilot who uses it in place of “will comply” is rare.

    “Over” is the most abused radio word since it is no longer used and readily identifies an amateur.

    On the other hand, all of Chuck’s remarks as to the traffic are commonly used and would be understood perfectly. Well, except for the top gun quote…

  8. Quill says:

    Joshua pointed out that all of his remarks (“Tally Ho” and “Target acqiured”) are commonly used and would be understood – I wonder what would happen if someone used the Top Gun quote on the radio. Just saying that would be confusing, but if the two planes were quite close together when one spotted the other and the pilot said “Target in sight, too close for missiles switching to guns” I think it would be non-standard and “unprofessional” but everyone would find it funny enough to be forgivable – a controller would have to be really grumpy to be mad about use of that universally known and beloved quote. Top Gun is one of those movies we can’t deny is sort of stupid but will always be iconic in the aviation realm, and constantly quoted.

  9. reynard61 says:

    Ah, the burning question of my Aviation-obsessed youth: “Who is this ‘Roger Wilco’ and why do pilots invoke him so often?”

  10. jan olieslagers says:

    Sure enough, when I trained for the R/T exam I was taught what info needs to be read back literally and which can be confirmed with “roger” (“I understood”) or “wilco (“I understood and will comply”). Now if I could only remember which was which…

    Generally, I dislike both “roger” and “wilco”, it is all too easy to misunderstand and confirm the misunderstood request, then fail to comply.

  11. Comms Guy says:

    Roger = I understand.
    Wilco = I understand and will comply.
    Over = I am done talking and expect a response.
    Out = I am done talking and do NOT want a response.

    These are still standard “Prowords” in military and professional radio communication.

    Head trip: translate Roger, Wilco, Over and Out.

  12. Baradium says:

    Using roger and wilco in a professional environment is very rare because most clearances require a full read back of the instructions.

    Any instruction that changes what you are doing with the aircraft should be given a full read back and not just a tail number, this gives you a second chance for the controller to make sure you heard the instructions correctly.

    The only things I might not give a full read back for and occasionally use Roger or even Wilco would be things such as requests for a cloud base and tops report or turbulence related.

    You’ll also hear “Roger” on the radio regularly in Canada as Canadian air traffic controllers are required to respond to every transmission made by an aircraft. So you might hear something along the lines of:

    “Legacy 3-8-5, turn right heading 1-8-5”

    “Turning right, heading 1-8-5, Legacy 3-8-5”


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