There are many callsigns that pilots can be heard using if you’ve ever listened in to a pilot speaking over the radio.
Wilco is one of these callsigns, but what does it mean, and when is it used?
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What Wilco Means in Aviation
In aviation, wilco means that the pilot understands the instructions and “will comply”.
Wilco should only be used when a pilot has understood the instructions and will comply with them, but should not be used when a pilot is given something like heading for traffic, altitude, or clearance to land.
In such instances, ATC (air traffic control) wants the pilot to repeat that information back, and then wilco can also be said.
ATC want a readback for things like taxi instructions or instructions to fly certain procedures to make it explicitly clear that the instructions have been understood by the pilot.
If this is not done, then the air traffic controller has no way to know what the pilot is actually complying with.
What Wilco Means in the Military
In military aviation, wilco has the same meaning as when used by general aviation and commercial pilots.
So, it means, “I understand your message and will comply with it.”
How Wilco Should Be Used
Here are a couple examples of how wilco should be used by pilots:
- Example 1
ATC: Southwest 145, traffic is a Boeing 747 on 4 miles final for runway 08, report in sight
Pilot: WILCO, Southwest 145
- Example 2
ATC: Delta 325 turn left heading 120, cleared ILS approach runway 08, report established
Pilot: Heading left 120, cleared ILS approach runway 08, WILCO, Delta 325
As you can see, the more complex the information, the more the need for the pilot to report back what was said to them on their aviation radio to make it explicitly clear that they understood what was said.
The Origin of the Wilco Call
Wilco very likely has a military origin, as it was and still is a common practice to shorten communications time.
The first known use of wilco is said to be circa 1938.
Wilco is Still Used Today
Yes, the callsign wilco is still in aviation by general aviation, military and airline pilots.
It is perhaps used in some countries more than others, but it can still be heard being used often by pilots in all capacities.
Difference Between Roger and Wilco
Everyone has likely heard the callsign roger before, and probably already know what it means, too.
Roger is simply an acknowledgement of the information received, but does not mean that the pilot will comply.
Wilco, on the other hand, means that the pilot has acknowledged the information received and will also comply with it.
What Roger Wilco Means
Roger wilco means that the information has been received, acknowledged, and a pilot will comply.
However, it is considered redundant, since the “roger” is implied when wilco is used.
Other Unique Terms Pilots Use
Pilots use several other terms that are unique to aviation.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.