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Tue, May 30, 2006

What's In A Name? Air Force Chief Mulls Over Designation For F-35 JSF

"Lightning II" Seen As Favorite

Though it is by no means the most difficult task facing Lockheed-Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the decision over what to call the advanced fighter once it enters operation is currently under deliberation by Air Force chief of staff Gen. T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley... and the choices before him range from the traditional to, frankly, the rather odd.

The Dallas Morning News reports the list has been whittled down to six finalists, out of dozens of names proposed to the Air Force by the three US armed service branches and eight allies that will operate versions of the JSF once it enters operational service. The finalists include the Lightning II, in homage to the WWII-vintage P-38 Lightning, and the Spitfire II... as tribute to the British fighter that helped win the Battle of Britain in 1940.

A US officer familiar with the deliberations told the DMN that both the Air Force and Navy proposed Lightning II... while the Marines favor Spitfire II. "Lightning II" was also once considered as the designation for the F-22, before the Air Force opted for "Raptor," in keeping with its recent tradition for naming fighters after birds of prey (see F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon...)

For the F-35, however, the USAF is not sticking to any naming conventions... as the branch also submitted two non-avian finalists for the F-35, the Cyclone and the Reaper.

The list also includes two selections contributed by the Netherlands, which have left some scratching their heads. The Dutch submitted the Black Mamba -- named for the poisonous African river snake -- and the Piasa.

"Like the Black Mamba, the F-35 has a darker grey color on its topside and a lighter gray-colored belly," wrote the Dutch government in its proposal to the Air Force. "The stealth characteristics of the F-35 can be compared to the Black Mamba. Both can target prey without being discovered."

"Both are very fast and lethal but not aggressive by nature," added the Danes... which may seem a curious statement to make about a highly advanced warfighting aircraft.

If the case for "Black Mamba" is a bit... unconventional... though, the reasons behind "Piasa" are more esoteric. The word -- pronounced "pie-a-saw" -- is the name of a mythical man-eating bird in Illini Indian lore that was first written about in the diary of explorer Father Jacques Marquette in 1673, as he and Louis Joliet explored the Mississippi River basin.

Neither of those choices are expected to be seriously considered by Gen. Moseley, however.

"I don't want to speculate on what he will choose, but General Moseley is a huge military history buff," the chief of staff's spokesperson, Maj. Glen Roberts, told the DMN.

That statement would seem to favor, in particular, the Lightning II... as the original (also built by Lockheed) was flown by the leading American ace in WWII, Richard Bong, who claimed 40 kills at the controls of the P-38.

Officials at Lockheed Martin hope President Bush will announced the name during a proposed July 7 visit to the Fort Worth, TX factory where the first flying F-35 prototype is now being assembled.

No matter what the official designation for the F-35 winds up being, however, there is no guarantee the name will take off with those piloting the advanced fighter. Despite the F-16's "Fighting Falcon" moniker, for example, the jet is more commonly referred to by its pilots as the "Viper" (could this be a endorsement for "Black Mamba?")

And few people call the A-10 by its proper designation, the Thunderbolt II... as "Warthog" just seems so much more fitting.

Of course, if the GAO had its way... the F-35 would be forever referred to as the "Over Budget."

FMI: www.lockheedmartin.com

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