Guy in Back

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He or she may be called the Radar Intercept Officer ("Rio"), the Tail Gunner, the Navigator or the Weapons Systems Officer ("Whizzo"). However, they all do the same job, acting as a Mission Control in the back seat (or sometimes in the right hand side seat) of the Ace Pilot's own fighter or attack aircraft. They don't usually fly the aircraft (they're often not qualified to), but instead notify their boss of approaching fighters, surface-to-air missiles etc. Having an extra pair of eyes helps a lot. They also help in more technical matters such as attending to the vehicle's operational systems, freeing up the pilot to concentrate on piloting and combat.

Their position is useful for comedy, as they can throw up in particularly vicious manoeuvres. It also allows for a major sense of danger — they can be hit in a fight and create a time-sensitive element to the mission. The position is also useful in general for giving the pilot somebody to talk to without necessarily needing another plane nearby, similar to cop shows where two cops always ride in a car together. They can also highlight the drama of fight scenes when enemies approach, the back guy races through the craft's combat analysis computer to identity them and reacts with alarm as he realizes what they are taking on. The back guy can also be working the craft's operating maintenance systems to attempt to keep the craft operating even as the pilot is pushing the envelope trying to keep them from being shot down.

Not many real-world fighters or aircraft have these, but they were once common. The F-14 and F-4 are arguably the most famous examples, inspiring many others. Named after real military terminology, where the radar officer was called this or simply "GIB". The Ace Pilot would be the FUF, or "Fucker Up Front".

If an Ace Pilot doesn't have a Guy in Back with whom to exchange witty banter, the "sidekick" role will probably go to their Wing Man, a fellow pilot in a supporting position. In Speculative Fiction, the role may be filled by a talkative computer, ranging from Robot Buddy ("Tracking multiple targets, bearing one-seven-five-mark-one-niner") to glorified warning light ("Altitude. Altitude. Altitude...") - though they have that one today.

Note that for many Attack Helicopters with tandem seating, the trope is inverted - the Guy In Back is actually the pilot, with the person up front responsible for manning the weapons. Not to be confused with Soldiers At the Rear; these guys may be in back, but they actually do something.

Examples of Guy in Back include:

Anime and Manga

  • The Simouns can only be piloted by two people: primary pilot Auriga and secondary pilot/navigator/gun controller Sagitta. The latter is basically the Guy in Back, except it's always a girl (as is the pilot in front).
  • Nojima is Kurushima's secondary pilot/navigator in Kurogane Pukapuka Tai.
  • Micky in Area 88 has a modified F-14A Tomcat. The RIO station is still there (the reporter joins him for one mission in the anime) but it isn't required, probably due to the fact he doesn't use the radar-guided AIM-54 Phoenix or AIM-7 Sparrow, so he flies solo.
    • Micky actually does fire and carry Sparrows in the 2003 series, so apparently his Tomcat has simply been modified to the point it no longer needs a RIO, possibly taking cues from the then-prototype single-seat F/A-18C or the in-service F-15C.
  • Fukai Rei from Sentou Yousei Yukikaze is an interesting case: In the first episode, both his RIO wound up dead. In the second episode, using the newly-fielded FFR-44MR Mave, his RIO is, while qualified, is not a pilot in the strictest sense. In the third episode, his RIO is an engineer that he needs to ferry. In the fourth, it's his CO that's behind him (no pun intended). Finally, in the fifth one, he flies solo. Then again, through the series, he is more comfortable with the plane's AI than any RIO.
  • The Fatimas in The Five Star Stories are something between a Guy In Back and Wetware CPU, linking directly with the Humongous Mecha's computer systems to control most of its incredibly complex operations so the main pilot can focus on moving it around and using the weapons. They usually sit in a completely different cockpit, though, with the Fatima in the head and the "Headdliner" in the torso, though the really humongous Jagd Mirage mechs are equipped with a two-seater cockpit.
  • Macross Zero featured F-14s, and the VF-0 apparently also had a RIO position, unlike its descendant VF-1. The VF-1 does have a two-seat trainer variant that is apparently used for impromptu flying dates with idol singers.
    • Probably a training variant (common with real-world fighters).
  • The combined Vandread fighters, with the comedic/fanservice twist that they mostly lack second seats. When Hibiki's Vanguard merges with Meia's Dread, he becomes the "Guy In Lap". With Dita it's reversed. Jura remembers to bring a chair.

Comic Books

  • In the X Wing Series comics, the ex-Imperial Baron Soontir Fel, who is the image on Ace Pilot, goes with the rest of Rogue Squadron on a mission involving Y-Wings and chooses to act as a gunner, letting his old student Tycho actually fly the thing. He's absurdly good at flying Fragile Speedster craft, but he doesn't have the Universal Driver's License - he's not flight-qualified on Y-Wings.


  • "Goose" in Top Gun is a famous example, being killed when he hits the canopy while ejecting.
  • Luke Skywalker's gunner Dack Ralter is hit during the battle of Hoth at the beginning of Star Wars Episode V, resulting in the snowspeeder they were using becoming functionally useless against the attacking AT-ATs and him having to land (of course, the smoke trailing out of it from the shot that killed Dack might have had something to do with it).
    • When Luke flies an X-Wing, R2-D2 is the Guy in Back (and in Episode IV performs the traditional GIB function of getting injured to increase the drama). In the prequels, Obi-Wan Kenobi also has an R2 droid as his GIB.
    • In Revenge of the Sith, the ARC-170 reconnaissance fighters featured in the opening battle feature two Guys In Back. One co-pilot, and a rear-facing tail gunner.
  • The main motivation for the lead character of Flight of the Intruder is the senseless death of his Guy in Back as a result of a spectacularly lucky shot from a peasant with a rifle.
    • The rest of the movie follows his exploits with his new GIB, played by Wilem Dafoe's badasspornstache.
  • In Behind Enemy Lines it's the Weapons Systems Officer played by Owen Wilson, not the pilot, who is the hero, by virtue of not injuring his leg upon landing and thus escaping execution.
  • While still fulfilling this trope, The Last Starfighter's Gun Star is set up like an Attack Helicopter, with Grig as the Gunstar's navigator and pilot, responsible for navigation and technical matters while Alex operates as the ship's gunner.


  • In one of the Tom Clancy franchise Op-Center novels, a female RIO is killed by enemy fire during a recce flight.
  • In The Hunt for Red October, a trigger-happy Soviet pilot fires a missile at Robby Jackson's F-14, severely damaging the aircraft and badly injuring his RIO, which ultimately requires major surgery to fix.
  • In the Wing Commander novel End Run, the death of a turret gunner in a damaged bomber that Kevin "Lonewolf" Tolwyn (nephew of the admiral) was supposed to escort back to the Tarawa was a significant contributor to Tolwyn's Character Development from a wild hotshot to a reliable "team player".
  • In The Empire Strikes Back, Wes Janson was Wedge Antilles' gunner. The Star Wars Expanded Universe, particularly the X Wing Series, reveals that he's a ridiculously capable pilot himself, if not quite in Wedge's league (then again, few are). Evidently he's a career fighter pilot, with "gunner" being a secondary specialization.
    • In the New Jedi Order, Danni Quee takes up this position for Wild One, Jedi Knight Saba Sebatyne's personal ship. She serves as the Blue Oni to Saba and helps counterbalance her Attack! Attack! Attack! nature, while also serving as techie, sounding board, and occasional improv therapist. Curiously, they manage to have this dynamic even though Wild One is a Skipray gunship, not a fighter. (It has at least four crew: Saba commanding and handling weapons, Danni on comms, shields, and Everything Sensors, a pilot, and at least one turret gunner.)
  • The book and movie Flight of the Intruder have a Guy On The Right instead (given that A-6 Intruder cockpits are configured with the pilot and bombardier/navigator sitting next to each other).

Live Action TV

  • In Airwolf this is Dom's usual job, although Caitlin and Archangel also did it on occasions.
    • Notable that in Airwolf the position is more "computer operator" than anything... Hawke both flew and handled weapons, and Airwolf could be flown by a single pilot/gunner with the back seat empty.
  • From Stargate SG-1, the X-302/F-302 fighter-interceptors, as well as their short-lived predecessor the X-301 and the Goa'uld Death Gliders they're based on, have one of these. Occasionally plot-relevant, though mostly for the sake of getting two main characters into trouble at one time. In what may be an homage to the Star Wars example above, it is revealed in Colonel Mitchell's first appearance that his copilot was injured by enemy fire when they were flying in the battle above Antarctica shortly before they crashed.
  • The new series of Battlestar Galactica Reimagined has Raptors, with a crew of one pilot and one Electronic Countermeasures Officer. However, the ECOs are also trained as pilots, and frequently take on this role as a result of the military's somewhat severe crew shortage.
    • Likewise in the original series, the Cylon fighters had two occupants seated side by side with a third in the back (can be seen as a throwback in the new series during the 'Razor' special)
  • Ryu had this position in the Gun-Crusader in Ultraman Mebius, but usually sits in front in the Gun-Winger. Marina and George usually have the position here, using their superior hearing and sight (respectively) to help them watch out for a Kaiju's attacks.


  • Bionicle: In the first Mata Nui Online Game, you play as a Second for a Kewa (really big bird) pilot during the Le-Koro level. Your job is to shoot down enemy Nui-Rama (giant flies).

Tabletop Games

  • In Warhammer 40,000 and the spin-off air combat game Aeronautica Imperialis, several planes have guys in back.
    • The Eldar Phoenix bomber and Vampire-series aircraft both have copilots, in the latter case with a rear-facing cockpit.
    • The Ork Fighta-Bommer has a rear-facing gun turret, as do all Bommer variants.
    • The Imperial Marauder bomber has got a tail gunner in most variants.

Real Life

  • The in-service fighter/attack aircraft with this capability in the front-line versions:
    • F-14 Tomcat
    • F-4 Phantom II
    • F-15E Strike Eagle
    • MiG-31 "Foxhound"
    • F/A-18B/D/F/G Hornet/SuperHornet/Growler
    • Some "Flanker" versions (Mainly Su-30 variants and Su-27UB trainers)
    • Su-34 "Fullback"
    • Panavia Tornado
    • Eurocopter Tiger
    • AH-64 Apache
    • Mi-24 "Hind"
    • The B-2 Spirit is interesting in that it can be flown by one pilot, but has two in case of extremely long flights, to allow one pilot to sleep in the back.
      • Most bombers have at least two pilots for the same reason that airliners do: because of the long times the mission could take. They also usually sit side-by-side, the position in the back reserved for other crewmembers like flight engineer or radio operator if they exist.
    • Attack helicopters are an interesting exception: the Guy in Back there sits in front, because their main function is to aim the chopper's antitank missiles and a good visibility is crucial here.
  • Historical ones of note:
    • SBD Dauntless
    • Junkers Ju-87
    • TBF Avenger
    • Fairey Swordfish
    • A-6 Intruder
    • Early versions of the B-52 Stratofortress had a tailgunner[1] with a radar-assited gun turret. The turret was removed in later versions because it wasn't terribly effective against jets armed with missiles, tailgunners scoring a grand total of only two air to air kills during the entirety of the Vietnam War.
      • Due to the different ways the cockpit and the tailgunner's station were designed [2] the tailgunner in the earlier models could often see more of the plane than the pilot could, being able to tell the pilot useful information like "There's some smoke coming out of the bottom of the plane" and "Hey boss, the wing fell off."
  • One of the uses, starting in the Vietnam War, for a GIB in a fighter jet was for employing Wild Weasel tactics. Plainly speaking, this involved a fighter bomber modified with radar-detecting equipment (and a GIB to run that equipment) which would use itself as bait for the enemy defenses, trying to get them to reveal their position by targeting the Wild Weasel jet. Once an enemy had painted them with their radar, or took a shot at them with their AA guns, they'd (hopefully) evade the incoming fire and lay in their own attack to destroy the enemy. Quite a few of these missions ended in Downer Endings.
    • There's a good reason that the Wild Weasels adopted "YGBSM" as their motto, for "You Gotta Be Shittin' Me." Supposedly it was the first reaction from the first Wild Weasel pilot when he learned exactly what he was supposed to do. The two crewmembers had to trust each other so closely in order to survive these missions that it wasn't unheard of for a pilot and GIB to have a faux-wedding ceremony upon completing their training.
    • In the USAF, the GIB in the early Wild Weasel aircraft such as the F-100F and EF-105F was known as the "Bear" (short for "trained bear").
  • The original Hind helicopters had a crew of 2-3 men. While only two were required to fly and man the weapons, a technician had his place behind them, manning radio or other gear.
    • Note that the Hind was designed as a kind of a "flying APC" and had a cargo area that could fit 7-8 troopers, 2-3 tons of cargo or three stretcher patients for medevac. Engineer's station is in this cargo bay.
    • Mi-28 had this bay removed because it was rarely used in practice (pilots preferred to have more ammo instead), but it kept some sort of "trunk" for spares or one person.
  • Averted with the (now retired) F-111 "Aardvark" (though it was a light bomber, a carrier based interceptor version reached prototype stage only to be rejected) as its two crew sat side-by-side. Interestingly, there are some planes today that do this including two Russian Sukhoi aircraft, the Su-24 Fencer and the Su-34 Fullback (both spoken of as fighters even though they're light-bombers). Interestingly, the latter has some luxuries considered rare in a fighter including a small galley, a lavatory, and sleeping facilities. Rare for a helicopter, the Ka-52 also had side by side seating
    • There are advantages and disadvantages to both. The side by side seating allows for much better coordination for the crew. Unfortunately, in aerial combat, this position also gives much lower situational awareness than tandem seating making it virtually suicidal for aerial combat.

Video Games

  • Several Ace Combat aircraft have obvious RIO's, including the Tomcat, Phantom and Tornado. However, it's implied that there is only a single pilot onboard, such as when a pilot is shown ejecting (Heartbreak 1 in AC5 ejects from his F-4, a two-seater, but only 1 parachute is shown) Like with the Area 88 entry, it is possible the planes have a radar operator setup, but it isn't required for dogfighting.
    • Or the second guy didn't get out.
      • Twin seat fighters are usually wired so one crewman pulling his eject handle ejects both, in case the other crewman is incapacitated.
  • Flying any aircraft in Heroes Of The Pacific that has 2 or more crew (Dauntless, Avenger, and Mitchell bombers) will give you a gunner who tries to call out useful information ('Bandits 3 o'clock', 'Taking serious damage') but sometimes is simply annoying (when pulling a hard turn, 'Jesus, go easy!')
  • You can hop into the back seat in many aircraft in the Battlefield games.
  • Some vehicles in Star Wars Battlefront have a secondary gunner of some sort, but the best fit is probably the tail gunner in the Y-wing.
  • Starlancer, the predecessor to Freelancer (yes, there was one) had a recurring copilot who acted as Exposition Fairy and behaved much like the Heroes Of The Pacific example above. More helpful and less annoying than he sounds.
  • Technically, the option exists for any craft in the Wing Commander series with a rear turret to have a gunner, but for the most part they go unnamed. The games allow you to switch to that turret, but while doing so you can't control the rest of the ship.
    • In Wing Commander IV, Pliers notes that Blair will have to use an inferior auto-gunner in his craft, as the Intrepid doesn't have a person to spare for the duty.

Western Animation

  • Jake "Razor" Clawson in Swat Kats. He was physically smaller than T-Bone, but unlike the usual for the role he wasn't a non-combatant. He did all the shooting, and he was also the one most likely to jump from the plane into combat. On a missile. That turned into a motorcycle.
  • The short-lived Battletech cartoon had the Strikers' tac-ops officer directing the group from the back seat of a Battlemech in later episodes. Not only that, she enjoyed it.
  • In Exo Squad, Neosapien on the side of humankind Marsala was a GIB in an exceptionally big e-frame - the size of an attack chopper when the rest were barely SUV sized.
  1. Early models of the B-52 put this guy all by himself in the tail of the plane, similar to WWII bombers, later models put him in the cabin with the rest of the aircrew, controlling the guns remotely
  2. the cockpit was somewhat similar to an airliner, with the pilots sitting side by side and looking out a row of windows in front of and next to them, while the tail gunner had something like a fighter pilot's cockpit, but pointing aft instead of forward