The Fighter Pilot Podcast

By Vincent "Jell-O" Aiello, Retired US Navy Fighter Pilot

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The Fighter Pilot Podcast explores the fascinating world of air combat: the aircraft, the weapons systems, and most importantly--the people. Each episode features a guest who helps explain the topic at hand such as how ejection seats work or what it's like to fly on and off nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. Strap in and hang on for this incredible show! If you love the roar of a high-speed flyby or are enamored by the poise and confidence of the brave men and women who pilot these aircraft, then this show is for you!

Episode Date
FPP023 - The Distinguished Flying Cross

Besides notoriety, what do astronaut Alan Shepard, actor Clark Gable, aviatrix Amelia Earhart, and president George H. W. Bush all have in common?

Each distinguished him- or herself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight.

Each acted in the face of danger, well above those actions performed by others engaged in similar flight operations, with results so exceptional as to render them conspicuous among those accomplished by others involved in similar circumstances. 

Each of these four brave Americans, and thousands more like them, was awarded the military’s fourth highest decoration: the Distinguished Flying Cross.

On this episode, learn all about the prestigious medal and the organization designed to promote its heritage with guest Chuck Sweeney, retired US Navy Commander and President and CEO of the Distinguished Flying Cross Society.  Learn how the medal was once awarded to civilians (like Amelia Earhart and Orville and Wilbur Wright) but is now reserved for military recipients.  Then find out how Chuck was awarded three DFCs following a particularly harrowing week of combat operations while piloting an A-4 Skyhawk during the Vietnam conflict.

Chuck’s stories, and those of thousands of other DFC recipients like him, are compiled in the riveting book, On Heroic Wings (available on Amazon).

During the listener question segment, we discuss helmet bags, go- / no-go pills, what my very first trap was like, whether I ever met “Lex” LeFon, and whether flying ever became ‘routine.’

Bumper music by Jaime Lopez. 

Aug 11, 2018
FPP022 - Test Pilot School

No matter how well designed a military aircraft may be, it will always require extensive testing and evaluation to ensure it performs as intended.  And even when it does, sometimes unforeseen complications arise—such as when weapons catastrophically collide with the aircraft after release.  This too requires extensive testing.  But who performs this testing?

Why, test pilots, of course.

On this episode, US Navy Lieutenant Becky “Wrecky” Shaw explains everything you want to know about the Navy Test Pilot School—who the students and faculty are, what the school’s purpose is, when classes take place, where it all happens, why such a school is necessary in the first place, and how it all integrates together to create flight test experts to ensure military aircraft are safe and effective.  We also learn why TPS is a common background of so many of the nation’s astronauts, from the original Mercury 7 to today’s space station inhabitants.

During the listener question segment, learn how the cockpit is set up for a CAS mission, what the limit is for a hard landing on an F/A-18, and whether pilots can customize their flight helmets with their callsigns.

Episode photograph courtesy of the USNTPS Commanding Officer.  Bumper music by Jaime Lopez.

Aug 01, 2018
FPP021 - The Real 'Viper'

Few pilots ever have an opportunity to meet an enemy aircraft in aerial battle.  Fewer yet come out victorious.  And even fewer still—in fact, only one—then go on to be involved in arguably the most influential pop culture aviation film of all time.

That man is retired US Navy Rear Admiral Pete “Viper” Pettigrew.

Climb aboard this week’s episode and hear the harrowing tale of Viper’s shootdown of a North Vietnamese MiG-21 with an untrained RIO in the backseat of his F-4 Phantom.  Then learn how he took the call to assist Hollywood as the military adviser to everyone’s favorite flying movie, Top Gun.  Think it’s a coincidence that Tom Skerritt’s character—the CO of TOPGUN—was callsign ‘Viper’?!

After the interview we had a little extra time and so answer listener questions such as how likely it would have been in the real world for Maverick’s engine flameout to have occurred by flying through another plane’s jet wash, which cockpit arrangement I liked better between the F/A-18 and F-16, more on aircraft paint schemes, how Approach magazine was regarded, and the defining moment in my career I look back on with the most pride.

Episode art by Gary Meyer.  Bumper music by Jaime Lopez.

Jul 21, 2018
FPP020 - After the Cockpit

Military aviators are generally hard-working, improvement-seeking, self-motivated individuals who are accustomed to working well under pressure, on tight deadlines, and with limited budgets.  It’s no wonder they typically find follow on success after leaving the service and very few—if any—end up homeless.

On this episode, retired US Navy Captain Kevin “Hozer” Miller joins us to add his post-military experiences to our discussion on what many aviators do after leaving the cockpit.  We discuss the transferable skills that generally lead to success whether they choose the airlines, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, or hundreds of other options.

Hozer also shares his experiences writing two critically-acclaimed fictional novels (with a third on the way) on what squadron life is like aboard an aircraft carrier with amazingly accurate descriptions of ship and combat operations.  Click here on Raven One and Declared Hostile to order these books on Amazon and in the process, help support this show financially.

During the listener question segment, we address F/A-18 climb and descent profiles, how deployments take a toll on the home front, lightning strikes, how pilots maintain carrier landing proficiency ashore, and personal weapons carried during combat missions.

Bumper music by Jaime Lopez.


Jul 11, 2018
FPP019 - Air-to-Surface Weapons

Today’s combat aviator enjoys a wide variety of munitions from which to choose when attacking surface targets.  From free fall general purpose bombs, to laser- and GPS-guided weapons, to glide and forward firing rockets, missiles, and guns—the extensive arsenal is full of complex, yet highly effective ordnance.

Join US Navy Commander Colin “Farva” Price as we discuss how pilots choose which weapons to use against which targets and how ‘collateral damage’ concerns are addressed in recent conflicts.  We step through the various weapons employed by the F/A-18 series of aircraft such as Mk 80 and BLU-series warheads, LGBs, JDAM, JSOW, SLAM ER, HARM, Maverick, rockets, and more.  We also describe practice munitions used in training before wrapping up with a peek at future weapons coming down the pipeline.  And check out the Super Hornet with 10 JDAM!

During the listener question segment, find out what happens when a navy pilot gets fired, what we know about the Top Gun sequel filming, and how military aircraft paint schemes have changed since Vietnam and the tactical significance of aircraft finishes.

Episode bumper music by Jaime Lopez.

Jul 01, 2018
FPP018 - Air-to-Air Weapons

Just as a viper relies on its venomous fangs and a hornet its stinger to deliver a lethal attack on adversaries, so too do modern combat fighter aircraft depend on guided missiles and cannon fire to engage aerial foes.

But what guidance methods do missiles use?  How difficult is it to effectively employ the gun on a non-cooperative target?  And how far, exactly, can the AIM-120C AMRAAM be employed against a non-maneuvering fighter-size target when both the shooter and target are at Mach 1 and above 30,000 feet?

…okay, we don’t answer that last one.  In fact, for the die-hard technology and tactics buffs out there—fair warning: we avoid specific details because, more so than any other topic yet discussed on this show, information on air-to-air missiles is jealously guarded to maintain an advantage against potential foes.

Join our first US Air Force guest, Major Trevor Boswell, as we discuss the AIM-7 Sparrow, AIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-120 AMRAAM, and M-61A1 Vulcan Cannon—weapons common to all US ‘teen-series’ fighters.  We discuss guidance methods, employment considerations, and how we employ (and simulate employing) these weapons in training.

During the listener question segment we discuss training with foreign forces, whether a fear of drones is warranted, and if it is common to still see unfamiliar faces among a carrier crew of 5,000 sailors several months into deployment.

Bumper music by Jaime Lopez; fighter communications found on YouTube.  Episode photograph by Eric Larson.  Book your trip at Call the Ball Simulators in La Mirada, California here.

Jun 21, 2018
FPP017 - Desert Storm MiG Kill

We've all heard 'war is hell.'  But this week on the Fighter Pilot Podcast, we hear it from a new perspective: that of a young pilot, new to the fleet and the F/A-18, who finds himself fighting far from home in the fog of war, on the heels of the death of a beloved squadron mate.

Climb aboard as retired US Navy Captain Nick "Mongo" Mongillo tells the riveting story of his downing an Iraqi MiG-21 on day one of Desert Storm.  Live the experience as you hear the actual in-flight audio, then dissect it to learn what each call meant then, and how times have changed now.

Visit the show's CafePress site for cool FPP merchandise.  Episode intro and outtro bumper music by Jaime Lopez, announcements by Jim Hendershot.  The Hornet's First Victory album art by Mark Styling.

Jun 11, 2018
Bonus Episode - FB Live Listener Question Replay

A replay of the June 5 Facebook Live listener question session with episode 5 guest Fitz "Dud" Lee.

Jun 06, 2018
FPP016 - The Airboss

On this episode, retired US Navy Vice Admiral Mike "Shoe" Shoemaker, whose last tour on active duty was Commander, Naval Air Forces, joins us to discuss the current state and future of naval aviation.  We touch on several high-level strategic issues and spend several minutes answering listener questions.

Opening and closing bumper music provided by Jaime Lopez (

Jun 01, 2018
FPP015 - Night Carrier Landings

On this episode, US Navy lieutenant commander and former landing signal officer Tra Calisch joins us to wrap up our 5-part mini-series on aircraft carrier operations with a discussion on what is universally agreed upon to be the single most difficult feat of aviation: landing a high performance jet aircraft on an aircraft carrier at night.  We also discuss marshaling and arrival procedures and what happens when the ship starts pitching up and down in rough seas (hint: it isn't fun).

In the listener question segment I explain what survival gear is in an F/A-18's ejection seat pan, why aircraft fuel levels are measured by weight instead of volume, and what was my favorite aerial tanker to refuel from--among other topics.

Check out our YouTube playlist for a few examples on night carrier landings.

May 21, 2018
FPP014 - Day Carrier Landings (part 2)

Meatball – lineup – angle of attack.

Nothing matters more to a fixed-wing naval pilot during the final 17 seconds of a landing on an aircraft carrier than those three parameters.  But what is a “meatball”?  Why is lineup so important and why does it require continuous corrections to maintain?  What happens if the landing aircraft’s angle of attack is too far off one way or the other?

This week, US Navy Commander Jack “Farva” Curtis returns to answer these questions, and much more, while wrapping up our discussion on daytime carrier landings begun in episode 13 (and in fact, if you have not listened to that episode you will certainly want to do so prior to consuming this one). 

Next week, we will wrap up our carrier operations mini-series with what even astronauts say is the hardest thing they have ever done: night landings.

May 11, 2018
FPP013 - Day Carrier Landings (part 1)

Landing a high-performance jet aircraft on an aircraft carrier is arguably the most difficult and challenging task any pilot will ever face, and it is what distinguishes US Naval aviators from all other military aircrew.  In what effectively amounts to a “controlled crash” onto the flight deck, a 44,000-pound aircraft traveling 140 mph engages a 1.5-inch steel cable and is brought to a halt in less than 200 feet.  The feat requires the combined efforts of hundreds of sailors above and below decks, and the assistance of fellow pilots to ensure the pilot landing does so safely.

The fact that they do—hundreds of times a day somewhere around the world—is a testament to their skill and professionalism.

On this episode, US Navy Commander Jack “Farva” Curtis, EA-18G pilot and former air wing landing signal officer, joins us to begin a discussion on the procedures and equipment involved in daytime carrier landings.  We discuss the “Case 1 stack” and aircraft arrival procedures, as well as the arresting gear cables and equipment involved in bringing an aircraft to a (relatively) uneventful stop.  Check out our YouTube playlist for a compilation of videos showing some of the people and equipment involved.

The listener question segment this week is a replay of a recent Facebook Live session with episode 1 guest Brian “Sunshine” Sinclair, who returns to help explain what a ‘VX’ squadron is, why the US Air Force is dealing with pilot shortages, and whether “compartmentalization” is a trained skill.

May 01, 2018
FPP012 - Aircraft Carriers (part 2)

This week we continue where we left off the previous episode with US Navy Captain Eric Anduze: discussing what the various flight deck jersey colors mean and then how a catapult launch works--including the hardware that makes it possible and what happens in an emergency.

If you missed Aircraft Carriers part 1, definitely go back and listen to episode 11 before listening to part 2.  Next week we will talk about daytime landings on these massive floating cities.  Stay tuned!

Apr 21, 2018
FPP011 - Aircraft Carriers (part 1)

The nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier: the largest, most lethal warship to ever sail the high seas.  And the U.S. has eleven of them, each equipped with a myriad of combat aircraft--together they can cover 2/3 of the earth's surface and strike most of the remaining third, all in the name of enforcing freedom of navigation on the world's seas and implementing America's resolve anywhere it is needed.

This week, on the first installment of a multi-part series exploring aircraft carriers and air operations on them, former USS Carl Vinson 'Big XO' Captain Eric, "Pappy" Anduze, US Navy, joins us to explain just how big these carriers are, how fast they go, and how operations safely take place in the hangar bay and on the flight deck.

In the announcements section we touch briefly on the recent spate of fatal mishaps in the U.S. and introduce our new Patreon page, which offers exclusive content to this show's cherished supporters (and a big shout out to Mikko Veijalainen and Bill Horvath for leading the charge!).  During the Q&A segment we discuss whether a passion for aviation is required to be a fighter pilot, the different visors aircrew wear, more callsign questions, and how aircrew (male, specifically) "take care of business" in flight.

Stay tuned for more on aircraft carriers over the next several episodes!

Apr 11, 2018
Intermission - FB Live Q&A Highlights

We've been at it pretty steadily since launching on January 1st and the kids have been on spring break this past week--so we're taking a little pause from our normal programming routine.  However, we didn't want to go completely dark so here are highlights from the two Facebook Live sessions that took place earlier this month.  If you already caught those then there's nothing new here, although they are lightly edited for content and relevance.

Apr 01, 2018
FPP010 - Maintenance

When we observe military aircraft in flight--be it at an airshow or during the flyover of a sporting event--most of us, most of the time, think nothing of the immense behind-the-scenes costs and effort required to make and keep those aircraft flying. From normal servicing and upkeep to the repair or replacement of major aircraft components, the required resources can often reach dozens of man-hours and tens of thousands of dollars per flight hour, especially as technologically-advanced military aircraft age.

Here to help us understand these costs, on this episode, is Major Dave "Chucky" Chown of the Royal Canadian Air Force.  As our first non-US guest, Dave spends a few minutes sharing details on the RCAF and some of its missions before diving into a thorough discussion on aircraft maintenance, with the F/A-18 Hornet as the main reference.  Prepare to be amazed at the resources you never knew were required, and forever change the way you observe military aircraft in flight.

Mar 21, 2018
FPP009 - Vietnam Ace

On May 10, 1972, US Navy lieutenants Randy "Duke" Cunningham and Bill "Willy D" Driscoll launched from the aircraft carrier Constellation in an F-4 Phantom, callsign Showtime 100, on what should have been a "routine" flak suppression mission over North Vietnam.  Instead, the strike force was jumped by dozens of enemy fighters and in the ensuing melee Duke and Willy D downed their third, fourth, and fifth MiGs, becoming the Navy's only aces of the conflict.  But the eventful missions was far from over as Showtime 100 never made it back to the "Connie...."

Hear the rest of Willy D's captivating story along with the lifelong lessons he drew from both his combat experiences and subsequent interviews with dozens of other air combat aces around the world.  Then find out how he turned those lessons into riveting talks and presentations to improve the performance of a variety of audiences from TOPGUN classes to Fortune 500 executives.

Mar 11, 2018
FPP008 - Aircraft Nomenclature

Ever notice that a B-52 Stratofortress is a bomber, an F-14 Tomcat is a fighter, and a T-45 Goshawk is a trainer?  What a coincidence!

...well, not really.  And it's also no coincidence either that we call the Chinese J-8 fighter and Russian Tu-160 bomber the FINBACK and BLACKJACK, respectively.

On this episode, retired US Navy lieutenant commander Josh Larson helps explain the alphanumeric naming conventions used to describe US, European, Russian, and Chinese warplanes.  Be sure to stick around until the very end of the episode, after the flyby, to learn the designation of the airplane we all know as Air Force 1.

In the announcements we mention the Wings Over South Texas airshow featuring the US Navy Blue Angels at NAS Kingsville, March 24-25, 2018.  During the Q&A segment, listener Wolfgang from Germany asks whether anyone has ever stolen a military jet for a short trip.  Click here to read about the time a young US Marine decided to take an A-4 Skyhawk out for a joyride--at night!

Mar 01, 2018
FPP007 - TOPGUN vs Top Gun

TOPGUN – aka the US Navy Fighter Weapons School. An institution that develops and provides graduate-level strike-fighter tactics.

Top Gun – A 1986 American romantic military action drama motion picture starring Tom Cruise.

Although they may sound the same and the latter is loosely based on the former, the fact is TOPGUN the school and Top Gun the movie otherwise have very little in common. But that's okay--a movie based too closely on how things really are would be mind-numbingly boring!

On this episode, US Navy Commander Andy Mariner, the TOPGUN commanding officer, joins us to describe how the school came to be, how it operates today, and what it's like there for both students and instructors.

Feb 21, 2018
FPP006 - Pulling Gs

On this episode, US Navy aerospace operational physiologist Commander Susan Jay explains how flying high-performance jet aircraft takes a toll on the human body.

We discuss pulling Gs, air sickness, decompression sickness, trapped gas, and spatial disorientation.

Check out the FPP006 - Pulling Gs playlist on our YouTube channel for footage of pilots struggling to control G forces in a centrifuge.

Feb 11, 2018
FPP005 - Aerial Refueling

In this episode, retired US Navy Captain Fitz "Dud" Lee explains how and why military aircraft refuel in flight, and which aircraft are capable of doing so.

Why also share a few "sea stories" of how managing aerial tankers is vital to aircraft carrier flight operations.

Feb 01, 2018
FPP004 - Ejection Seats

In this episode we take an in-depth look at ejection seats: a brief history, how they work, how aircrew inspect them before flight, and why--in multi-place aircraft--it is important to have the 'Eject Select' switch in the proper position.

Our guest wraps the discussion with a riveting description of the time an ejection seat saved his life from a doomed F-14 Tomcat.

Jan 21, 2018
FPP003 - Flight Clothing and Equipment

In this episode, US Navy Lieutenant Commander Aaron "Vern" Vernallis explains the flight clothing and equipment F/A-18 aircrews wear in flight.  We go inside-out, bottom-to-top, discussing flight suits, boots, g-suits, torso harnesses, survival vests, helmets, and more.

Hard to visualize on a radio show?  Yup.  Check out our 5-minute YouTube video where Vern demonstrates donning the gear we discuss on the show.

Jan 10, 2018
FPP002 - Callsigns

On this episode, US Navy Captain Brian “Ferg” Fergusson and I talk callsigns–those whimsical, often juvenile nicknames many military aviators go by instead of their real names when flying and on the ground.

Only in the movies do fighter pilots end up with cool callsigns like “Viper”, “Iceman”, or “Maverick”. In the real world, callsigns are generally plays on names (e.g. “Notso” Sharp), reflective of a pilot’s physical resemblance to some well-known character (“Shrek” Olsen), or the result of a mistake the pilot made at some point in his or her career (“Skids” Pennington). Callsigns are at times derogatory, and frequently not politically correct, but they are almost always funny.

Ferg and I discuss how callsigns are assigned, whether they ever change, and why it’s actually a good thing when a new fighter pilot despises a newly-assigned callsign.

Jan 04, 2018
FPP001 - What is a 'Fighter Pilot'?

In this inaugural episode of The Fighter Pilot Podcast, US Navy Commander Brian “Sunshine” Sinclair and I sit down to answer the question, what is a ‘fighter pilot’?  We discuss what a fighter pilot is, some characteristics typical of most fighter pilots, and the various paths to become one.

We also debunk cliché Hollywood stereotypes while discussing what a fighter pilot is not.

Towards the end of the show we discuss a few of the jets used in civilian organizations, including the F-21 Kfir and Hawker Hunter flown by ATAC, and the Super Tucano.  Click on each to learn a bit more.

Jan 03, 2018
FPP000 - Introduction

Welcome to The Fighter Pilot Podcast!

In this short initial episode, I introduce myself and explain how and why this show came about. I also describe a few features of the show—expected frequency, length, episode structure, and more.

Much of this information can also be found on the website’s About page.

Jan 02, 2018