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NameGame

The Kname Game
an exercise in quotility -- by Job Conger

Knowledgeable historians and journalists understand the difference between an official name and a nickname. They place quotation marks around nicknames given that design, nicknames such as "Ford" -- F4D pronounced in a hurry. They also place quotation marks around nicknames given by flight crews to particular aircraft. Examples include "Dauntless Dottie" the first B-29 to complete 35 missions in the Pacific, "Penrod and Sam" one of the P-47s flown by Robert S. Johnson with the 56th Fighter Group in the ETO. Only uninformed amateur historians and uncomprehending smart people quote the official names.
     The concept of not quoting official names can be seen in the names we give to aviation historians. I refer to my friends whose wisdom has grown my thinking and friendship has warmed my life. Dave "Steeltown" Prosser was an excellent modeler and top flight WWI historian and artist. I didn't call him "Dave;" I called him Dave. When we talked on the phone from his home in Steubenville, OH, I didn't talk to Steeltown Prosser; I talked to "Steeltown" Prosser. When he talked to me, besides talking to Job Conger, he also talked to "I'll Eat Anything" Conger.
     To be sure this point in clear, the next time you read a reference to the B-17 "Flying Fortress" or the Hawker "Hurricane," understand that the author or the unknowing editor who perpetrated those quotes falls into the uninformed amateur, or uncomprehending smart person category.  How do I dare to say this when we see this kind of use all the time, even in respected aviation publications? Because the official name is as much a part of the airplane as the plane's designation and sometimes more. Take our friends the English. The official name was the only way their production aircraft were referenced in public. Take Spitfire. There was no designation for British aircraft; only what I call "descriptors" which sometimes follow the names which follow the names, for example  Spitfire L.F.IXe. The "L.F." referred to light fighter, the "IX" to the variant of the design, in this case, the ninth major variant, and the "e" to the wing version which was built for the IX in more than one version. Purists will note that more professional publications would have referred to the Spitfire L.F. Mk.IXe, the Mk, stands for Mark, meaning major variant. To better understand how important official names are consider the Gloster E.28/39 an airplane with no official name. How many Americans know that this airplane was the first jet to fly in the United Kingdom?
     Until about 1943 the Brits had their own names for US-built aircraft flown by their military services. They named the Lockheed 14 turned into a patrol bomber, the Hudson, a name which also saw widespread use in the US. Other names didn't catch. Consider the Tarpon, the name the Brits gave to the Grumman TBF/TBM. Later, they re-named it Avenger, and for the most part,  the names chosen as official by the US for US aircraft were used by the Brits. The USAAC called their first P-51 Apache, but the Brits had more sense and called it the Mustang. We liked their name better, so today, you almost never hear of the Apache unless you're reading about the well-liked Piper light twin of the 50s and 60s.
     When the USAAF (which by then it was) started using the attack version of the P-51, designated A-36, in combat, they called that version Invader. Interesting that the first US bird to be called Invader had a numeric designation after the Douglas twin A-26 which flew the name to even greater fame in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. This happened because the A-26 was a project without an official name before the relatively swift adaptation of the P-51 to attack mode. Today, the Mustang, the Thunderbolt, the Lightning, Airacobra, the Warhawk, the Black Widow and the Havoc -- based on what the US Navy did with their McDonnell-Douglas Hornet --  would have probably designated them A/P-51, A/P-47, A/P-38, A/P-39, A/P-40, A/P-61 and A/P-20 (or A/P-70, hard to tell).
       Consider the Argus -- not the Canadian 4-engine maritime patrol bomber, but the Ranger-oowered high wing light plane most people stateside remember as the Fairchild 24 or UC-64. I have read nothing that suggests widespread use of the name Argus in the USA. Most people referred to them as Fairchilds, the way most folks referred to Stearmans when they meant the Boeing-Stearman PT-17/N2S.
     The official US name Kaydet never caught on with the Stearman. Maybe it was too cute. Stearman was easier to spell, and PT-17 was even easier to spell.
     Consolidated's B-32 was almost called the Terminator since it was thought at the time, it would "terminate" the war against Japan. In what may have been the first invasion of "political correctness" into the USAAF,   other minds suggested Dominator instead of Terminator, and in the end, Dominator prevailed, though in retrospect, it's probably more inflammatory, so to speak, than Terminator. Given the status of the US military in the world political picture in 2002, it's easy to imagine a re-use of the name Dominator in a new combat aircraft design, or maybe just the airplane that transports President George W. Bush. For now, in the interest of "p.c."  Air Force 1 will likely prevail.
     The General Dynamics F-111 did not receive an official name until decades after it entered service. Only on the eve of its retirement from the USAF did it receive "officially" the name it had been called for years: Aardvark, inspired by the long nose.
    The B-1 was originally given the name Excalibur until someone remembered that a popular brand of rubberized, sheathed prophylactic male hygene products was also named Excalibur. Then the B-1 was named Lancer. Today, almost no one calls it the Lancer. They call it the "Bone" short for B-One.
     Consider the  Phantom II the official name for the McDonnell F-4, Lightning II, the name originally suggested for the Lockheed F-22 until Raptor replaced it. Consider Thunderbolt II, the official name of the Fairchild-Republic A-10, though everyone calls it the "Warthog" in tribute to the way it looks. Consider Avenger II, the name given to the General Dynamics A-12 before it was scrubbed because of development cost overruns.
      Names are taken seriously by manufacturers who used them first. When Mooney developed the first pressurized-cabin single engine lightplane in the 60s and named their M-22 the Mustang, North American called them to court for using their name. When Cessna designated their 425 the Corsair, the faced the same kind of recrimination from the then-current incarnation of Vought. When Cessna designnated their first cabin class light twin the Clipper, Pan American brought action to stop that name from being used, and if memory serves, they succeeded. How Cessna succeeded with their Cutlass, I don't know. Maybe all the old hands at Vought had bigger fish to fry or the practice was no longer a matter for contention in the courts. Today we all know a Skylane, a Chancellor and a Citation, but the Corsair is still an inverted gull-wing fighter; not a light turboprop transport.
     Given the richness of the English/American (E/A if you prefer) language, it's amazing how hard it is for military people to find appropriate new names for the hardware they fly. This observation is not intended to disparage US military bureaucrats; they also serve who sit and designate.
      Consider the Vought F4U Corsair which should have been called Corsair II. In 1940, Roman numerals had not infatuated US military bureaucrats the way they did latere. Technically, the Vought Corsair II which was the name given to the Vought A-7 should be Corsair III instead, the way Globemaster III should be the name given the McDonnell-Douglas C-17. The first Globemaster was the C-74 Globemaster. It was followed by the C-124 Globemaster. There were more important considerations in the US military designation community than proven proficiency in counting, so today, few people know or care about water under yesterday's old dam.
     AeroKnow is preparing a chart of names official and unofficial, slated for publication at our Historair site before the end of 2002.

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Last modified: November 22, 2002