Fishbed and Badger, NATO Designation Unmaksed

MiG-21PF Fishbed by the NATO Designation

NATO Designation Unmaksed


The airplane in the photo above is the Mig-21PF a Soviet workhorse of a fighter plane that goes by the NATO Designation “Fishbed”. Walking through any aircraft museum, or reading and studying about military aircraft, some of the names for the Soviet planes seem a little weird. Fishbed, Badger, Bear, Blackjack, Fulcrum. We seem them all the time and I for one always was a little curious as how those names were picked. If you know, don’t say anything yet. This is the fun part.

The familiar names for the “enemy” aircraft come through NATO, and are deigned to give each aircraft a clear and easy to understand name, generally based around words that don’t come up in conversation so that there can be no confusion.

Who decides the names? This next bit is lifted straight from Wikipeida:

The assignment of the names for the Russian and Chinese aircraft was once managed by the five-nation Air Standardization Coordinating Committee (ASCC) (now called the Air and Space Interoperability Council, or ASIC, which includes representatives of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States), but that is no longer the case.

The Breakdown


Here is where it gets fun.

Single syllable NATO Designations denote fixed wing, prop driven aircraft.

Multiple syllable names indicate a jet aircraft.

The first letter of the NATO designation tells you what kind of aircraft it is.

F for fighter.

B for bomber.

C for cargo. (Also commercial aircraft and airliners.)

H is for helicopter.

M is for (get this) miscellaneous.

So the Soviet aircraft known as the Bear, propeller based bomber. The Badger? Bomber jet. The fabulous MiG-29 Fulcrum? Fighter Jet. The Red Dawn worthy MI-24 Hind, H is for helicopter. And just for fun, The La-11 Fang? Starts with f so fighter plane, but only one syllable so it must be a propeller type.

I wish I had known this during all those years reading Tom Clancy books! (The good ones, before Jack became President.) One last thing. The Soviets do not use the NATO designation for their aircraft, why would they? Well, except for one. They like the name Fulcrum for the MiG-29 as it represents the integral nature of the aircraft in the defense plans.  I don’t know, I think Fishbed sounds kind of cool also…