Defense Media Network

Naval Aviation Nicknames

From Fifi to Rhino, and everything in between

Scooter, Spad, Ford, FiFi, and Willy Fudd are among the many naval aviation nicknames given to U.S. Navy aircraft over the past 100 years. Like family pet names, some are endearing, some cute, and some, well, every pack has its cur. None of the pet names were official, but awarded by the pilots and crews who flew them. Until World War II, the U.S. Navy, as well as the Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviation, did not name aircraft types, but used a letter-number designation. Our English cousins, on the other hand, named their aircraft types, but did not have a military designation system. Gradually, American aircraft companies began naming their products, because as any salesman knows, it is far easier to sell a Helldiver than an SB2C.


A restored F4U Corsair at the 2006 Warbirds over Wanaka airshow in New Zealand. The 14 feet of nose in front of the pilot, earned it the nicknames of “hog” and “hose nose.” The inverted gull wings inspired “bent-winged bandit.” It’s flying characteristics with respect to carrier landing and generally tricky handling earned the sobriquet “ensign eliminator.” It was nevertheless perhaps the greatest naval fighter of World War II, and also served well in Korea. Photo by thomas.g


 Fifi from Grumman

The first U.S. Navy airplane with a nickname was Grumman’s first fighter, the FF-1. This 1932 open-cockpit biplane did not have an official title, but FF looks and sounds like “Fifi” and the airplane was cute enough to have the name stick. Three types of fighter later, Grumman began naming them after cats. The F4F Wildcat was first, although the British were already calling the exported version Martlet (a type of seabird). The follow-on F6F Hellcat became the most widely built U.S. fighter airplane ever (12,275 built with more than 11,000 in a two-year period) and shot down more enemy aircraft than any other, but never acquired a nickname. Navy ace Gene Valencia (23 victories) liked the Hellcat so much he said, “If it could cook, I’d marry it.” Endearing, but not a nickname. On the other hand, the Hellcat’s contemporary, the Chance Vought F4U Corsair, was easily recognized by its inverted gull wings and long nose, and its pilots called it the Hog and Hose Nose, among other things. There is no actual animal called a Bearcat (Grumman F8F), but a mountain legend says, “’Tis the front of a bear at one end, the front of a mountain lion at t’other and it can’t urinate, defecate, or fornicate so is the meanest critter on Earth.” The following Grumman fighters – Tigercat, Panther, Cougar, Jaguar (only two built), and Tiger – also did not acquire pet names.

Grumman Avenger

A Grumman TBM-3E Avenger. The first “Turkey” from Grumman was a solid and durable performer during World War II and after. Photo via Citats

It was not until the recently retired F-14 Tomcat that another Grumman fighter acquired a nickname. It was called the “Turkey,” although rarely by the folks who flew or maintained it. The name was not entirely derogatory, but based on the Tomcat’s large, awkward appearance, especially when seen from the front. Turkey was also applied to Grumman’s World War II torpedo bomber, officially the TBF/TBM Avenger, for the same reason. The Turkey may have looked splay-footed and bulbous, but it capably performed in many combat and utility roles.

Grumman S2F Tracker Stoof

The Grumman S2F Tracker, better known as the Stoof. Another aircraft that had to have a short fuselage in order to fit World War II-era carrier elevators, the Stoof compensated with a very large tail, which, along with its big radial engines and bulbous cockpit, give it a stumpy appearance to match is name, derived from the S2F designation. U.S. Navy photo

Grumman manufactured a series of amphibious airplanes widely used by the Navy and the Coast Guard: Duck, Mallard, Goose, and Albatross. While the image of flying a Duck makes one smile, those were factory-assigned names. The most famous sobriquet was earned by another Grumman airplane – the “Stoof.”

Willie Fudd or Stoof-With-A-Roof

The “Stoof With a Roof,” better known as the “Willie Fudd,” was a Stoof with a large AEW radar mounted on top of the fuselage.

Sub-hunting airplanes did not become specialized until after the Korean War. Grumman’s first try, the SF Guardian, is best forgotten. In the designation system of the day, next was the S2F Tracker. Navy requirements dictated the airplane be short in order to fit down the elevators of the small escort (CVE) aircraft carriers (which, ironically, were all gone by the time the S2F entered service), and this meant the tail had to be huge to compensate. The Stoof had a pair of large radial engines with paddle propellers like pinwheels and long wings that folded off center overhead like a child showing “how big.” The pilot’s windows bulged out on the sides and were curved in front like a clown’s eyebrows. All that was needed on the front was a painted grin (which was sometimes done) to have a “happy face.” Say Ess-two-eff several times and you’ll see where Stoof came from. Unlike Turkey, the name was acceptable; the S2F veterans organization is RAFS: Real Aviators Flew Stoofs.

Grumman fighter F-14 Turkey

The F-14 Tomcat was the second Grumman product to acquire the nickname “Turkey.” The name was based on the Tomcat’s large, awkward appearance when seen with “everything down” in the carrier landing pattern. U.S. Navy photo

The basic S2F gave rise to a cargo/passenger version that could land on carriers (COD, or Carrier Onboard Delivery) and a version that became one of the oddest-looking flying machines to enter the U.S. Navy inventory. Early warning radars had large antennas, and Grumman’s solution was to take a Stoof and put the antenna on top inside a fairing that resembled a partially filled hot water bottle. They also had to chop the big vertical tail into halves and put them out to the sides. W for early warning, F for Grumman, and the aircraft was designated the WF, which, with a Looney Tunes character in mind, was said to be “Willy Fudd.” The dome with the radar was huge, reaching halfway across the wings and covering three-quarters of the fuselage, so a logical second nickname was the Stoof with a Roof. (There was a rash of reports that a flying saucer had captured one of our Navy airplanes.)

Prev Page 1 2 3 4 Next Page

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-41347">

    While working on restoring an F7U for the USS Midway Museum, I had to do a bit of research on it. My favorite bit I learned was from the pilot’s operating handbook, which diagramed the proper way for the pilot to climb onto the Cutlass and enter the cockpit. At the end of two pages of pictures showing how it was done, it then warned if there was any other way to get into the cockpit, use it! Some planes earned endearing nicknames, but all of the over half-dozen that I read describing the Cutlass sounded more like curses.