You’ve probably heard multiple Soviet and Russian aircraft names such as Su-27 or Tu-160 followed by strange nicknames like “Flanker” or “Blackjack”. These names weren’t given them by the manufacturer nor by the Russian Air Force, but by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In fact, they are known as NATO reporting names.
Some of them are weird and distinguishing, to make sure that there are no misconceptions while speaking. Others were also chosen for propaganda: it’s needless to say why they nicknamed the Su-25 “Frogfoot”, the MiG-15UTI “Midget” and the MiG-23 “Faithless”.
The purpose of reporting names is to assign to each aircraft an unambiguous and standard nickname to allow a quick and easy recognition in a combat situation.
Although these names may seem randomly chosen, the criteria behind the selection is very smart.
The letter the nickname starts with indicates the role of the aircraft: fighter aircraft are given a nickname that starts with an F, like “Flanker” or “Fulcrum” or “Fishbed” (the Su-25 represents an exception: despite its close air support role, its NATO designation is “Frogfoot”).
Likewise, bombers are denoted with a word that starts with the letter B, for example, “Blackjack” or “Bear” or “Badger”.
Correspondingly, helicopters’ nicknames always start with the letter H, for instance, “Hind” or “Hokum” or “Hip”.
In addition, words that start with the letter C, such as “Candid”, “Condor” and “Curl”, are assigned to transport aircraft.
Lastly come miscellaneous aircraft, such as the Il-78 tanker, which are given a name that starts with the letter M. Examples for that are the Il-78 “Midas”, the AWACS A-50 “Mainstay” and the Yak-130 training aircraft, known as “Mitten”.
Due to the Yak-28’s versatility, it is denoted by three different reporting names: Brewer, indicating its bombing capability, Firebar, for its interceptor role, and Maestro, for its electronic warfare capability. The Su-34, which serves as a fighter-bomber, is known as “FullBack”. Each of the aircraft developed from the Su-27 is named “Flanker”, followed by a letter indicating the exact model.
However, there’s another criterion to distinguish the aircraft’s engine type. Propeller driven aircraft are denoted by single-syllable names, while jets are nicknamed with a multiple-syllable name. For instance, the Tu-95 turboprop bomber is known as “Bear”, whilst the Tu-160 jet bomber as “Blackjack”.
Cover photo by @aviation._photography