ROKIT, MOTOWN and NIMOY: How Aviation Waypoints Get Their Names

Route map of the world's scheduled commercial airline traffic, 2009. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Then there is the intriguing way airways are navigated, using radio beacons and “waypoints”, spots defined by geographic co-ordinates or their bearing and distance from a beacon. These waypoints are typically given five-letter capitalised names that are supposed to be simple enough for any controller or pilot to recognise them, regardless of their first language.

Europe’s sky-mappers turn out to have taken a fairly business-like approach to naming their waypoints, though there is a TULIP off the Dutch coast and England has a DRAKE, for Sir Francis. Australians have had a bit more fun, naming points off their west coast WONSA, JOLLY, SWAGY, CAMBS, BUIYA, BYLLA, BONGS, in honour of the opening lines of the country’s unofficial national anthem, “Waltzing Matilda”. The Americans have just gone mad. Detroit has MOTWN and WONDR (Stevie was born in Michigan). Houston has a ROKIT for its Space Center. There is a NIMOY in Boston (where Leonard was born) plus several local culinary references (CHWDH, LBSTA and CLAWW) and SSOXS, STRKK and OUTTT for the Red Sox baseball team.

Pilita Clark writing in the Financial Times about the future of flying.

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See Also: “The Secret Language of the Skies” (Deborah Fallows, The Atlantic, 2013)