The phrase "five by five" is a rating of the quality of reception of a radio signal. Users of this system (most commonly used in aviation) report this information as "…x by y…" where x represents the clearness of the received signal and y represents the strength. Each variable can represent integer values between one and five with one being the lowest or weakest value and five being the highest or strongest.

"I am receiving you five by five."

"Five by five" would describe a transmission that was received with maximal clarity and strength, or "loud and clear" for the hos at home. A report of "… one by five…" would indicate strong signal strength but minimal clarity (think any adult in any Peanuts animation).

Every instance of the use of "five by five" in popular media, in my experience, has been as a phrase synonymous with "ok" and not consistent with my understanding of this system. Perhaps its use in this way is commonly accepted in general military or non-aviation circles. But more likely, I think, it is being used as generic military jargon-style window dressing. It is possible that there are other systems which use a similar format and report on different information. For example, in the classic movie Aliens Corporal Ferro, who pilots the Marine drop ship, reports that they are "…five by five." as they descend to LV-426. Clearly her system is rating the depth of the shit they are in and the likelihood that no one will survive the mission.

Actually, a more appropriate explanation for the quote made by Corporal Ferro in Aliens can be found by thinking about her previous line.

'.. in the pipe, five by five..'

As they were coming down through some pretty rough atmospheric conditions, you'd think they'd be on an Instrument Landing System (ILS) of some kind. These commonly display the 'pipe' down which a pilot must fly as a series of squares, the middle of which the pilot must fly down.

Number the squares edges from 1 to 10, horizontally and vertically, and the quote 'five by five' makes a lot more sense. I have no idea if this is a more 'normal' usage than the radio signal / clarity use described above. However, the idea that the colonial marines considered themselves in deep shit when they went down onto the planet is incorrect - the attitude of the marines was derisory towards Ripley, and her description of the Aliens. They are the best of the best, and have no fear of what they're going into.

I am ready, man. Ready to get it on. Check-it-out. I am the ultimate badass... state of the badass art. You do not want to fuck with me. Hey, Ripley, don't worry. Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will protect you. Check-it-out...

Independently targeting particle-beam phalanx. VWAP! Fry half a city with this puppy. We got tactical smart-missiles, phased-plasma pulse-rifles, RPG's. We got sonic electronic ballbreakers, we got nukes, we got knives... sharp sticks

The colonial marines have no idea what they are going into, and one of the finer points of the movie for me is how quickly these weapons become mere toys against the alien menace. Superb movie.

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