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What's in a name?

by 1st Lt. Lea Ann Chambers
Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs

8/16/2005 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFPN) -- When researching what to call their children, parents often turn to a book of popular names. Or, they may select one they have heard simply because they like it.

The process is not so simple when naming a military aerospace vehicle. For the Air Force and its sister services, the process begins within the asset identification branch of Air Force Materiel Command's logistics directorate here.

Deciding which popular name, as they are called, to assign an aircraft begins as early as possible in the aerospace vehicle development cycle, in some cases as soon as an aircraft is envisioned by developers. Military departments usually submit three names in order of preference once the vehicle reaches production or enters the inventory.

The names are then checked against the DOD master list of already existing names as well as a list of working names currently pending. A handful of trade publications also are checked to ensure a private company does not already have a well-known aircraft by the same name.

"If those names do not hit against what's currently assigned in the master list, we will send that request to the headquarters AFMC public affairs office," said Mr. Keven Corbeil, program manager. "They will, in turn, send that up to the secretary of the Air Force public affairs office for coordination. They will be the ones that coordinate through the legal department to check patents and trademarks and all the other areas receiving final approval or disapproval of the popular names."

Regulations state names should be brief, no more than two short words and characterize the mission and operational capabilities of the vehicle. But the creativity of the words is left to the organization requesting a popular name.

The Department of Defense established the current designator reporting system in 1962 with publication of Air Force Regulation 66-11, which evolved into the current Air Force instruction to standardize identification of military aerospace vehicles. This system uses letters and numbers to symbolize identifying characteristics of aerospace vehicles of direct interest to the DOD.

An aircraft may receive its letter and number designation, such as A-10, for identification before it is assigned the name, such as "Thunderbolt II," or both may take place concurrently.

Names are not reused or recycled for new vehicles.

"Even if it is a completely different vehicle, say we have a missile with a certain popular name, we would not use that popular name again for any other military aircraft," Mr. Corbeil said. "The reason for that is we don't want to introduce any confusion in the media when that name is released."

The asset identification branch is in the process of verifying older aircraft names to ensure they have the most accurate master list available. This way, historic aircraft will be able to maintain their heritage without the name being reused.

Popular names allow the media and the public to be familiar with an aircraft. But sometimes the media drives the eventual naming of an aircraft.

"During the contract announcement for the X-35, the media was asking what its name would be," Mr. Corbeil said. "The next mission design series to be assigned to the fighters would (have been) the F-25, but it was announced to the media that since it was the X-35 it would be the F-35. That really placed a lot of pressure on this office to avoid confusion and submit the request to the Pentagon to name it the F-35."

Not all military equipment merits a popular name, however. Engines are given type and model series modification numbers for military designation, but will not be given a popular name. Likewise, electronic items, support equipment, and ordnance are given type designators for military designation, but not a popular name. (Courtesy of AFMC News Service)

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