Fighter Pilot Traditions: Hat in the Freezer

It’s been said many times before that being a fighter pilot is a lot like being in a college fraternity.  Yes, its true, “pranks,” to use an equivalent word, are still prevalent among the elite fighter pilot crowd.

If you lose something in a fighter squadron, check the freezer.  If you’re lucky, it will just be wet.  If you’ve been gone awhile, there’s a distinct possiblity your lost item, most famously, your hat, is now in a solid block of ice, or your car keys will now need to be thawed before you can drive home.  (Another technique is to put just the head of the key in the block of ice, so the driver can still enter and drive his car, albeit with a 5 pound block of ice hanging off of it.)

While this is a longstanding fighter pilot tradition, the modern Air Force has also seen changes, with cell phones and government-issue Blackberries more common.  In general, these are not placed in the freezer (fighter pilots aren’t always mature, but they’re not stupid).  That said, if you lose something identifiable and expensive, you can expect a ransom demand prior to getting it back.  Pay back may be tangible (a case of beer is “standard”) or an act of contrition (like wearing the other squadron’s colors, if their LPA “acquired” your item).

Traditionally, ransoms also apply for any item of yours that a crew chief discovers in the jet after you’ve left.

This tradition forces the fighter pilot to acknowledge his error, encourages him to learn from the nominal “fine” he pays, and it avoids the sometimes more severe penalties that might otherwise have been incurred (for losing government equipment, for example).