Welcome signs: Waypoint locations in the skies direct and amuse pilots

Pilots know they’re heading toward Cleveland when they fly past LBRON, GROZA, TRYBE, or DAUGS. Or when traffic controllers tell them, “Expect runway assignment... no later than ROCKN” or “...no later than ROLLN.”

Our skies have many spots used for navigation. They’re known as waypoints, fixes, or intersections. They’re not objects. They’re locations—invisible and intangible. Radar or GPS can generate these waypoints. They tell pilots where to go.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has created about 37,000 of these celestial sites, each with a five-letter name. According to an FAA spokesperson, “The vast majority of five-letter fix names are normally assigned on a randomized basis…. [But] some fix names honor or recognize prominent people, sports teams, and local landmarks.”

Local members of the flight community request some of these names. “They try to gear them around the local scene,” says Ryan Price, who leads the Case Western Reserve University Flying Club.

Commercial pilot Ken Hoke writes in his AeroSavvy blog, “Air traffic controllers have a pretty vivid imagination and a great sense of humor. There are some really clever fix names out there.”

Cleveland Hopkins International AirportCleveland Hopkins International AirportThere’s no broad record of the reasons behind the names. But many seem self-explanatory. En route to Cleveland, there’s an ALOMR, presumably named for the Guardians’ long-time Sandy Alomar Jr., not Robbie, his brother and brief teammate here. GTLKE presumably stands for the Great Lakes and KKIDS for the Kardiac Kids, as the Browns were once known.

Many of Cleveland’s chosen sites honor local athletes like LNDOR, LFTON, NAGGY, HFNER, HARDR, KYRIE, SHERK, CAVVS, AEROS, and BUDRW (presumably Lou Boudreau). Another rocks to Akron natives DEVOH.

Several regional sites honor celebrities from elsewhere like HENDX, CLAPT, MICKJ, and PFLYD (presumably Pink Floyd).

Some names are hard to explain. Does CLVTO honor Cleveland Town, or maybe Cleveland Tomorrow? To some, it's obvious: it's for Indians great Rocky Colavito. But could IMUSY be Don Imus?

The FreshWater staff will be grateful for explanations of TABEY, NEVTE, or EBLIS. Or the story behind CANCR, KROOK, or DRUGA.

Yes, the spellings can be strange. Blame many on the need for exactly five letters per name. And blame our BEELL and ZAAPA on a BELLE and ZAPPA elsewhere. But that doesn’t explain why we honor KOZAR when AirNav shows no KOSAR anywhere else in the country.

You can pass WOOST en route to Wooster or ROSCO en route to Roscoe Village. Elsewhere in Ohio, you can go for PIZZA, LIVER. or a DONUT. You can catch JANYS and JPLI. You can be a DEAHD (presumably a Deadhead), avoid a CREEP, or come up EMPTY.

Other regions have notable names, too. Near Disneyland are MICKI and MINNE. Texas packs a GLOCK. Kansas City has SPICY BARBQ RIBBS. New York City has an APPLE. Detroit honors WONDR and EMINN.

New Hampshire has spots named: ITAWT, ITAWA, PUDYE, TTATT, and IDEED. Get it? Tweety Bird would: “I tawt I taw a puddy tat! I did!.”

There’s a TRUMP in Oklahoma. There’s no OBAMA or BIDEN. Do pilots prefer the right wing?

To see more navigational sites, go to vfrmap.com and enter CLE or other airport abbreviations. For one of the easier formats to read, choose “high IFR.”

Grant Segall
Grant Segall

About the Author: Grant Segall

Grant Segall is a national-prizewinning reporter named this year as Ohio’s best freelancer. He wrote "John D. Rockefeller: Anointed with Oil" (Oxford University Press, 2001). Much additional information for this article comes from David Nasaw’s “Andrew Carnegie,” Ron Chernow’s “Titan,” Chernow’s “House of Morgan,” and his American Heritage article on U.S. Steel’s creation.