In my blog last week, I tossed some darts at the Air Force for its cheesy power play to grab a rare F-82 Twin Mustang that belongs to the CAF. After a week of reflecting on this, I now realize that not only was I absolutely right, I have now discovered the real reason the Air Force is doing this: utter lack of imagination.
This came to me in a blinding flash this morning when I was looking up the thrust-to-weight ratio of the F-16 and happened to notice what they're naming the F-16's replacement. The F-16 will be phased out in 2025, to be displaced by the F-35, the expensive fruit of the Joint Strike Fighter program. The Air Force's popular name for the F-35 will be Lightning II.
Untold billions this thing cost, and the best they can come up with is a re-heat of a World War II classic? Not that this is a first. The Air Force named the A-10 the Thunderbolt II, although no one calls it that. It's the Wart Hog. They named the C-17 the Globemaster III, a re-heat of a re-heat of another World War II classic.
They really oughta do a little better than this. Airplanes soar to the heavens and so should their names. Anything with a "II" appended to it smacks of people named Headley or Reginald, not steely-eyed fighter aces.
If you look at the naming balance sheet, the Navy has traditionally done better at manly names than the Air Force. In World War II, the two services ran about even: Hellcat, Wildcat, Tigercat, Corsair versus Mustang, Warhawk, Thunderbolt and Lightning. Lately, the Air Force names feel like they belong on a Starbucks menu.
Take the F-16. The official popular name is Fighting Falcon. But nobody would be caught dead calling it that. It's the Viper, which is what it looks like. On the Navy side, the F-18 is the Hornet and that's what naval aviators seem to call it. (But then they call the S-3 Viking the Hoover.) My theory is that the Navy brass knows that the LSOs on the fantail would laugh themselves silly and roll off the deck into the drink if they heard a pilot bank into the groove and say "Fighting Falcon, 3.5, ball." And you couldn't just leave off the word "fighting" either, because then you'd remind people of the Ford Falcon, when the level of testosterone you're really after is embodied in the Mustang.
Maybe I better shut up, though. That's one name the Air Force hasn't recycled. Yet.