Dying might be unavoidable, but losing your cool is inexcusable.
When a stereotypical airplane (or spaceship) pilot speaks over the radio, either to flight controllers on the ground or to his own passengers, he does so in a very soft, smooth register, just barely loud enough to pick up on the radio, probably with a faint American Southern accent (unless he's British, in which case it is an upper-class one
). He uses radio jargon, even when he doesn't really need to. A true Danger Deadpan
never loses his cool or changes his tone of voice under any circumstances whatsoever
, a habit which is often played for laughs.
May often be found in the cockpit of a Cool Plane
. Particularly likely from pilots with Nerves of Steel
In Real Life
, this makes some sense. Even if your plane's lost two engines and half a wing, the last thing you need is a bunch of scared people in the back of the plane panicking and raising hell; you can't be screaming "OH GOD WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE" over the radio. Not to mention the fact that if you stay calm and actually tell Mission Control
what the problem is, you won't throw away what may be your last chance for one of you to actually work out how to fix it.
Especially true for a test pilot, whose flight data will be of future utility even if they do die.
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Anime and Manga
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Thirty Seconds Over To Ki Rin, this is irst played straight and then Subverted by fighter pilot Dusk Skyshine as he begins to realize exactly how much trouble his wingman Dash Firehooves is in. Culminating in
“To Tambelon with your ship!” Dusk shouted. “Dashie, if you try to land now, you’re going to crash anyway, and the US Naval Air Force will lose a P-86 Sabre and a Dash Firehooves. And the second one is less replaceable!"
- The infamous, understated, oft-repeated line "Houston, we have a problem", as delivered in the film Apollo 13, owes at least a little to the Chuck Yeager spirit.
- The urgency of the scene was actually played up for the film. The actual transcripts ("Houston, we've had a problem.") are further understated.
- in The Movie, Jack Swigert (as played by Kevin Bacon) had this going on for most of the film.
- Heck, after the potentially-fatal reentry, which took over a minute-and-a-half longer than anticipated, the real response was just "Okay, Joe".
- Corporal Ferro, the Drop Ship pilot in Aliens.
- It's also lampshaded in the novelization of the Aliens comic Genocide:
Fitz was clearly from the Chuck Yeager school of pilots. Fly by the seat of your pants, but even if your wings had sheared off and your ejector was jammed, at no point abandon your laid-back Texas accent.note
- The totally deadpan "I'm hit, I'm going in." from the Helicopter attack scene in Apocalypse Now.
- In a similar vein, Blackhawk pilot Wolcott in Black Hawk Down - "6-1 going down... 6-1 going down...", said in a very calm voice while the pilot's face displays quite a bit of concern. The radio guys relaying the info around sound more emotional than he does.
- Trudy Chacon's final line in Avatar, uttered calmly as she tries to retain control of her Samson after it was shredded by heavy machine gun fire.
"Rogue 1 is hit, I'm going in. Sorry, Jake."
- The Discovery's mission controller in 2001: A Space Odyssey, who was played by an actual U.S. Air Force radio operator stationed in England, whom Kubrick hired because he couldn't find any actors who could do this kind of voice.
- Red Leader during the attack on the Death Star in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. After losing both his wingmen and failing to hit the exhaust port, with one engine out and Vader closing in to finish the job, he calmly orders Luke to set up for his attack run before getting shot down
- He does scream as he crashes, but it's more of a "If I'm gonna die, I'm takin' you bastards with me!" kind of a yell.
- Red Ten also qualifies; he even maintains his cool (mostly) just before "Mauler" Mithel blasts him.
- Gold Five was similarly composed, even going so far as to calmly issue a sitrep on the destruction of his squadron as Darth Vader is firing at him to finish him off, apparently just so Red Squadron would know what they were dealing with. These two guys are of course responsible for coining the Star Wars in-jokes "Stay on Target..." and "Just a few more seconds..."
- The novelization notes that Gold Five was a veteran who could avoid fire from the emplacements, make an accurate count, and not crash into the station while at attack speed.
- Maybe there's just something about flying as Red Leader that keeps you calm: when it's Wedge's turn with the callsign in Return of the Jedi this time he's the one staying professional as everyone else gets jumpy.
- The opening scene of A Matter of Life and Death where Carter calmly and politely chats to a female radio operator about how utterly screwed he is, and that the best hope for survival is to bail out without a parachute and hope that he is wrong about the height he is flying at.
- The former trope namer himself shows up in The Right Stuff, played by Sam Shepard. Not to mention a cameo by the real Yeager.
- Murdock (sort of) does this in the film of The A-Team. While he's quite excited to be flying in such a dangerous situation, when the plane is actually hit by a missile, he calmly says, "Ladies and gentlemen, if you look out the side of the aircraft, you'll see the right wing is on fire."
- Parodied in the comedy Hot Shots. On returning from the big mission, Topper is calmly narrating as his plane falls apart ("Lost my wing. There goes the other one.") And he is cheerily talked in by Washout, who give calm words of reassurance in response to each new glitch ("Looking good. Doing fine. Call the ball.") Followed by Topper landing by way of the smoldering wreck of his plane falling straight down onto the deck. It's that kind of movie.
- In Zero Dark Thirty, en route to Usama Bin Laden's compound, the helicopter shakes alarmingly. One of the SEAL team members asks, mildly, "Anyone here been in a Helo crash?" Several hands are raised without further comment.
- World War Z. After the hero's satellite phone goes off while they're trying to sneak past some zombies who wake up and swarm them, one of the snipers chimes in with a truly beautiful bit of snark over the radio:
"Looks like we just woke the dead. In that respect, uh, please turn off all pagers and cell phones."
- Matt Kowalski from Gravity remains unflappably calm and collected throughout the entire disaster.
- In the Jack McKinney novelization of Robotech, the pilots are all described as discussing their life and death situations in combat "as if they were talking about the weather", and lampshades this with an explanation that combat pilots are traditionally superstitious that displaying any worry or fear of death invites its attention.
- Invoked in Clear and Present Danger: as crew chief Buck Zimmer dies in Jack Ryan's arms, Jack is nearly enraged by the helo pilot's calm reply to the news. The narrative notes that the pilot's demeanor is a defense mechanism: if he hadn't learned how to compartmentalize his rage and grief, he could never have lasted as long as he has.
- Another nice reference in The Cardinal Of The Kremlin - "When he spoke, it was in the matter-of-fact tone that professional soldiers reserve for only the worse nightmares. The Colonel had just had the privilege of witnessing something that few men in human history ever saw. He had just seen the world change, and unlike most men, he had understood the significance of it."
- During Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, Luke commands part of a fleet during a battle. For most of it he's outwardly calm but quietly nervous inside, sure things are about to go wrong - when things do go wrong, he feels calmer and absolutely shines, soothing the alarmed crew, sending a message to repeat, setting up to pull off what most would call an impossible landing, and in general being low-voiced and "preternaturally" calm.
This is New Republic Cruiser Justice, Luke Skywalker commanding. Admiral Kalback is dead. The ship has broken up, and there are no escape pods remaining. I have taken the helm and will attempt to set down behind the dawn terminator above the north tropic. Begin the search for survivors at the coordinates on the encoded supplementary frequency. Good luck, and may the Force be with you. Skywalker out."
- A variation occurs in Good Omens, during an... interesting incident at a nuclear power plant:
Four hundred and twenty practically dependable and very nearly cheap megawatts were leaving the station. According to the other dials, nothing was producing them.
[Horace] didn't say "That's weird." He wouldn't have said "That's weird" if a flock of sheep had cycled past playing violins. It wasn't the sort of thing a responsible engineer said.
Live Action TV
- Firefly: Wash was very lively and emotional normally, but when piloting under pressure became a zen-like stoic. Joss Whedon wanted the contrast for the character and was dismayed during the making of one episode to discover everyone had dispensed with this to have Wash flying as excitably as his actor had been playing his brand new X-Box. When they all cited Rule of Funny at him, Joss agreed to let it stay in.
Wash: ...Kaylee better get us some extra power from the engine room to offset the burn-through, or this landing could get pretty interesting.
Mal: Define "interesting".
Wash: "Oh god, oh god, we're all gonna die"?
- Red Dwarf: Ace Rimmer, who calmly reports that he's broken his arm, then apologizes in advance for fainting briefly.
- The Twilight Zone episode "The Odyssey of Flight 33" has a fair bit of this:
Captain Farver: If you look out from the left-hand side of this aircraft you'll see directly below an area called Lake Success.…What I'm trying to tell you is that somehow, some way, in some manner this aircraft has gone back into time and it's 1939 but we're going to try to increase our speed and go back through the same sound barrier we've already done twice before. I don't know if we can do it. All I ask of you is that you remain calm and pray.
- Captain Stapley of Concorde Golf Victor Charlie in the Doctor Who serial Time-Flight.
- Deconstructed to Hell and Back in the Season 2 finale of Breaking Bad, though with an Air Traffic Controller rather than a pilot. Jane Margolis' father David works as an Air Traffic Controller in his day job, and uses the trademark deadpan "mission control" voice in all of his conversations with pilots. Because of his job, he's even forced to maintain his cool composure the day after his daughter dies of a heroin overdose, so the people around him have absolutely zero clue that there's anything wrong with him...until he gets so distracted by his grief that he lets two planes collide in mid-air, killing hundreds of people in an instant.
- Most everyone in Generation Kill, though there are few pilots and their speaking roles are very brief. Has two notable exceptions in Sgt. Batista and Captain America, both of which are criticized for their behaviour by the main characters (the captain, of course, not to his face).
- Justified in Warhammer 40K, where servitors (lobotomized humans used for repetitve tasks) and Mechanicus priests always speak in robotic monotones (though occasionally an undercurrent of urgency or fear can be detected).
Stand Up Comedy
- Referenced by Robin Williams on his "Live 2002" album (although not in the HBO Live On Broadway special) during a routine comparing pre- and post-9/11 flying:
Robin: Remember when you used to get on the planes before 9/11? Pilots would come on, give you that whole Chuck Yeager: (Chuck Yeager voice) "Hey everybody. Had a couple of cocktails. Feelin' pretty good. Let's take this sucker down to the end of the runway and see what she'll do..." Now, they come on and go "I love all of you. We are family."
- Phill Jupitus has a routine about this in his Quadrophobia show, in which he contrasts the Danger Deadpan approach seen in Apollo 13 with the probable result if the astronauts had been British: not so much "Houston, we have a problem" as "THE F**KING ROCKET'S F**KING F**KED!!" Notable as an example of an inversion of British Stuffiness.
- Adam Hills relates a story about flying into Hobart when the pilot aborted the landing at the last minute.
Captain came on and made the single coolest announcement I've ever heard in my life. (Suave voice)
'Ladies and gentlemen, you can probably tell we didn't land then. This is because the wind conditions just changed a little bit and were pushing us slightly off course. We just decided to pull up and do another lap of the airport, we'll have you on the ground in about five minutes time.' I thought that is pretty damn cool - for a man who nearly killed us all. That wasn't wind, he fucked up
- Kysouke Nanbu is portayed as such in the Super Robot Wars series, he has occasional bouts of shouting Hot-Blooded-ness but his overall character is the 'cool and levelheaded' archetype, slumbering volcano deal.
- The Wraith pilot from StarCraft.
- By extension, Tom Kazansky, a hero from the bonus campaign, who has the exact same voice and face, but being a Hero Unit is probably the original.
- The dropship pilot as well, being a fairly obvious reference to Corporal Ferro above.
- As of Starcraft II, they've been replaced by the Viking and Medevac pilots, respectively.
- The Wraith is still in Starcraft II's campaign with the same smooth voice and quotes. Infamously so, as while other units sound like they are in various states of duress and infestation from being infected by a neural parasite, the Wraith's voice is completely unaffected and just as calm as ever.
- The Banshee, while somewhat more aggressive-sounding (and apparently relishing in the idea of bombing things) also keeps remarkably calm. In fact, the only Terran pilot (close to the only Terran soldier period) who doesn't is the Lovable Coward Battlecruiser captain.
- Iceman, in the first Wing Commander game, is described in the manual as being the calm, cool, collected pilot, and the one on top of the scoreboard when you start the game. A fellow pilot notes that everyone else shouts in combat, but you sometimes have to strain to hear Iceman, because he's pretty much whispering in terse, two-or-three-word sentences.
- Disconcertingly the Hell Talon pilot from Dawn of War: Soulstorm talks like this. This is because, according to the fluff, Hell Talons are piloted by Servitors, who are basically partially organic robots created from clones or lobotomized convicts.
- In Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 the Allied Harrier jets apparently have pilots that sound like your typical Chuck Yeager-type pilots when clicked on. The only time they sound panicky is when they get shot down. The Allied Rocketeers were more or less the same.
- And then in Red Alert 3 you get this for pretty much anyone who flies a plane — including Japanese pilots and Soviet women pilots. The Century Bomber pilots are a clear homage to Major Kong.
- The Apollo pilots sometimes shout "Where's the eject?" when you shoot them down.
- "Mig going down, Mig going dooowwwnnn!!!"
- Earlier in the series in Tiberian Sun, GDI had the rather unshakeable Orca pilots and Nod had the even more unshakable Banshee pilots, who upon being shot down uttered a deadpan "Whoops".
- Tiberian Sun's land armor pilots are particularly more Yeagerish than other C&C equivalents and are on par with aircraft ones.
- Joker in the Mass Effect series combines this with Deadpan Snarker for his scenes when not actively flying.
- If you play the Omega DLC as an Engineer Shepard in Mass Effect 3, when you reach the central reactor, you can use a Paragon interrupt to re-route power to the city instead of shutting it down, which achieves not only the shutdown of the force fields, but saves the civilians instead. If you use it, once you get away from the reactor, you get this dialog:
Shepard: You okay?
Aria: Never better.
Nyreen: That makes two of us. You brought all your skill to bear and accomplished the task without sacrificing lives. I applaud you.
Aria: Shepard remains cool under pressure. Mind clear, shit together.
*Aria looks at Nyreen*
Aria: Take a long, hard look; that's what fearlessness looks like.
- One level of Halo 3 includes several crashed human aircraft. Standing near one reveals some interesting radio chatter regarding a space-battle above, including the calmly-stated line "I've lost avionics, I'm gonna try and hit their carrier. Goodbye guys."
- The UNSC for some reason really likes to hire laidback Texan women to pilot their Pelicans. The version in the first game was even given a nickname, Foehammer, and survived until the last level.
- Foehammer's calm demeanor and steadfast reliability through the entire game made her death in the last seconds of the game heartbreaking.
- Every airman in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The best example is probably Outlaw 2-5, who responds to being told he's in danger of getting nuked with a deadpan "Copy, we know what we're getting into."
- Deadly, the downed Cobra pilot Outlaw 2-5 landed to rescue, remains admirably collected whilst loosing her tail rotor and plowing into a building. The next you hear from her, she's a bit more shaken up. Considering she's also trapped in the cockpit with a broken leg or worse, her gunner is dead, and angry Quraqis with lots of guns and a grudge against American air power are pouring out of the woodwork, this is forgivable.
- Taken to the logical extreme in the level "Death from Above", where you are the gunner of an AC-130 gunship. The crew responds to you disintegrating both infantry and vehicles alike with less emotion than a guy watching sports on TV; the only guy who speaks above a normal, conversational tone of voice is the loader for the plane's 105mm cannon who's only dialogue is "Gun Ready!".
- Similarly with any of Glenn Morshower's characters: most of the pilots, as well as 'Overlord', 'Warlord' and the NORAD HQ controller in Modern Warfare 2. The latter gets a disturbingly subtle hint of malice if you kill more than ten people in a single Predator Missile strike, though.
- You can customize your player model in Tribes 2, including your character's voice. One of the options for a Human Male player model is "Iceman." It sounds as you might expect.
- Homeworld and Homeworld 2 radio chatter is filled with Chuck Yeagers: ship captains, fighter pilots, and even Fleet Command, herself. They barely break out in panic even in hopeless situations: the most that you will hear is a slight tone of urgency. It almost borders on Creepy Monotone.
We're going down. We're going-
— Hiigaran Battlecruiser captain
, Homeworld 2
- Although not a full 180 degree spin, Homeworld: Cataclysm radio chatter deviates from Chuck Yeager by a significant margin. Fridge Brilliance as Cataclysm's pilots are all civilians, hastily trained no less.
Fire! Fire! Fire!
— Somtaaw Multibeam
- The ironclad units from Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds are a British, naval version of this trope, remaining much calmer than their land-based compatriots even when reporting that Martian units are firing at them. Come on Thunderchild indeed.
- Played straight, averted, and subverted by Prototype. You hear all enemy radio chatter, so when you take out a helicopter you hear the pilot's reaction to what you do - and final words. Some pilots are calm and collected going in, some panic and wail immediately, and some lose control just before they hit. After a while, the panicked screams can become tearjerker material.
- "(Calmly) Mayday, mayday, we're going in ha-AAAUUUGGGHHH"
- Truth in Television. In real life, Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier, originated this voice and this trope. The phenomenon of how real-world pilots all started talking like him, for no other reason than that he was so cool, is described in the nonfiction novel The Right Stuff, and to a lesser extent in the movie version of same.
- Curiously, though the voice in the movies and other audible media is often Texan, Yeager himself is from West Virginia.
- His collected persona on the radio was demonstrated profoundly in an incident mentioned in his autobiography and (sort of) shown in the movie version of The Right Stuff. While testing the X-1A, the airplane broke into an abrupt spin at just over Mach 2 — in an airplane that was impossible to escape from. When he finally manages to break out of the spin, he's just barely got enough altitude to make it back to base (the X-1 series was designed to use up all of its fuel on the way out and come back unpowered). Next thing you know, he's making a wisecrack to the carrier aircraft about not needing a structural integrity demonstration. Probably a Real Life Crowning Moment of Awesome for a man whose life was full of them.
"Now, folks, uh… this is the captain... ummmm... We've got a little ol' red light up here on the control panel that's tryin' to tell us that the landin' gears're not... uh... lockin' into position when we lower 'em... Now... I don't believe that little ol' red light knows what it's talkin' about—I believe it's that little ol' red light that isn' workin' right. But... I guess to play it by the rules, we oughta humor that little ol' light… so we're gonna take her down to about, oh, two or three hundred feet over the runway at Kennedy, and the folks down there on the ground are gonna see if they caint give us a visual inspection of those ol' landin' gears and if I'm right... they're gonna tell us everything is copacetic all the way aroun' an' we'll jes take her on in.
"Well, folks, those folks down there on the ground—it must be too early for 'em or somethin'—I 'spect they still got the sleepers in their eyes... 'cause they say they caint tell if those ol' landin' gears are all the way down or not... But, you know, up here in the cockpit we're convinced they're all the way down, so we're jes gonna take her on in... And oh, while we take a little swing out over the ocean an' empty some of that surplus fuel we're not gonna be needin' anymore — that's what you might be seein' comin' out of the wings — our lovely little ladies... if they'll be so kind... they're gonna go up and down the aisles and show you how we do what we call 'assumin' the position'."
- Though Chuck Yeager is most known example and the book "The Right Stuff" made a nice legend, he probably isn't the first who started to talk that way. For example, Mark Gallai (a Soviet test pilot who started his career in 1930's) recounts just this way of reporting over radio about as soon as radio was introduced on airplanes. Let's just repeat: when you need to report your condition to ground crew, you are going to speak calmly and clearly, no matter what's happening with your plane. Yeager was definitely the Trope Codifier for affecting a faint Southern accent while doing so, however.
- Black box recordings of pilots going down almost always show the captain maintaining a surprisingly calm and neutral voice, even moments before a fatal crash.
- Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger. Accounts have his conduct during the ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 as almost preternaturally calm and methodical.
- Captain Eric Moody of British Airways Flight 9 managed to take this to ridiculous levels (probably helped by the good old Stiff Upper Lip), announcing this to his passengers; "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get it under control. I trust you are not in too much distress." *
- In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, he points out that sometimes this unerring calm actually helps to cause the accidents in question. The pilots are so muted that the Air Traffic Controllers and sometimes even the rest of the flight crew don't realize how severe the situation is. One Co-Pilot was apologizing to an ATC for interrupting him mere moments before running out of fuel.
- Well trained tank crews will sound like this. You'd have something like:
Commander: "Target tank, 11 o'clock, Sabot."
Gunner: "Sabot. Loaded."
Commander: "Fire. Wait for impact. Hit. Traverse, target BMP with radio mount, 12 o'clock, HE." etc
- Although not a pilot, Ferdinand Foch's "My center is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent, I am advancing" deserves mention here for capturing the spirit of this example so well.
- The commander of the space shuttle Columbia seemed completely calm when told that he had lost several instruments on the left side of his ship within a few seconds of each other, and gave no indication of anything but calm at any point, even until the shuttle disintegrated.
- Moreover, telemetry of the last 30 seconds or so of Columbia's flight and panel configurations of recovered debris reveal that the pilot was still attempting to troubleshoot and rectify the situation even as the craft was spinning out of control and rapidly breaking up.
- Charles Hobaugh, although not the pilot during that mission, is the one calmly repeating "Columbia, Houston: UHF comm check" time and time again after they lost contact with the shuttle.
- Supposedly when listening to the air-to-ground loop shorty before all contact was lost, it's possible that Commander Rick Husband calmly stated "feelin the heat", which may be a deadpan acknowledgement that something had gone wrong.
- Conversely the crew of the Challenger were also unaware of any problems up until the shuttle broke apart. In fact the last statement recorded on the shuttle's CVR was pilot Mike Smith giving a nonchalant "Uh oh."
- This was also invoked to a degree on STS-27. Space shuttle Atlantis had suffered extensive tile damage that concerned the crew. Due to poor images Mission Control said it was of no concern. While the astronauts did not like that assessment, they decided to carry on with the mission regardless. Mission commander Robert Gibson later said that if the shuttle began to experience trouble during reentry, he would tell Misson Control "exactly what (he) thought of their analysis."
- The British military's commitment to the Stiff Upper Lip often works out this way. It has caused problems when the British operate with allies; in the Korean War there was a near-disaster when an American General had a British commander report his situation as "somewhat difficult" and didn't realize he meant "vastly outnumbered and virtually out of ammunition."
- His second report was that his situation was "a bit sticky" and he needed urgent reinforcement. By "a bit sticky" he meant "catastrophically outnumbered and near overrun, throwing our ration cans at the Chinese in the hope that they mistake them for grenades." Unfortunately, the American commander didn't speak Stiff Upper Lip, and told him to hang in there.
- A friendly argument continues as to whose fault that was - Americans say that the man should have faked panic in order to convey the urgency better. The British say that the British commander called for urgent reinforcements, which is all the Americans needed to know.
- Not only is this trope for pilots in real life, but traffic control, as well. Air traffic control are not supposed to make "assumptions" about a pilot's plane, for instance, and are supposed to phrase statements in a similar fashion. i.e. "Your aircraft appears to be on fire, sir."
- The Black Hawk designated Super 6-1, piloted by CW3 Clifton "Elvis" Wolcott was the first of the two Black Hawks to be shot down during the First Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. He was noted as always being extremely calm on the radio. He legendarily maintained his calm after Super 6-1 was hit, and remained almost casual on the radio up to the moment of his death during the impact.
Wolcott: Hey, Bull, you wanna pull those PCLs offlinenote or what?
- The medical field actually requires a good amount of this. When you have a guy bleeding out big time, it doesn't help one bit if you're freaking out.
- Baseball commentators often have a lazy drawl akin to the pilot trope even in situations like an all-in brawl.