Why Army Helicopters Are Named After Indigenous Tribes Will Make You Smile

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Army helicopters have a number of names you immediately recognize: Apache, Black Hawk, Kiowa, Lakota, Comanche. They are also known as the names of Native American tribes. It is not a coincidence.


According to GlobalSecurity.org, this was originally due to Army Regulation 70-28, which has since been repealed. Today, although the regulations have disappeared, the tradition remains and there is a procedure for choosing a new name. The Bureau of Indian Affairs maintains a list of names that the military can use. When the army gets a new helicopter (or fixed-wing aircraft), the commander of army materiel command (the people who buy the equipment) comes up with a list of five names.

Now they can’t be just any names. These names must promote confidence in the capabilities of the helicopter or aircraft, they cannot sacrifice dignity, and they must promote an aggressive spirit. These names must then be managed by the United States Patent Office, of all places. There’s a lot more bureaucratic gibberish to go through, but eventually a name is chosen.

Come get some.

Then comes something unique – the helicopter or plane then becomes part of a ceremony attended by Native American leaders, who bestow tribal blessings. You might be surprised, given that the military and Native Americans were on the opposite side of the Indian Wars – and those wars lasted 148 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Why Army Helicopters Are Named After Indigenous Tribes Will Make You Smile
A thing of beauty.

Do not be. The fact is, despite 148 years of hostilities, Native Americans also served in the US military. Eli Parker, the only Native American to achieve the rank of general, was a personal aide to General Ulysses S. Grant. Even more impressive, 25 Native Americans received the Medal of Honor for their heroism.

Why Army Helicopters Are Named After Indigenous Tribes Will Make You Smile
General Abidin Ünal, Turkish Air Force Chief of Staff, waves during takeoff of a UH-1N Iroquois at Joint Base Andrews, Md., April 6, 2016. (Photo Air Force/Senior Airman Ryan J. Sonnier)

In other words, army helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft bear names that reflect fierce and brave warriors who also fought well in the United States military. It’s a legacy worth remembering and honoring with some of the Army’s most important systems.

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