Murphy's Law: Divided By a Common Language


July 26, 2007: Most air controllers in the world use English as a common language. America and its allies also use English as a common language for military air traffic control. But military pilots, unlike commercial pilots, rarely get to use airbases run by foreigners. For flight operations at their own bases, they use their native language. So the English skills of many foreign pilots are not all they should be. This was discovered anew this Summer, when the U.S. Air Force hosted a Red Flag training exercise in Alaska.

Red Flag uses experienced pilots, trained to operate as potential enemies would, in addition to lots of live fire and air combat exercises. Pilots from Japan, Spain and Turkey had to use an American air base, and U.S. air traffic controllers. It became real obvious, real soon, that the English skills of most foreign pilots was not very good. The most common phrase heard on the radio during the exercises was "say again?"

The Turks were the best, largely because many of them have used American run air bases before. While a pain to deal with, everyone left the exercise with some very vivid memories of how important good language skills are. Better to find it out during a training exercise, than when there's a shooting war going on.


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