Fighter Pilot Bar Rules – An Air Force Tradition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 54
Occupation: Aerospace Engineer/Retired USAF Pilot
Residence: Lancaster, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: May 2, 2021
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

The informant, GW, is my father. He was a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force during the late 1980s/early 1990s and participated in operation Desert Storm. I have heard him tell many stories from his time in the Air Force throughout my childhood, so I asked him to tell me some of his traditions to collect for my project. This was an informal interview in our household. This description followed a description for a specific fighter pilot bar game, Crud, which can be found in the archives under the title “Crud – A Fighter Pilot Bar Game”. 

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Main Text:

GW: “There’s rules inside the bar too, right? You can’t, so this is the before the age of cell phones, right? But if you, if your wife called to ask where you were, while you were in the squadron bar, that was a round for everybody. If you wore your hat in the bar that was a round for everybody. If you left your hat on the table that was a round for everybody. If you left your hat on the bar that was a round for everybody. If you rang the bell that was a round for everybody. All these rules were written of the wall of the bar, of any fighter bar that you’d walk into. And always the last rule in the rule set, because people would go ‘I don’t get it. How am I, why do I keep buying people drinks?’ And then you’d go ‘Well the rules are right there on the bar’ – of course you wouldn’t point cause that’s impolite, you’d use your elbow – you’d go ‘The rules are right there on the bar all you gotta do is be familiar with those.’ Well the last infraction is reading the rules in the bar is a beer for everybody.”

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Analysis:

The many rules of the bar serve to reinforce the fighter pilot culture that exists throughout every aspect of their lives. It serves as insider knowledge and a way to tell who the initiated are within a group at the bar. In a way, it is also an initiation ritual in itself, as the uninitiated would be brought to the bar and forced to buy many rounds for everyone else until they got the hang of the rules themselves.