Why Do Army Helicopters Have Native American Names?

If you look at the names of U.S. Army helicopters, you might notice something—Apache, Black Hawk, Chinook. Many of them bear Native American names.

But unless you have a military background or you watch a lot of World War II documentaries, you may not know the reason behind these tribal namesakes.

So, why do Army helicopters have Native American names?

Well, if you think about it, the U.S. Army has had some sort of military relationship with Native Americans since the American Indian Wars, which spanned more than 200 years.

However, Americans didn’t always fight against Natives—they actually have fought fiercely alongside them as well. In fact, 32 Native Americans have earned the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award.

Why do Army Helicopters have Native American names?
Soldiers hoist a simulated wounded soldier into an HH60-M Medevac Blackhawk during the Golden Coyote training exercise in Belle Fourche Reservoir, S.D., June 19, 2017. The scenario-driven exercise enables commanders to focus on warrior tasks and battle drills. (Spc. Mitchell Murphy)

In 1947, Army General Hamilton Howze, who manned the aviation department, wanted to change the names of the active Army helicopters. He found the existing names—Hoverly and Dragonfly—to be too light and airy. He wanted something more meaningful, something that projected the fierce, fighting spirit of the U.S. Army.

According to a release from the U.S. Army, “Howze said that since the choppers were fast and agile, they would attack enemy flanks and fade away, similar to the way the tribes on the Great Plains fought during the aforementioned American Indian Wars.”

So the next helicopter produced—the well-known H-13 of “M.A.S.H.” fame—was dubbed the “Sioux,” a nod to the Native Americans who fought Army Soldiers in the Sioux Wars and defeated the 7th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of Little Bighorn. 

Originally, the naming of Army helicopters had to meet these five criteria:

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

While the Army is no longer bound to these criteria, most of the time they tend to uphold this unique tradition anyway.

So when you look up into the sky and see a helicopter, be on the lookout for these special Army rotorcrafts that signify the power, perseverance, and endurance of Native American warriors.

Featured image courtesy: U.S. Army


Last Updated on January 23, 2023 by PowWows.com

9 Comments on “Why Do Army Helicopters Have Native American Names?”

  • Kelly Jones


    This was super informative! Thanks for sharing!

    • Paul G



  • Jeffery Clark


    I never realized that, and for some reason I feel oddly pleased about it. As a 10-year Army veteran, I hope they continue that tradition!

  • Joseph Di Benedetto


    Using names of Native American Indians is a method of Honoring the Tribes and Nations of a brave and valiant people, that have done much to build and make America strong as what it is today. Would you rather name these aircraft ” THE INDIGENOUS NORTH AMERICAN PEOPLE”. The. APACHE were a fierce and strong fighting force, whose tactics today are taught at The United States Military Academy at West Point. No people in this country were more abused, mistreated, and murdered than The American Indian.

    • Linda Armendariz


      Those names that he picked honor the many indigenous men that have fought and died in wars for hundreds of years. Good choices and thank you for sharing those facts.

    • CountryBoy


      That is just like the former Cleveland Indians ….. they were named for the 1st Native American to play Baseball for a Major League team….

  • Tina Bogle


    Thanks for sharing Native information😉



      Ths Is 2The Reply. Why Do America Helicopter ‘s Have Native Indigenous Tribes Name’s.

      It Because Either-Ither; They Were Defented? Conquer. Or Both? Or They Jus Fought Til The End & Proved Their Right 2 Existence + Tuff As Hell.

      In which A,lot ofv The Strongest Native Tribe’s. Giv Tht Hell. [“As Sittin Bull”]

      But U,don’t se, thm namin anythng Great after Him?.

      Tht are stil in Greatest#. Are the one’s tht fought & are stil here in greater#’s.

      Really w/The Greatest Gratitude Respect 2Thm. Such As;

      [“The Navajo Nation Code Breaker’s”]

      Because The Aboriginesa Native Indigenous Tribe’s Is Greatest w/All The Greatest Tribal People’s Nation’s 2Gether.

      Ths Is Why They Stil Hold The Same Pow Wows 2Day As Yesterday.

      Ths Is Why They Name Their War Machine’s After Native Indigenous Tribal People’s Nation.

      Because They Don’t Hav The Respect 2Say It 2Uor, Face’s.

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