Air traffic control call signs

I am a huge fan of I often listen to the San Jose airport control tower and/or NORCAL Approach as background noise at home, in the office, or while driving; it is always interesting and often educational. One of the most interesting things I’ve heard is the variety of callsigns for different aircraft and operators. Some of these are pretty prosaic– if you hear “UPS 9336 Heavy” or “Southwest 229” that tells you everything you need to know. There are some others that are more colorful, though:

  • “Traffic Watch” is a popular call during rush hour.
  • Stanford (“Stanford One”) and several other medical helicopter operators are unpredictably active; you never know when they’ll pop up.
  • There’s at least one Boeing Business Jet operating out of SJC with the call sign “Boeing 1 Tango Sierra”; I haven’t taken the time to figure out whose it is, but I’m betting Google.
  • “Redstripe” is the call sign for JetSuite, a private fractional-ownership jet company.
  • I’m not sure who owns the “Starbase” call sign but it sounds cool on the radio. The only references I could find to it were here and here, and they’re inconclusive. (Looks like the FAA thinks the second one is dispositive.)
  • “Dotcom” is an umbrella call sign offered by; you can sign up for their service and then use one of their calls (e.g. “Dotcom 521”) instead of your aircraft registration number. This is useful to keep your competitors (or other interested parties) from performing physical traffic analysis on your airplanes.

There’s a pretty good list of airline callsigns that covers many international airlines, and it looks like the FAA’s official list is here (for some reason it doesn’t seem to be well indexed in Google). Other fun callsigns on the FAA list: Sputter,  Jigsaw, Flapjack,  Raptor, and Argonaut. Maybe I should print out a copy and start checking off the ones that I hear!


Filed under aviation

2 responses to “Air traffic control call signs

  1. mike

    Starbase is Starbase Jet. A shitty bottom feeder charter/management company from Houston (get it…Houston–NASA–Starbase). Owned by a car dealer.

    • robichaux

      Wow, surprised you found this old post! Since then I’ve found some other fun call signs, including Waterski and Eval (which I hear a lot, as it’s used by Army helicopters operating test flights out of KHUA).

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