A 9/11 Post, Aviation Themed

In the GPS age, waypoints for aerial navigation are often known by five-letter names. Usually these are just nonsense terms. For instance, the approach (RNAV 14) I normally am given when landing at my base at Gaithersburg airport, outside Washington, involves fixes called RUANE, BEGKA, TIMBE, and JOXOX. Each one is associated with a very precise GPS location; you enter the letters for the waypoints into your GPS device, and it gives the the proper guidance. You often hear the names from the controllers and say them back ("cleared to RUANE," and so on).

For some airports, puckish spirits within the FAA have had fun with the five-letter names. Here is the plate for the RNAV 16 approach to the airport in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I'll explain the joke after the illustration:

The sequence of fixes you would enter into the GPS for this approach, and its missed-approach procedure, would be:

Say these out loud if you don't see the pattern. I have no idea why this seemed apt for Portsmouth. Maybe Mel Blanc's home town? Similarly, one of the approaches for the airport in Santa Rosa, California, named for Charles Schulz of Peanuts, has fixes called PIGPN and LUSEE. And this sequence of fixes off the west coast of Australia has its own charm. It helps to say them out loud, top to bottom.


This is all set-up for a more serious note. It is an announcement today, reported by David Stegon of FedScoop, of a new series of approach fixes into National airport in Washington DC. To quote from the story:
Aircraft flying the Freedom route to National from the northwest pass through waypoints named WEEEE, WLLLL, NEVVR, FORGT and SEP11.

Those flying the troops route from the southwest pass through waypoints named USAAY, WEEDU, SUPRT, OOURR and TRUPS.

Depending on the runway configuration, aircraft might also pass through waypoints named STAND and TOGETHER [don't know how this fits the five-letter rule]* or LETZZ, RLLLL, VCTRY and HEROO.
Thanks to reader DP. 
* I've now seen this new procedure; the fix is TGTHR.
Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


Confessions of Moms Around the World

A global look at the hardest and best job ever


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

More in National

From This Author

Just In