10 Iconic Military Aircraft Nicknames and the story behind it.
Learn the stories behind 10 iconic military aircraft nicknames, from the U-2 Dragonlady to the F-15 Eagle. Followed by their common nicknames and an explanation of the origin of those names.

What does it matter if we call someone by a different name? How would you like to be known if you could choose your own moniker? Did you get your nickname because your real name was too long to fit in a nickname? Names like Abby, Cal, Annie, and Bill could be shortened forms of longer names.

Would you rather be Tiny, Hercules, Knuckles, or someone completely different like Dabo? Admit it; most of the time, people give us nicknames. One kid can be called “Squirrel” because of their small size, while another might be called “Tank” because of their large size.

Military call signs follow the same pattern. A pilot might secretly hope their call sign is “Shooter” or “Maverick,” but in reality, such names aren’t nearly as awesome as they sound.

Call signs in the military all look the same. A pilot might secretly hope that their call sign is “Shooter” or “Maverick,” but in reality, those names aren’t nearly as cool as they sound.

Most of the time, they come from the pilot’s friends who have seen the pilot do something strange, funny, or even stupid. A pilot who crashed into a wall while taxiing got the name “Berlin.” One example is a pilot named “Inch” because he was so short.

The same thing takes place with aircraft. Although each jet has an official name assigned by the military, aircrews often give their nicknames.

Its official name is Stratofortress, also known as the B-52. The pilots that flew this aerial monster also dubbed it by other, less official names. The B-52 is an enormous plane, measuring a little over 159 feet in length and sporting a wingspan of 185 feet.

The B-52 is so enormous that it has earned the nickname “BUFF,” which may be translated as either “Big Ugly Fat F*****” or “Big Ugly Fat Fellow” among U.S. Air Force troops.

The F-16 is a fighter plane that can do many different things. People often call it the Fighting Falcon. The F-16 got its official name on July 21, 1980. In 1976, the U.S. Air Force held a contest to name a plane and USAF TSgt. Joseph Kurdell won.

Before the Air Force made Falcon the official name, the pilots and mechanics who flew and took care of the F-16 started calling it the “Viper.” It got this name because it looked like a cobra when it came toward you. Even today, people in the F-16 community still call it the Viper.

The Douglas A3D-1 Skywarrior had a three-person crew and was a strategic bomber. It was the heaviest plane that could fly from an aircraft carrier during its time in the military. Because of this, the A3D was called The Whale.

The Navy and Marine Corps’ best air superiority plane at the time, the Vought F-8 Crusader, went by several names. The F-8 was better known by the title The Last Gunfighter.

During the Vietnam War, it was much better than MiG-17s, and the V-8 was also called MiG Master and MiG Killer.

The F-104 looked like it was flying at Mach 2 while sitting on the ramp. It was called the “Missile With a Man in It” because of its thin shape. But it was also known that the F-104 was a death trap. The F-104’s combination of narrow wings and a long body led to high wing loading at high angles of attack.

Its high vertical stabilizer caused the plane to violently pitch its nose up, stall, roll over, and then go into an uncontrollable flat spin that pilots couldn’t escape. This caused crashes and a lot of deaths. It also gave the F-104 another name, Widowmaker, because of what it did.

There are also nicknames for planes from other countries. Russia and China, for example, have not always given all of their planes official names.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) gives their planes NATO reporting names instead of Russian or Chinese names to make them easier to find.

This name is made up of easy-to-understand English words. For example, the NATO name for the Russian MiG-17 plane is Fresco, and the NATO name for the Russian MiG-31 plane is Foxhound. The NATO name for the Chinese Chengdu J-7 plane is Fishcan, and the NATO name for the Chengdu J-10 plane is Firebird.

Despite receiving official designations from the manufacturer, practically all aircraft have nicknames from their pilots and mechanics due to their exceptional performance, dependability, or safety.

Here is the list of 10 Iconic Military Aircraft Nicknames and the story behind them.

1. U-2 spy plane

10 Iconic Military Aircraft Nicknames and the story behind it.
U-2 spy plane

The U-2 spy plane is called the “Dragonlady” because it is hard to fly and can hurt a pilot greatly if they aren’t good at it.

2. F-14

10 Iconic Military Aircraft Nicknames and the story behind it.
F-14

The F-14’s official name was Tomcat, but people who worked on a carrier with it called it Turkey. The name comes from how the F-14 looks as it goes through control checks while sitting on the catapults. The flaps, elevators, speed brakes, ailerons, and rudders all move around, making it look like a turkey’s feathers are ruffling. Also, when the F-14 Tomcat returned to the carrier, it looked like a big bird trying to land.

3. T-38 Talon

10 Iconic Military Aircraft Nicknames and the story behind it.
T-38 Talon

The T-38 Talon is a supersonic trainer jet that the U.S. military has used for over 50 years. It is also called the White Rocket because NASA flew the T-38 and painted it mostly white with a blue stripe down the side.

4. F-4 Phantom

10 Iconic Military Aircraft Nicknames and the story behind it.
F-4 Phantom

The F-4 Phantom was designed to be a long-range, all-weather intercept fighter and bomber. It was also known as a Rhino because of the similarities between its construction and that of a rhinoceros.

5. A-6 Intruder

10 Iconic Military Aircraft Nicknames and the story behind it.
A-6 Intruder

The A-6 Intruder was called the Drumstick, the Double Ugly, and the Iron Tadpole by its crew because of its unusual shape when seen from the side. It had a large, blunt nose that went back to a thin tail.

6. F-117 Nighthawk

10 Iconic Military Aircraft Nicknames and the story behind it.
F-117 Nighthawk

The F-117 Nighthawk is a twin-engine stealth attack aircraft with a distinctive design that earned it the nickname Stink Bug among some employees due to its underbelly. For obvious reasons, many F-117 pilots referred to their plane as the Black Jet.

7. A-37 Dragonfly

10 Iconic Military Aircraft Nicknames and the story behind it.
A-37 Dragonfly

The A-37 Dragonfly was a less glamorous fighter plane than the F-4 Phantom was during the Vietnam War. It was a preferred close-air-support tool for ground forces since it flew slowly and low, dropping bombs with an accuracy of 45 feet or less.

Its unusually high-pitched squeal was created by its 21,000 rpm turbine blades, earning it the unofficial nicknames of Tweet or 6,000-pound Dog Whistle.

8. E-2 Hawkeye

10 Iconic Military Aircraft Nicknames and the story behind it.
E-2 Hawkeye

The E-2 Hawkeye’s propellers generate a loud humming sound when it taxis around the carrier before takeoff. As a result, the E-2 was fondly renamed “Hummer” by the carrier flight deck personnel.

9. C-17 Globemaster III

10 Iconic Military Aircraft Nicknames and the story behind it.

C-17 Globemaster III replaced C-141 Starlifter. The C-17’s crew called it “The Moose” because of its huge size and antler-like winglets. Some believe the C-17’s “moose-like” refueling noises inspired its name.

10. F-15 Eagle

10 Iconic Military Aircraft Nicknames and the story behind it.

The F-15 Eagle is a huge fighter with gigantic wings and a large surface area. It is known as the flying tennis court because of its 608 square feet of surface area. Because of its dark gray paint scheme and air-to-ground duty, the F-15E is also known as the Mudhen.