Apache, Blackhawk, Chinook: Why Army helicopters are given Native American names

Akilah Davis Image
Wednesday, November 10, 2021
Why Army helicopters are given Native American names
The Apache, Blackhawk, Chinook, Lakota, etc. U.S. Army helicopters traditionally are given Native American names. Here's why.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (WTVD) -- Out on Fort Bragg's Simmons Army Airfield, the Army's primary sources of aerial warfare sit idle. The combat helicopters were built to engage and destroy enemy forces.

"Everything we do here is about training for the next fight or potential fight we could be involved in," said LTC Anthony Freude with the 122nd Aviation Support Battalion Commander of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. "Here we have Blackhawks, Apaches and Chinooks. So you have the sensor, the front sensor. There are two parts to it. It provides capability for targeting acquisition. In pictures, you see pilots with lens in their eye. This allows them to fly in different environments."

There is a pattern in U.S. Army helicopter names: the Apache, Blackhawk, Chinook, Lakota and several others. Experts say it is a nod to those warriors dating back to the American Indian Wars.

"The Native Americans were probably the most lethal and unconventional force that we fought. Given their resources and what their capabilities were," said Robert Mitchell, with the U.S. Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

According to Mitchell, Native Americans were fierce warriors serving in every major U.S. conflict.

Despite the stated good intentions, not everyone is on board with how helicopters are named. Mandy Van Heuvelen with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. explained.

"While it may be perceived as an honor in some communities, there may be others who don't see it that way. What it is meant to represent is not really an accurate reflection of who they are, their history and culture. It could be considered misappropriation of a culture," said Van Heuvelen.

According to Van Heuvelen, naming helicopters after Native Americans was once an official Army regulation, which was meant to suggest an aggressive spirit and confidence. Today that regulation and stated intent no longer stands, but the tradition continues.