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Silly Aircraft Names From the Silly Pilots Who Love Them

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You solicit silly opinions from pilots, and they always rise to the challenge. Brainteaser Quiz #185 asked, "What's the silliest aircraft name you've heard?" To get the giggling juices flowing, I suggested the Piper Tomahawk, not only a silly-looking airplane with its scorpion tail and pedal-plane ramp demeanor, but a silly name since a real tomahawk is a crude tool -- except in the hands of Ed Ames -- and doesn't convey the grace one expects in an airplane. Likewise the doppelganger Beech Skipper, which sounds like a child's pool toy: "Timmy, stay close and don't lose your Beech Skipper!" The Beechcraft Musketeer is only marginally more acceptable to the pilot ear.

A Rose By Any Other Name ... Isn't a Rose

Beechcraft took another raspberry from a survey respondent who loves the North American T-6 Texan and warned, "The 'new' Beechcraft T-6 (II) 'Texan' is misnamed. One should never re-use much-respected aircraft names." But reused they are. At least one reader thought the name Beech Hawker 400 was totally bogus: "It's a BeechJet! It isn't a Hawker. It'll never be a Hawker, and there already is a Hawker 400 that's been around for 40 years!" Actually, the email read, "There already is a Hawker 40 that's been around for 400 years," but we'll assume that's a typo.

And typos might explain the ire the Boeing 717 conjured in the reader who said, "It may be a Boeing now, but it is a DC-9 -- 95!" This pushback against manufacturer merger-mania continued: "MD-11? [wait for it ...] It's a DC-11!" At that point he must've run out of exclamation points. You can never have too many when naming airplanes. Imagine how much more respect Cessna's Skycatcher would garner had it been named the "Skycatcher!" No? OK, try three exclamation points: "Skycatcher!!!"

Nah, still doesn't work.

A few readers thought Cessna had another dud name in its line-up with the Cessna Mustang. They took umbrage with that name applying to anything but the North American P-51. (For proof of the P-51's class, watch the CAF's Gun Fighter in flight.) And, no, Navions -- even though originally built by North American -- really don't look like Mustangs. And, c'mon, Navion Rangemaster? Good airplane in its own right, but Rangemaster? Sounds like a 1961 stove in Betty White's kitchen.

It should be noted that Mooney briefly toyed with the Mustang name for its pressurized Mooney Mustang. A few dozen of these hulking singles were manufactured between 1965 and 1970 until flying the company toward bankruptcy.

Good Plane, Bad Name

By contrast, the Mooney Mite -- while possibly a silly name -- was a gem of a single-seater. Almost 300 Mites were produced between 1947 and 1954. The same 65-hp Continental engine that pulled Cubs, Champs and T-craft around the sky at 60-70 knots propelled the retractable-gear Mite at speeds closer to 120 knots (some owners claim greater speeds). But Mite or Mustang, one reader just thought the name Mooney was silly.

Before it went bust, the post-WWII airplane boom produced more silly names beyond Mooney. Whoever thought the world would beat a path to the Funk factory? Good enough airplane that began life in the 1930s, but there were just too many ways to diddle with the F-name to save Howard and Joe Funk's 85-hp two-seaters in a market saturated with less silly names.

Such as Ercoupe! Notice how the exclamation point saved this twin-rudder sportabout from the late 1940s funk that settled over the small-airplane market. Ercoupes may have been promoted as being "spin-proof," but one reader -- who has owned two Ercoupes -- had to admit to finding the name a tad silly. Silly sounding or not, thousands of post-war Ercoupes were manufactured under several owners until 1968 when Mooney, apparently recovered from its Mustang hangover, took its turn at making Ercoupes. They renamed it the Mooney Cadet, with the classic twin-rudders replaced by Mooney's signature forward-sweeping, single, vertical fin. You won't see too many Mooney Cadets sharing ramp space with Mustangs of any kind these days.

It's a Zoo Up There

Mustang wasn't the only animal name that had readers snickering through their headsets. The WWI British fighter icon, Sopwith Camel, worked fine for Snoopy but nudged one reader to snark, "Camel? [There is] no hump, no long nose, doesn't spit and can't go for days without fuel." Actually, the Camel's twin .303 Vickers machine guns spat well enough to cause the Royal Flying Corps (RFC; later Royal Air Force, RAF) and Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) to purchase almost 5500 Camels.

The de Havilland Chipmunk conjured images of singing vermin for some who've probably never flown Chipmunks. Caribou, Yak and Sea Stallion made several readers grin, and one of our British correspondents asked whether we thought Fairey Albacore was a silly name. Not for a tuna can, but since I pictured the writer as John Cleese from the Ministry of Silly Aero Names, I found the name for this 1930s British biplane very silly indeed. Although perhaps not as silly as its sister ship, the Fairey Battle, a three-seat, low-wing, light bomber that vaguely resembles a Hawker Hurricane (now there's a name) but lacked the Hurricane's performance and sadly proved easy fodder for Luftwaffe pilots, who never flew anything with silly names. Or pronounceable, such as the WWI German Imperial Flying Corps' (Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches') Gotha heavy bomber biplane from Gothaer Waggonfabrik. While we can't cite a proper source (there's only so much you can glean from Wikipedia on a deadline), apparently the last operational Gotha G.V bomber appeared in the 1956 Japanese monster film, Gotha v. Mothra!

"Who would name an airplane a 'Goose'?" another reader wrote, clinging to the aircraft/animorph theme. Well, Howard Hughes had his Spruce Goose, and Grumman introduced its Goose before WWII. This amphibious, twin-engine, eight-seater was envisioned for Long Island commuters. The aerial commuter theme never really caught on, although the Goose enjoyed a long career in both civilian and military colors. Not so much the Hughes Goose. Cessna gleaned the Commuter theme for its 150 line, but it lays a little flat, too suburban, a little like Stinson's Flying Station Wagon. Good airplanes but uninspiring names.

Marketing Challenges

The 1973 180-hp Piper Challenger came with its own marketing challenge. Not everyone wants an airplane that's a challenge to fly. It's a good airplane that saw its challenging name changed the following year to Archer, in keeping with Piper's recurring American Indian name themes, which some people find silly.

Some pilots do enjoy a challenge, and one North American T-28 "Trojan" owner said he found it amusing, if not entirely silly, that his 1950s military trainer was named after a condom.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon name brought more disdain than mirth from a lone observer, who said it sounded too similar to a "poorly performing missile" called the Falcon. To which I say that nothing performed more poorly then the 1962 Ford Falcon I drove in college. †

Another name that's always good for a laugh around the military historical-aircraft crowd is the Curtiss-Wright XP-55 Ascender. This WWII experiment, which resembled a bloated Rutan VariEze, was nicknamed the "Ass-ender." Admit it, you giggled. The Ascender didn't see much military service, unlike the less-than-svelte Grumman E-1 Tracer airborne early warning twin, which served in the U.S. Navy from 1958 to the 1970s, and in that time earned the affectionate -- and silly -- nickname Willy Fudd.

Try this one: Tilbury-Fundy Flash. A stubby racer that competed in the 1934 National Air Races, Tilbury-Fundy Flash easily makes the corners of the speaker's mouth curl upward. And, while we're cruising off the beam, why hasn't anyone made a movie about the National Air Races? Can't you picture Harrison Ford as the Tilbury-Fundy Flash team owner? I'd go see a movie called Tilbury-Fundy Flash. OK, I'll work on the script while your people call my people.

Homebuilt and Aerobatic Sillies

Mentioning Burt Rutan opens up a new field of experimental homebuilts with silly names. This placard was reportedly spotted on a two-seat, tandem VariEze: "Fun but not easy." It is assumed the commentator meant, "Fun to fly but not fun to build." The side-by-side cousin to the VariEze is the Cozy, which prompted someone to remark, "It should've been named the Cramped instead. Bloody uncomfortable aeroplane." Rutan's single-seat, the Quickie, made one reader allude to the gawdaful 1970s song, "Afternoon Delight," which will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Sorry.

Here, now, are a pair of names that aren't so delightful: Pipistrel might offer a sleek line of LSAs, but naming one Virus (tri-gear) and the other Sinus (tailwheel) just makes you want to cover your nose before flight.

You can't swing a CAP cadet at Oshkosh without hitting the ubiquitous WWII trainer, the Boeing Kaydet. The what? An offended reader writes, "Virtually nobody, from WWII 'til present day, called 'em Kaydets. They were -- and always will be -- Stearmans, named after the man who designed them, Lloyd Stearman."

Thinking smaller than Stearman biplanes, Curtis Pitts designed some of the hottest aerobatic airplanes ever, and while the name "Pitts" might invoke a few smirks from middle schoolers on an Air & Space Museum tour, Betty Skelton's 85-hp Pitts S-1, nicknamed "Little (Lil) Stinker," stifled any snickers when she took the 1949 and 1950 International Feminine Aerobatic Championships in the pocket-sized bipe.

Further unraveling the aerobatic thread, several readers cringed at the name Citabria, which when held up to a mirror while flying inverted spells the purpose of the popular aerobatic airplane: Airbatic. Yeah, airbatic isn't exactly a word, but neither is Dreamliner, which claimed our survey's silliest name award, as well as a snappy salute to Boeing execs as they tenaciously pursue the dream of getting this PR nightmare off the front page and into a Brainteaser quiz where the non-pilot community will never see it.

Those are the survey results. Silly, perhaps, but if it weren't for the silly notion that humans can fly, some of us would be forced to find real work.

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