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Unusual Names Of Waypoints Used For Airplanes' Navigation


OK. You ready for some aviation humor? Well, have we got a story for you.


Oh, yeah. Let's talk about waypoints, Mary Louise.

STEVE TRIMBLE: A waypoint is a geographic coordinate in the sky.

CHANG: Steve Trimble is an editor with Aviation Week.

TRIMBLE: When you take off from, say, New York to Los Angeles, you don't just point the airplane in that direction and go there. The FAA assigns you an airway, which is a bit like a highway, and then there's waypoints along that airway.

KELLY: Now, each waypoint has a name five letters long. And the reason we are bringing this up now is that a Washington, D.C.-area pilot wrote to us to tell us about a pair of waypoints in Maryland near Camp David. One is ROBRT. And nearby is MULRR. Think about it. Sound them out. Robert Mueller - yes, the guy who led the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

CHANG: (Laughter) The pilot who wrote to us had a couple questions. Was someone a big fan of Mueller or trolling the president?

KELLY: Well, we heard back from a spokesperson at the FAA today. Turns out both the ROBERT and MULRR waypoints were given their names more than 20 years ago, long before the special counsel's investigation.

CHANG: And with that, we could have moved on, but the names of the waypoints sparked our curiosity. What other Easter eggs are hidden in the sky?

TRIMBLE: In Detroit, you have WONDR and MOTWN. Above St. Louis, there's waypoints for ANNII and LENXX.

CHANG: Yeah. So somewhere, a Eurythmics fan had their fun.

KELLY: Waypoint names are given by regional FAA section offices around the country. But Aviation Week's Trimble says the rest is kind of a mystery.

TRIMBLE: I don't know who within the section area offices has the specific authority to do it or how they come up with the names - talk to their kids or their families or other controllers. And - or they have, like, a, you know, an office vote.

DEBORAH FALLOWS: You can tell they've got some time on their hands and a little bit of a sense of humor.

CHANG: Deborah Fallows with her husband, James Fallows. She is the co-author of "Our Towns; A 100,000-Mile Journey Into The Heart Of America." The couple spends a lot of time in a single-engine plane hearing the waypoint names being read out by air traffic controllers. There are 37,000 waypoints just in the U.S.

FALLOWS: They seem to fall into a number of different categories. You've got sports. You've got food. You've got girls' names and particularly girlfriend names. Got some political names. You've got the Texas folks. It's all about football. So here, you have to imagine taking out all the vowels in these words, so you get football - FTBAL. Touchdown - TCHDN. Quarterback - QTRBK.

KELLY: Then there's these series of five waypoints near Portsmouth, N.H. If you go through them in the right order, you will be reminded of a phrase once uttered by "Looney Tunes" character Tweety bird.


CHANG: Another pop culture figure has shown up in the sky above Palm Beach. Back when, you know, The Apprentice was hosted by our current chief executive, there was a trio of waypoints reading DONLD, TRMMP and UFIRD. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.