Nicknames bring personality to machines. If an airplane really great airplane or a really crappy one, it’ll get a great nickname. If you are a pilot, you probably remember that the first plane you soloed was a Piper Cherokee, or a T-37 Tweet, or a T-34 Mentor. It’s not uncommon for old pilots to say, “I remember the first time I took that Tweet up solo. It was a fantastic day!”
Then some nicknames are so iconic that ‘next generation’ of planes adopt them as their own. The T-6 is named ‘Texan II’ after the original Texan that trained a whole generation of pilots, the F-35 is named ‘Lightning II’ after the original P-38 Lightning, and the C-17 takes on a third generation moniker, the ‘Globemaster III’.
But then there is a third category of nicknames. Ones that are odd, weird, or even really snarky. These nicknames for planes are a mix of cutting, a bit snide, and a large dose of humor mixed in… Here are our top 5 snarky nicknames:
Number 5: Boeing B-52, Nickname ‘BUFF’
The Boeing B-52 is legendary. Behind the stealthy B-2, it is probably the most recognized bomber in the world. The jet has a lengthy history. The first demonstration jet flew way back in 1952. It is now on it’s ‘H’ iteration with a whole host of modifications since its introduction. There is even a possibility of upgrading the engines on the venerable bomber in the next couple of years.
So why in the world is the B-52 ‘Strotobomber nicknamed the “BUFF”? The B-52 owes its infamous moniker to a bad paint job from back in Vietnam. The B-52 originally had a bright and shiny bare metal paint job. But the beautiful buffed metal would stick out like a sore thumb over the jungles of Vietnam. So instead, they painted it in a camouflage color scheme. Officers who flew the jet weren’t impressed with how it looked.
The B-52 earned the nickname ‘BUFF’ standing for ‘Big Ugly Fat F*ck’. It might have not been the most PC name, but it stuck. And the B-52 has stuck around too. Some say that the B-52 will become the first military aircraft to fly for at least 100 years.
Number 4: Antonov AN-22, Nickname ‘Cock’
Ok, so we’ll admit that it isn’t the AN-22’s official nickname. It’s official nickname is Антей which translates to Antaeus. Antaeus was the son of two Greek gods, most notably his mother represented the Earth. Antaeus had a reputation for challenging others to wresting…and as you would guess with such prominent genes, he killed his challengers in the end.
With all that greek mythology, NATO simply decided to call the AN-22 ‘cock’. Yeah, the word for a male chicken or a guy’s junk was deemed synonymous with a Ukrainian oversized C-130 that has four contra-rotrating props, two tails, and about as much cargo capacity as a Boeing C-17 jet. As we recently profiled the cargo plane, there are only six AN-22s still in service. And Antonov Airlines has the only civilian aircraft still flying outsized cargo around the world.
Number 3: Lockheed C-5, Nickname: FRED
The C-5 is one ginormous jet…so big when it debuted that it seemed too large to be real. But like most mythical warriors, it has an Achilles heel. In this case, it was a giant heel…the plane was always broken.
Back in the 1960s, Lockheed set out to build a huge cargo carrying jet. They incorporated a host of features that really pushed the envelope. The jet’s landing gear was incredibly complex. The ability for the jet to kneel was revolutionary (and revolutionarily complex). And its TF-39 engines were some of the first turbofan engines. Unfortunately, they had a tendency to fail quite often.
All these problems led to a nickname that summed up the mess of a jet. The official nickname for the C-5A was the Galaxy but most people call it “FRED”. FRED stands for F*cking Ridiculous Economic Disaster! You can learn more about the nickname here.
Number 2: Boeing 737, Nickname: Guppy
The Boeing 737 has definitely grown over the years. When it first flew, it was designed to fly regional routes that were too small for the larger Boeing 727 to fly. Over time, the 737 grew from the short -100 to the slightly longer -200. Then in the early 80’s the jet grew again and added high bypass CFM56 engines. Now known as the classic, the -300s, -400s, and -500s powered many major airlines from the 80s all the way through the first decade of the 21st century. Then came the NGs or Next Generation with the -600, -700, -800, -900. And for better or worse, today we have the MAX -7, -8, -9, with the -10 variant coming soon.
So why is the 737 called a Guppy? Back in the day though, the “Baby Boeing” looked more like a baby fish. Short in length, a bit chubby, highly adaptable, and not overly fast. The nickname was popular for a while but now that some 737s can carry as many people as a 757, the guppy has grown up quite a bit.
Number 1: Airbus A350, Nickname: Trash Panda
Ok, this nickname takes the cake! The A350 XWB was designed to compete as the perfect niche between the 787 and 777. It features ultra-efficient engines, a super critical composite wing, and some pretty sweet cabin comfort features. It also features a very unique cockpit window paint scheme.
The official reasoning for the window’s unique shape and black outline was found on a Virgin Atlantic blog post. “The perfectly curved shape of the nose helps the air flow hug the surface, in the least turbulent manner, thereby reducing drag. The emblematic “Ray-Ban” like black windshield eases the window’s maintenance and contributes to harmonising the thermal condition of this temperature-sensitive window area. The slightly concave nose area (seen from the side) offers the pilots an optimal view of the immediate surroundings easing ground operations and making them safer.”
Makes sense. Still, avgeeks have affectionally resorted to calling the jet “Trash Panda”. With the distinctive cockpit windows, the jet kind of looks like a raccoon. You know, the animal that digs through your trash at three in the morning? A raccoon’s nickname is trash panda. The A350s nickname is like a math problem. If A equals B and B equals C then A=C too! The A350 looks like a raccoon. Hence the A350’s nickname is also trash panda. And now you know!
Do you know of any other snarky nicknames for airplanes? Let us know in the comments below.