Air­plane nick­names

NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART

Flying - - Contents - By Martha Lunken

On a cold night in early spring, I took off from Lunken Air­port in 72B, my beloved (I think) Cessna 180. I came back to climb power at 500 feet agl and the en­gine be­gan run­ning rough, miss­ing and los­ing power — which sort of caught my at­ten­tion. So, I pulled on the car­bu­re­tor heat and, since the en­gine was mak­ing power, turned back to­ward the air­port. But then it smoothed out, which was odd be­cause I’d checked the heat just be­fore take­off; the air was very dry, and this air­plane rarely gets carb ice, even in “juicy” con­di­tions. But from then on, it hap­pened on ev­ery flight, re­gard­less of tem­per­a­ture and weather, al­ways “fix­able” by ap­ply­ing carb heat. The EGT in the num­ber 2 cylin­der was run­ning a lot higher than the oth­ers, and I was pretty sure it was a man­i­fold leak and the mix­ture was run­ning too lean.

Thus be­gan a pil­grim­age through a num­ber of lo­cal shops and me­chan­ics. One changed the plugs, an­other in­stalled a new car­bu­re­tor. Some­body else found and fixed a man­i­fold leak in the num­ber 2 cylin­der, and when noth­ing else worked, an­other told me to “just live with it and use carb heat in the climb.” Uh, I don’t think so.

To­tally frus­trated, I took it to the best me­chanic on the planet, who lives 80some miles north of Lunken Air­port. Mark changed three cylin­ders (gulp!) and be­lieved he solved the prob­lem, but when he test-flew it on a frosty morn­ing in Pi­qua, Ohio, guess what? The en­gine missed and ran rough at climb power. So now my mag­ne­tos are in some­body’s shop be­ing over­hauled and I’ve been with­out an air­plane for com­ing up on six weeks — with an ever-deep­en­ing dent in my pa­tience, not to men­tion my check­book.

Grounded, bored and pissed off at 72B, I was mind­lessly play­ing around on the In­ter­net when I stum­bled onto some web­sites with the clever, charm­ing, less-than-charm­ing and some­times down­right nasty names pilots bestow on their air­planes, as well as ex­pla­na­tions for why we call stuff what we do.

“Cock­pit” is al­legedly from the Bri­tish nau­ti­cal term “coxswain,” but don’t you agree “a pit for fight­ing cocks” is the more likely source? An au­topi­lot is “Ge­orge” be­cause its in­ven­tor was Ge­orge De­bee­son, but the Brits think it’s in honor of King Ge­orge, who, of course, owned all Bri­tish air­planes in World War II. Jet en­gines are “blow­torches,” and the area on the ground where a sonic boom is au­di­ble is a “boom car­pet.” (Is that a great name for a heavy-metal band or what?) Best of all, I think, is call­ing an aer­o­batic air­plane a “vomit comet.”

Back in the 1960s, when we were smaller in size, the Cessna 150s we flew were known as the “One Filthy,” “Buck and a Half” or “Cesspit.” The aer­o­batic ver­sion was the “Aero-splat,” the larger Cessna 172 was a “Sky-chicken” and the RG model was the “Strut­less,” or “Gut­less.”

I learned to fly in a “Scare-coupe” or “Earpcup” (Er­coupe) while my bud­dies flew Tri-pac­ers (“Pie Chasers”), PA-28S (“Cherry Trees”), War­riors (“Wor­ri­ers”) or the re­tractable Ar­row (“Spar­row”).

PA-38 Tom­a­hawks are “Trauma-hawks,” “Ter­ra­hawks,” “Spin Mas­ters” or “Trauma-rocks.” The Beech Sun­downer is a “Slow-downer,” and you have to ad­mit the Katana DA20 does re­sem­ble a “Fly­ing Sperm.”

Bo­nan­zas have long been called “Doc­tor Killers” (as were Lake am­phib­ians), but did you know that les­s­ex­pen­sive Mooneys are “Den­tist Killers”?

The Piper Semi­nole is, of course, a “Se­men-hole,” and the Aztec an “Aztruck.” But the light twin with the most cheap shots has to be the Cessna 337 Sky­mas­ter: “Sky-mag­got,” “Push-me-pull-you,” “Mix-mas­ter” and a few oth­ers I can’t write.

“Never-go,” or “Have-ago,” is the PA-31 Navajo, and the star-crossed (ef­fi­cient

I STUM­BLED ONTO SOME WEB­SITES WITH THE CLEVER, CHARM­ING, LESS-THAN-CHARM­ING AND SOME­TIMES DOWN­RIGHT NASTY NAMES PILOTS BESTOW ON THEIR AIR­PLANES.

but with a trou­ble­some ac­ci­dent his­tory) Aerostar is an “Oil-star” or “Death Star.”

The Cessna UC-78 Bob­cat, used to train so many World War II bomber pilots, was the “Bam­boo Bomber” be­cause of its pri­mar­ily wood con­struc­tion (the wings were built by Cincin­nati’s Bald­win Pi­ano Co.), but it also earned the name “Use­less 78,” since there was lit­tle or no pay­load when full of fuel. Its spindly land­ing gear made it the “Wi­chita Wob­bler” — sup­pos­edly it wobbled when sit­ting mo­tion­less on the ground in a strong wind. And, oh yeah, it was the “Dou­ble-breasted Cub,” and “Rhap­sody in Glue.”

An­other (in)fa­mous twin of that era was the Beech 18, or mil­i­tary C-45, called the “Bug Smasher,” the “Ex­ploder” and “Old Horny Lizzie.” Or, as one pi­lot said, “We gen­er­ally called our 18s just about ev­ery name you could think of.”

Early busi­ness jets were sad­dled with names like the Lear 23 “Fear-jet” and “Noise­maker.” The first Cessna Ci­ta­tion, with less than spec­tac­u­lar per­for­mance, was a “Le­vi­ta­tion,” “Crustacean,” “Mu­ta­tion,” “Slow-tation,” “Near-jet” and “Bug Jet.”

Nat­u­rally, the Gulf­stream was the “G-string” or “G-once”; the Jet­stream 31/41 a “Junk-stream.” The “Lead Sled” Jet Com­man­der, when it mor­phed into the Is­raeli-built West­wind ver­sion, be­came the “Jew Ca­noe,” the “Bagel Bomber” and the “Yom Kip­pur Clip­per.” Even the el­e­gant Ital­ian Pi­ag­gio suf­fered as the “Pasta Rocket.”

With a type rat­ing in this mon­ster, I can ap­pre­ci­ate call­ing the Swearin­gen SA227 (in­stead of Metro­liner) names like “San An­to­nio Sewer Pipe,” “Death Pen­cil,” “Screamin’ Wee­nie,” “Texas Lawn Dart,” “Sweatro” (in the sum­mer), “Ter­ror Tube,” “Kerosene Crow­bar” and “Texas Tam­pon.” It was com­mon knowl­edge that Mickey Mouse wore an Ed Swearin­gen watch.

Mil­i­tary air­planes — wow, there’s room for only a few here: The B-25 is “Billy’s Bomber,” and the Mar­tin B-26 the “Fly­ing Pros­ti­tute” (no vis­i­ble means of sup­port). We all know the B-52 as the “BUFF,” but I didn’t know it stood for “Big, Ugly, Fat.” The KC135 tanker is ap­pro­pri­ately the “Strato-blad­der,” and Lock­heed’s ven­er­a­ble C-130 Her­cules is “Fat Al­bert.”

The air­lines got into the game early, call­ing the DC-3 a “Gooney Bird” but also “Dakota-saurus Rex,” “Dowa­ger Duchess,” “Grand Old Lady,” “Old Methuse­lah,” “Placid Plod­der,” “Puff, the Magic Dragon” — you prob­a­bly know more. And it seems strange that some pilots re­ferred to the beloved “Con­nie” (Lock­heed Con­stel­la­tion) as the “Fly­ing Speed Brake.”

Maybe air­line pilots dream up nick­names to stay alert on long flights over the ocean, be­cause Boe­ings seem to get the brunt: The 707 is a “Slush Bucket” or “Wa­ter Wagon;” the 727 a “Tri-saurus” or “Juras­sic Jet.” The un­gainly 737 is the “Tin Mouse,” “Baby Boe­ing,” “Fat Freddy” and “Yuppy Guppy.” And while the 747 is known as the “Whale,” it also won ti­tles like the “Valiant” and “Queen of the Skies.”

Boe­ing’s 757 is the “Atari Fer­rari,” “Slip­pery Snake” and “Long, Tall Sally” (long legs and two great, big … en­gines); the 767 is the “Dump­ster,” the “Slug” and “Stumpy”; the 777 be­came the “Crip­ple Seven,” “Big­foot,” “Sasquatch” and “Sev­enth Won­der”; and fi­nally, the 787 (Boe­ing’s “Dream­liner”) has mor­phed into the “Tup­per-jet.”

From man­u­fac­tur­ers in other coun­tries, there’s the Air­bus A320 “Scare-bus,” “Die-by-wire” or, of course, “Sully’s Ark.” The Em­braer is the “Jun­gle Jet” or “Bar­bie Jet.” The Shorts 360 is an “Ir­ish Con­corde” or “Lunch­box,” and the TU144 is the “Con­corde-ski.”

It has to be those same bored pilots who dream up names for myth­i­cal air­lines such as “Air Ro­neous,” “Air Ap­par­ent,” “Heav­ier than Air,” “Air Athe­ist” (motto: “God is not our copi­lot”), “Air Ag­nos­tic” (“God might be our copi­lot”), “First Gray Air” and “Com­pressed (or Rare­fied) Air.”

You’re not go­ing to be­lieve this, but there are even names listed for your kid. If it’s a boy, the truly avid avi­a­tor will sad­dle him for­ever with: An­son, Avro, Clip­per, Comet, Cor­sair, Cur­tiss, Dash, Dou­glas, Ea­gle, Fal­con, Har­rier, Huey, Jett, Lear, Lind­bergh, Mar­tin, Mer­lin, Mitchell, Orville, Sky­lar, Tracer, Wil­bur, Yea­ger or (heaven help us) Zep­pelin.

Fe­male off­spring names get even more out­ra­geous. Would you re­ally name your baby girl Aeron­ica? But wait, there’s Air­lene, Al­li­son, Amelia, Ash­ton, Athena, Aurora, Ava, Beech, Belle, Catalina, Cessna (re­ally), Chan­delle, Con­nie, Dakota, Elec­tra, Jac­que­line, Jenny, Lindy, Niki, Pacer (come on), Piper, Raven, Skye or (sigh) Whit­ney.

No, I didn’t even try spell-check­ing this.

BACK IN THE 1960S, WHEN WE WERE SMALLER IN SIZE, THE CESSNA 150S WE FLEW WERE KNOWN AS THE “ONE FILTHY,” “BUCK AND A HALF” OR “CESS-PIT.”

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