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You’ll find a great deal of joy and reverence in the process of how to name a plane. It’s a tradition that’s been around since the invention of flying back in the earliest days of aviation. Like automobiles and sailing ships before them, we humans tend to enjoy personalizing the machines/vessels/craft that give us the ability to get from one place to another. Because they give us this unique ability, we regard them with affection in the form of a unique title.
Famous plane naming stories and inspiring tales of bravery accomplished in these planes came into vogue during the first and second world wars. Some of the most infamous names include bombers like the Memphis Belle, the Enola Gay, or even one of the oldest: the Red Baron of World War I. In all of these cases, and many more, the pilots or makers of these craft must have taken great pleasure in naming their plane once it was completed.
Naming A Plane Yourself
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But in the midst of all of these famous titles, how does one name their own aircraft to give it personality and uniqueness. Well if the question of how to name a plane has been on your mind, you’re in luck, as we count down eight ways that you can do this yourself. But first we’ll talk a little bit more about why naming your plane is an important task, the history of naming planes, and some tips you can use when naming your own or helping a friend name theirs.
Why Is Naming Your Plane An Important Task?
Naming your plane gives it personality. It also can be a fun way for air traffic controllers to get to know you if you frequent their zone often enough. Yes, every aircraft has a given number, but adding a name is a fun exercise as well. In the cases of many major airliners, the naming of a plane can come from funny puns that are tossed back and fourth between members of a committee or even sourced from Facebook and other social media platforms.
Some examples of these fun names include titles like the Scarlett O’Air, the Unicorn Chaser, My Other Ride is a Spaceship, and the Spruce Moose. And even more democratic namings have occurred. The people of Portland, OR once named a plane ‘Mount Hoodie,’ a punny reference to Oregon’s Mount Hood. As you can see, plane names can stem from pop culture, funny images, dedications, or just pure imagination. So now that you see all of the different sources these names can come from, we’ll open up the history books to give you some further inspiration.
A History Of Plane Names
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Planes have been given many names over the past 115 years or so since the first flights in Kitty Hawk, NC. But which names stick? Which have been the most memorable examples of how to name a plane? How and why were some plane names changed or re-dedicated? And what was the inspiration behind the names of the most famous planes in history?
The First Plane
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The first flight that ever took place happened when the Wright brothers tested their ‘Flyer’ or ‘Wright Flyer,’ as it later came to be known. This set the stage for everything that came after in the realm of aviation. This historic event took place on December 17th 1903, and it is referred to by the Smithsonian Institute as “the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard.”
The Vin Fizz
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In 1911 a plane that was only slightly modified from the Wright’s original design completed a journey across the continental United States. If that sounds just a tad too impressive for that time, it’s because it is. It had to land 75 times to refuel, needed a train to tag along to make sure it had needed supplies, and also crashed 16 times; causing it to have to be constantly rebuilt along the way.
Calbraith Perry Rodgers, the pilot, was severely injured during the journey due to the number of times the plane crashed and was rebuilt. And he also died soon thereafter near Long Beach in another unrelated crash after having fully recovered from the trans-continental flight. The Name Vin Fizz came from a popular soft drink producer at the time that helped fund the journey.
The Red Baron
The German pilot Manfred von Richthofen is still regarded today as the ‘ace-of-aces’ of World War I. An ‘ace’ simply means a pilot that successfully shoots down five or more planes in an aerial battle. Because Manfred was so deadly, the British dubbed him and his plane, ‘The Red Baron,’ probably because of the signature scarlet hue his aircraft was painted with.
Richthofen was eventually killed in battle while flying over Morlancourt Ridge near the Somme River in Northern France. His last words included the word ‘kaput,’ meaning broken and useless. The date was August 21, 1918.
The Canary: Amelia’s First Record-Breaking Plane
In August of 1928, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and back again. But her first record had been broken 7 years earlier when she flew her Kinner Airster model, which she nicknamed ‘the canary,’ to an altitude of 14,000 feet: the record for female pilots at that time.
Unfortunately, her story ended in a tragedy that would ultimately capture the imagination of the world. She and her co-pilot Fred Noonan disappeared unexpectedly while flying the Electra across the Pacific. Neither of the people, nor the plane, were ever found. It is thought that the disappearance occurred near Howland Island in the central Pacific Ocean.
The Enola Gay and the End of WWII
In one of the single most influential moments in modern history, this plane became the first to drop an atomic weapon on August 6th, 1945. Its target was Hiroshima, Japan, and the blast killed between 96,000 and 146,000 people. This plane launched the world into what became known as the atomic age; but it also ended World War II with far fewer lives lost than if Allied troops has been forced to invade Japan directly (the other option for ending the war).
The commander/pilot of the craft, Col. Paul Tibbets, at least knew how to name a plane well. He called the craft ‘Enola Gay’ in honor of his mother: Enola Gay Tibbets.
The Eagle and the Moon Landing
On July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong uttered the famous words: ‘the Eagle has landed.’ He was referring, of course, to the lunar module that helped Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the surface of the moon. This craft was named after the national bird of the United States and has captured the minds of air and space enthusiasts ever since.
Air Force One: The President’s Plane
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The first President of the United States to board what was to be called ‘Air Force One,’ was George H. W. Bush. In military terms, this plan is known as the VC-25 and is a special variation of the Boeing 747. Today, it functions as an aerial command center and is capable of refueling mid-flight so that it can remain airborne indefinitely.
US Airways Flight 1549
This plane was named shortly after its final flight and would never fly again afterward. It’s name? “The Miracle on the Hudson.” This commercial flight took off from LaGuardia Airport on January 15th, 2009 but soon lost all power because a flock of Canada geese took out both of its engines shortly after takeoff. At that time it was almost 3,000 feet in the air with nowhere to land.
The now famous pilot, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, was able to maneuver the flight into a successful landing on the Hudson River and all 155 passengers aboard survived. Sometimes you must be fully in retrospect of an extraordinary event to know how to name a plane, as was the case here.
How To Name A Plane
So how to name a plane now that you’ve got a little bit more of a historical background? Well, firstly there’s no one ‘right’ way. The name of your plane will ultimately hold personal value and will have to be explained no matter what. So it helps to pick a name that you’ll take joy in explaining the story behind. To give you some more ideas of how to name a plane, we’ve put together a list of 8 tips.
Pick the Name of a Loved One
Like with Enola Gay, you could pick the name of someone you hold dear or who’s made an indelible impact on your life. This goes well with dedications, so make sure that the name of the person you choose has a legacy of meaning that you’d want to expand upon for those you describe the story to.
Pick the Name of an Inspiring Figure
Picking the name of a person or mythical legend can also be a way to go when choosing the name of a plane. In this case, it’s probably because the person you pick (whether you know or knew them personally or not) has ideals you love or stands for something you can get behind.
Pick the Name of an Idea or Concept
In this case, you pick the name of an idea or concept that you’d like to ‘take flight’ with you. These are things like ‘freedom’ or ‘justice.’ This option is ideal for people that don’t want to isolate the name of their plane to a single person or thing.
Pick a Joke or Pun Name
For the humorously minded, picking a pun for your aircraft can be the next best thing to naming something like a building or monument with something funny. With this option, the only limit to what you can call your craft is your own mind. Some funny examples of aircraft include names like the Flying Fridge or the Floating Greyhound. There was also reportedly a group of B-29s named after all seven of Snow White’s dwarves.
Pick an Element of Nature
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These plane names give reverence to the planet we live on. Flight is one of humanity’s greatest achievements, and it makes sense from a certain perspective to pay homage to our given home on earth before as we step into the sky. Examples could include names like ‘The Duck,’ ‘The Lightning’ or ‘The Flying Barracuda.’
Pick a Quote
Sometimes the best name for a plane could come from a quote that someone said or a snippet of a literary passage. For example, you could call a plane ‘The Better Angel’ from a famous speech by Lincoln, or ‘Dorothy’s House’ a reference to The Wizard of Oz.
Pick a Color
Like the Red Baron of days of old, choosing colors for a name is still a method for how to name a plane. You could choose a color combination like ‘Blue Green’ or merge it with a thing, like ‘The Blue Devil.’
Pick a Team or Organization
That last example would also be a reference to the ‘Blue Devils,’ which is the sports team of Duke University. Referencing a sports team or organization is another popular method for how to name a plane.
Ultimately deciding how to name a plane will be a unique journey for each individual. If you choose to get creative and name your plane, you now have all the tools you need to do so. Happy flying!