"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
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
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."