A rose by any other name? Top Ten Aircraft name changes


From the unpleasantly named Mikoyan Skat, to the spectacularly boringly titled Aviation Traders Accountant, aircraft are often given the wrong name. Sometimes a sage is needed to tap the Executive on the shoulder and whisper things like ‘Sir, that name has a secondary meaning on the S&M scene’ or ‘Perhaps Vampire would be better than Spider Crab?’ (the latter is a true story). Here are ten notable re-namings.

10. E-6 Hermes, sounds like herpes, to Naval Aviators’ mirth. Changed to ‘Mercury’, presumably as a tribute to the lead-singer of Queen.

9. Tu-22 ‘Beauty’ and MiG-15 ‘Falcon’ – clearly too complimentary for communist planes, changed to ‘Blinder’ and ‘Fagot’ respectively.  It is likely that the homophobic connotations of the MiG-15’s codename were not lost on the Air Standardization Coordinating Committee who assigned it.

8. F-5G to F-20 – much more likely to win orders, right?

7. Shorts Britannic – can’t imagine anything will go wrong in Belfast in the late 1960s…

6. Yak-28 ‘Brassard’ – twin-jet bomber too easily confused with Max-Holste product?

Yak-28R (Brewer-D) 12
5. Supermarine Shrew (Spitfire almost laughed out of the skies in BoB)*


* ok, this one is a bit of a cheat, ‘Shrew’ was surely only a suggested name.

4.  F-22 SuperStar (too daft) , Rapier (too rapey) , Lightning II – don’t worry, Lockheed Martin can always reuse at least one of these.


3. Kestrel becomes Harrier – worst rename ever? – a Harrier can’t hover

2. Mystère-Delta 550 to Mirage – good call, Marcel

1. B-1B Excalibur to Lancer: The practice of giving weapons systems weirdly sexual names (Massive Ordnance Penetrator?) is long-established, but naming the the B-1B after a popular Condom was too much  .

So, the Excalibur was rechristened Image with the altogether blander name ‘Lancer’. Though everyone ended up calling it the ‘Bone’ anyway.

Hopefully the condom had a better serviceability rate than the aircraft!

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Type selection by Combat Aircraft‘s Thomas Newdick, inappropriate comments by Hush-Kit’s Joe Coles. If you enjoyed this you will love Essential Aircraft
Identification Guide: Carrier Aircraft 1917–Present . You should also enjoy our other Top Tens! There’s  a whole feast of fantastic British, French, Swedish, Australian,  Japanese , BelgianGerman and Latin American aeroplanes. Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read as is the Top Ten cancelled fighters.
Read an interview with a Super Hornet pilot here.
Follow my vapour trail on Twitter@Hush_kit


  1. spyintheskyuk

    It is said that it was Mitchell who wanted to call it the Shrew but was overalled thankfully. He hated the name Spitfire thinking it overblown and silly but the powers that be at Supermarine had reserved the rights to the name some years before waiting for a suitable aircraft and to them this seemed to be the perfect one. How right could they have been.

  2. shortfinals

    Actually, the Hawker Kestrel to Harrier wasn’t a stretch, as they had already used it once before in 1927, and it fitted in nicely with Hawkers ‘H’ names…..Hunter, Hurricane, Hart, Hind, Hartbees, Horsley, Heron, Hornbill, Hawfinch, Hoopoe, Hornet, Hardy, Hector, Henley, Hotspur, and my favourite (a failed fighter prototype)…the Hawker Hedgehog!!

  3. shortfinals

    You’ve left out some crackers…..

    1. Gloster Meteor WAS to be called Thunderbolt, but the Americans objected. Oh, and before THAT it was going to be the Reaper!

    2. Their Lordships made a couple of staggering blunders with the Grumman Avenger being named Gannet, and the Wildcat the Martlet !

  4. Frank Van Haste

    1. Re: shortfinals’ comment: hey, Ross, I thought the Avenger == Tarpon?

    2. The ‘rapey’ Rapier name was, I think, assigned to the never-built F-108.


  5. Christopher Johnson

    In the 1960’s there were two vertical take off projects. One was for a subsonic ground attack aircraft and was named Kestrel. The second was for a supersonic air superiority aircraft and was named Harrier. When the labour government scrapped the Air superiority project the subsonic project was renamed Harrier to divert attention from the scrapped air superiority project. What might have been. Imagine an RAF equipped with Harrier, Kestrel and TSR2.

  6. Dr Paul

    The RAF had a habit of renaming planes, or giving names to planes which didn’t originally have them. The Douglas B-18 Bolo became the Digby; the Douglas A-20 Havoc became the Boston; the De Havilland Dove became the Devon (yet the four-engine version of this design, the Heron, didn’t get renamed); the North American T-6 Texan became the Harvard; the Percival Prince became the Pembroke; the Vickers Viking became the Valetta; the Sikorsky helicopters built under license by Westland acquired names, such as the Dragonfly, Whirlwind and Wessex. Can anyone explain why?

  7. Jim Smith

    Of course, the Belfast, like the Canadair Argus, used the wing from the Britannia, so Britannic was actually paying homage to the earlier Bristol design. Was Belfast better – probably good politically, and, as the aircraft was only operated by the RAF, why not?

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