“In the pipe five by five” – Meaning and Origin

Nowadays, we have thousands of sayings. Some of the them come and go within a matter of weeks, but others stick around to pass the test of time.

Today, we’ll be talking about one that in all likelihood, you’ve probably not heard too often.

“In the pipe, five by five”. If you get the feeling that you recognise it, but can’t put your finger on where, the answer is the probably the film ‘Alien’. But whilst that film might have used it, it isn’t where it originates.

The phrase just means “On target”. In this article, we’ll be exploring where it came from, why it hasn’t caught on, and why it should.

What it means

To say that something is ‘In the pipe, five by five’ is another way of saying that you’re on track to meeting to goal that you set out.

For example, let’s say it’s your day off, and you’ve decided you’re going to get your house clean. Spotless from top to bottom. At lunch, your spouse rings you up and asks how you’re getting on with it. You could reply with “It’s in the pipe, five by five”.

By saying this, you’d be saying “I’m on track to meeting the goal that has been set”.

Where it comes from

Believe it or not, this phrase actually has it’s origin in the navy.

When your target was clear, and there were no obstacles between your weapon and the enemy’s ship. You would say that you were ‘in the pipe’.

Of course, the pipe wasn’t a physical pipe that your plumber who’s about. It was an invisible pipe, another way of saying a straight line.

Your aim is just as good as it would be if there was a pipe to connect your gun to what you want it to shoot.

In the pipe has it’s roots in the phrase “in the pipeline” which means, in progress.

What five by five means

But what about the second part, five by five.

Again, this comes from the navy.

It was used when people were speaking on the radio, and telling the person you’re speaking to how good you can hear them.

The first five relates to the clarity, how clear the signal is. Five out of five.

There is no static noise, and you can clearly hear what’s being said to you.

The second five is about the volume. When you’re talking to someone in choppy waters, you want to make sure they’re at a decent volume. A 5/5 on volume means you can hear them perfectly.

Why it was important

When you’re in that kind of situation, making sure you’re radio is clear and you know what’s being told to you is of the upmost important.

The information that gets told to you could, and often does, save your life. If there’s an enemy ship coming close to you, you want to know so that you can get yourself out of the way.

If another ship has found the enemy ship, you will need to know what the plan is so that the number of fatalities can be reduced.


If you’ve never been in the navy, then the first time you ever heard this phrase would likely be in the film ‘Alien’.

This film was the first one in the franchise, and it came about even before the Alien met up with the predator.

In this particular scene, the crew were in the ship, and on their way to the planet that they wanted to get to.

From what I’ve seen, this is the only film that uses this phrase. However, I haven’t seen every film ever made, so if I’m wrong, please let me know!

When you could use it

There are many times in your life when you could use this phrase.

If your boss has given you a project, and a deadline to complete it in, you could say to him “It’s in the pipe, five by five” when he asks you how you’re getting on with it.

If you’re writing a book, and your friend asks you hows it’s coming along, you can say “It’s in the pipe five by five”. Which means that you’re on track to finishing your book to a reasonable deadline.

When you’re planning your wedding, and your mother asks how things are coming along, you can tell her “It’s in the pipe, five by five”.

Why it hasn’t caught on

Now you might be wondering why it hasn’t caught on.

The biggest reason why is probably because we have another phrase that means the same thing “On target”.

“On target” has two key advantages. The first one is that it’s much shorter, making it take up less time. The second one is that everybody already knows what it means.

Another reason for it’s lack in popularity could also be because it’s not been around for long enough for that long. Perhaps in years to come, it’s going to be more popular.

Why it should catch on

It’s actually a real shame that the phrase hasn’t caught on.

“On target” does serve it’s purpose but the reason why “In the pipe five by five” is better is that it implies you’re aiming for your target and you’re determined to reach it.

“On target” doesn’t suggest that you really care if you meet the target or not, just that you’re on track to reaching it.

It also says that you’re going to be the one to reach it. It will be you who fires that gun, and destroys the enemy ship.


“In the pipe five by five” is another way of saying “On target to reaching your goal”.

It originates from the navy where it means that your aim is clear for reaching the ship you want to hit, and the five by five part comes from the radios in the navy.

Many of us will only ever have heard it in the phrase in the film Alien. It hasn’t been used by many people.

This is a shame as it has an extra umph that “On target” simply doesn’t have.

Hopefully one day, it will become our natural response to “How are you getting on with your project?”.