There’s been something of a public furor lately over the Pentagon’s tradition of naming military aircraft after Native American tribes. Critics claim the monikers are insulting—just as some believe that naming sports teams “Redskins” or “Indians” is derogatory.
Others argue that it’s an honor to have a helicopter or airplane take your name. Indeed, some Native American tribes have given the practice their blessing.
But just how many aircraft are we talking about? The U.S. military appears to have named at least 20 aircraft, helicopters and missiles after Native American tribes or weapons. You can find many of the names in a 2004 Pentagon list of official designations.
Most—but not all—are Army helicopters. Some are currently in service, some have retired and others never got off the drawing board.
Aircraft and missiles in service include the:
• AH-64 Apache attack helicopter
• UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter
• UH-72 Lakota utility helicopter
• CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift transport helicopter
• OH-58 Kiowa observation helicopter, which the Army is considering retiring them
• OH-6 Cayuse observation helicopter
• TH-67 Creek trainer helicopter—the Army may retire them, too
• C-12 Huron transport aircraft
• RU-21 Ute electronic intelligence aircraft, a variant of the C-12
• BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile
The retired aircraft are the:
• UH-1 Iroquois utility helicopter, retired in 2011
• H-34 Choctaw transport helicopter, left service in early 1970s
• RU-8 Seminole utility aircraft, 1992
• H-21 Shawnee transport helicopter, 1967
• OV-1 Mohawk twin-engine observation aircraft, 1996
• T-41 Mescalero trainer aircraft, no longer in the Army but still flying for the Air Force
Proposed but never fielded:
• SM-64 Navaho experimental cruise missile, canceled in 1957
• AH-56 Cheyenne attack helicopter, abandoned in 1972
• RAH-66 Comanche attack helicopter, 2004
• ARH-70 Arapaho armed reconnaissance helicopter, 2008
Note that sometimes it’s not always clear whether a name is Native American or not. Is the C-12 Huron named after the tribe or the Great Lake?
There were 566 federally recognized Native American tribes as of 2013. Should the Army in particular continue its longstanding nomenclature policy, American pilots may yet end up flying helicopters named Kickapoo and Snoqualmie.
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