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In Star Wars: A New Hope, at beginning of the attack on the Death Star, we see the pilots of Red Squadron check in.

Luke reports in as "Red Five", however we also hear Ten, Seven, Three, Six, Nine, Two, and Eleven.

My assumption is that since Luke literally just joined the Rebllion, he would be the newest member of the squad and given the lowest (highest? largest?) number.

Is there any explanation on why Luke is "Red Five"?

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    Maybe he was just the first to join them after the previous Red 5 had died in a dog fight.. Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 12:39
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    Because L is the 12th letter of the alphabet used on our planet. Later-numbered people showed up lower on an alphabetical list. Or a list based on horoscope data. Or a list based on his ranking from last night's poker game. Could be anything. All that said, I like Paulie_D's answer better (currently the only official answer provided), but it might be that any answer is unprovable speculation.
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 14:46
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  • @DVK-in-exile Thanks, I'd already found that great question (thank you Google) and mentioned it in my answer...admittedly at the bottom.
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 19:52
  • @Paulie_D - oups, didn't notice, sorry. Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 17:30

2 Answers 2

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Luke was Red Five because he took over as the fifth member of Red Squadron from the former possessor of the callsign; Pedrin Gaul who died over Scarif a few days before.

enter image description here

The Rogue One: Ultimate Visual Guide also makes it clear that the callsign doesn't relate to a formation position, just the point at which one enters the squadron, having taken over from the prior incumbent.

Landing a seat in a squadron is an honor, but a tempered one: it results from a vacancy created by another pilot's injury, fatigue, or worse. It is up to the next pilot to continue flying under an inherited call-sign.

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    "Pedrin Gaul who died over Scarif a few hours before." A few hours? The Battle of Scarif happened right before A New Hope. He was assigned the call sign at the end of A New Hope. That was several days at the very least. Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 0:28
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    @Accumulation - I was trying to express that it was about 72 hours and kinda stepped on myself. I've edited
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 6:19
  • @Valorum so does this imply that if "Red 2" had died and not "Red 5", that when Luke joined the squad his would have been "Red 2", or would Red 3,4, and 5 moved up a number and Luke would still have been 5?
    – Skooba
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 13:40
  • @Skooba - It explicitly states that he was "Red 5" because the available slot was the former Red 5's
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 14:40
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From the Wookieepedia

Red Five was the call sign for the fifth member of Red Squadron. After the Rebel pilot Luke Skywalker who flew as Red Five during the Battle of Yavin destroyed the first Death Star, the name became synonymous with the actual X-wing fighter he flew

In many air forces, the designation is based on the craft's position in the formation rather than any specific rank or experience level.

As mentioned by Pete Becker the designation may also be based on the craft/pilot's role in the mission.

Either could apply in this case although the former seems most likely.

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

As cross posted in AviationExchange

Tactical call signs change with each flight, and may or may not have any real significance to the event being flown

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    To underscore the final quote: tactical call signs are based on the role, not on the person. For example, my Ham radio call sign is NU9W, but when I'm working as net control for the Hilly Hundred my call is "net control", as is whoever else fills in in that position. Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 16:06
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    Similar to, e.g. the CAPCOM role at NASA mission control.
    – Zac Crites
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 2:57
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    And now that Rogue One has come out, we see that Red Five was killed in the last battle, leaving an opening for a farmboy to join in. Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 7:00
  • True but that's doesn't really answer what Red Five meant. But it's a nice little easter egg
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 7:41
  • @Thunderforge After finally seeing Rogue One, I am sure why you or some else did not post that as the answer. Paulie D's answer gives a perfect out-of-universe reasoning to back up the the in-universe reason that the "Red-5" position or call sign was available.
    – Skooba
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 14:04

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