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Calling Condor, Rainman, and Beethoven

Reno -- Rainman, Beethoven, Condor, Finch, all of these names have something in common. Are they celebrities? Are they reminders of an embarrassing situation? Do they sometimes describe physical characteristics? The answer is yes! All of these are call signs for different members of the Nevada Air National Guard. They are officer and enlisted, younger and more experienced, and occupy various aircrew positions.

A call sign was initially meant to be used while communicating over the radio, and evolved into a name that fellow aircrew members used on the ground and in the air. The precise history and origin of the call sign is a matter of some debate. Regardless of its roots, for today's aircrew members, the call sign is part of a fraternal bond. Call signs are part of their flying heritage.

How aircrew members came to have their unique names is as varied as the people themselves. According to 152nd Airlift Wing navigator Maj. Todd "Beethoven" Hudson, "Call signs are usually based on something that you've done, and it's usually something embarrassing."

A call sign is a way of referring to an aircrew member, usually used in place of their first name. However, unlike a first name, a call sign usually earned. There are many ways of earning it, and not all of them are pleasant. They are not issued like a flight suit or a pair of boots, said Hudson. After an aviator has done some time on the road, over the course of accumulating flying hours, their call sign comes into being. The name must be given to an aviator by another. Someone who would make their own call sign is asking for a call sign that they really aren't going to like.

Hudson shared more details about call signs: they can reflect something that you've done, a mistake you made or a physical attribute you possess, or they can be tied to an event or place. Sometimes they're more adult in nature, sometimes they're funny, sometimes they hit a little below the belt. Usually, the more someone dislikes their own call sign, the more their friends and co-workers enjoy using it.

Hudson was given his call sign, Beethoven, since he was a band teacher. Major Steve "Rainman" Mills, known for his mathematical skills and deadpan delivery of answers, was christened with the call sign Rainman. Master Sgt. Paul Grush, who is over 6 feet tall, was given the call sign Condor. The name reflects his long wingspan. However, Maj. Ricardo Bravo's handle, Finch, better reflects his somewhat smaller stature next to Condor.
Airmen in uniform on the Reno base wear a standard name tag on their flight suits that includes their name, aircrew position, and a silhouette of the shape of Nevada. However, like bad mustaches that sometimes appear for fun while in Southwest Asia, name badges that include call signs occasionally appear on flight suits.
The next time you see someone in a flight suit, you might ask them their call sign. Chances are, you'll hear a good story.