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Why Did the US Army Name Helicopters After Native American Tribes?

Apache, Chinook, and the famous Josh Hartnett movie Black Hawk Down are codes used for US Army choppers. What’s ironic is that these choppers were named after Native American tribes, despite the long, bloody history between the US Army and the Native Americans. Let’s dive in and understand the history of this naming convention.

The US Army’s custom of naming helicopters after Native American tribes go back to 1947. General Hamilton Howze believed that helicopters should attack from the flank and then fade away, the same way Plains Indian tribes would.

Why Do Army Helicopters Have Native American Names?

There was an official regulation to name helicopters after Native Americans. Although the regulation is no longer in effect, the tradition persists.

The name pattern dates back to 1947, when Army General Hamilton Howze was assigned to Army aviation. His objective was to formulate doctrine and policy on the use of Army aircraft and how they would support ground forces.

Howze was not a fan of the helicopters’ initial names – Hoverfly and Dragonfly. As a result, he established guidelines for naming the helicopters according to their capabilities. According to Howze, because the choppers were fast and agile, they would attack enemy sides and then fade away, much like the Great Plains tribes did during the historical American Indian Wars.

He chose the name Sioux for the next helicopter to be constructed to commemorate the Native Americans who fought Army soldiers during the Sioux Wars and defeated the 7th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

This was how Army Regulation 70-28 came to be in 1969. The regulation specified criteria for assigning popular names to significant pieces of equipment. Army aircraft were specifically classified in Army Regulation 70-28, requiring Indian terms and names of American Indian tribes and chiefs. The Bureau of Indian Affairs produced a list of possible names. (Source: Native America Today)

The name choices had to satisfy the following criteria:

  • Appeal to the imagination without sacrificing dignity.
  • Suggest an aggressive spirit and confidence in the item’s capabilities.
  • Reflect on the item’s characteristics, including mobility, agility, flexibility, firepower, and endurance.
  • Be based on tactical application, not source or method of manufacture.
  • Be associated with the preceding qualities and criteria if a person’s name is proposed.

AR 70-28 was subsequently abolished and replaced with policies that omitted that criterion, but the tradition has remained.

The Black Hawk

The Army’s utility tactical transport helicopter is the Black Hawk UH/HH-60. It supports combat, general support, air assault, aeromedical evacuation, command and control, and special operations assistance. Due to the massive increase in troop and cargo lift capacity provided by this flexible Black Hawk helicopter, the Army’s total mobility has increased. (Source: USA ASC)

On an asymmetric battlefield, the Black Hawk enables commanders to deliver mass effects across the battlespace and the spectrum of warfare. A single Black Hawk can transport a whole 11-person, fully prepared infantry squad faster than a preceding system in different weather circumstances.

Critical components and systems of the aircraft are armored or redundant, and the airframe is engineered to crush gradually upon impact, protecting the crew and passengers.

The UH-60 was named Black Hawk in honor of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, a Native American chief whose name translates to be a large black hawk. Black Hawk was the Sauk tribe’s war chief and leader in the Midwest of the United States.

He was mainly recognized as a military leader, a captain of his actions, rather than a tribal chief. In his youth, Black Hawk earned his credentials by leading raids and battle parties. (Source: Michigan library)

1 thought on “Why Did the US Army Name Helicopters After Native American Tribes?”

  1. Héctor Chávez

    Podrían ampliar la información proporcionando todos los nombres aplicados a helicópteros. Gracias.

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