Have You Ever Wondered Why The AH-64 Is Called “Apache”? The American Indian Tribes Tradition

A part of the contest form for naming the UH-60 Helicopter.

All of the American Army helicopters are named after either Indian Tribe names, or Indian Tribe Chiefs’ names (Apache, Comanche, Chinook etc). This regularity is nowhere near accidental.

The most interesting finding I came across trying to find out where it comes from is a fragment of the American Army’s Aviation Digest from March 1977.

The last two pages of this issue contained a contest form for naming the UH-60 Helicopter known today as Black Hawk.

Image Credit: US Army

Here is the most interesting bit of the text of that issue, regarding the contest to give the UH-60A a name:

All recommended names must be received no later than 30 April 1977 to be eligible for consideration. All names are not acceptable. AR 70-28, dated 18 June 1976, specifies that Army aircraft should be given the names of American Indian tribes or chiefs or terms. The name should appeal to the imagination without sacrifice of dignity, and should suggest an aggressive spirit and confidence in the capabilities of the aircraft. The name also should suggest mobility, agility, flexibility, firepower and endurance.For brevity, it is suggested the name consist of only one word. The names given Army aircraft are primarily for use in public releases and other documents as a ready reference but have proven popular among Army personnel. In the past some Army aircraft, such as the 0-1 Bird Dog and OH-23 Raven were not given Indian names. In most cases, such aircraft were given their names before the present policy went into effect. These names have not been changed. The last aircraft introduced into the Army without an Indian name is the AH-1G HueyCobra. This aircraft, an outgrowth of the UH-1 Iroquois (Huey), was named by its maker before it was purchased by the Army. When the Army started buying the helicopter the name quickly was shortened by common usage to ” Cobra,” which is descriptive of its impressive fighting ability. The names of fixed and rotary wing Army aircraft are listed below.

AH-1 HueyCobra
OH-13 Sioux
CH-21 Shawnee
OH-23 Raven
CH-34 Choctaw
OH-58 Kiowa
CH-37 Mojave
TH-55 Osage
CH-47 Chinook
UH-1 Iroquois
CH-54 Tarhe
UH-19 Chickasaw
OH-6 Cayuse
AH-56 Cheyene

The original text of the Army Resolution mentioned above could not be found, but the journal text just summarizes its contents. If you ever wonder why the AH-64 is called Apache – well, here is the answer.

About Jacek Siminski
Standing contributor for TheAviationist. Aviation photojournalist. Co-Founder of DefensePhoto.com. Expert in linguistics, Cold War discourse, Cold War history and policy and media communications.


  1. Talking to one of the guides on the Enterprise in NY ,he told of a similar story , he said that all helicopters were given Indian Tribe names,apart from the Cobra.
    A Indian Chief complained to the DOD about the cobra not been given a Indian name ,He was told it was out of respect to the Indians as they thought that it was considered an insult to the Indians The DOD decide to stop this
    The Indian Chief said that it was of great pride that their tribal names had been chosen for the helicopters and that some tribes had been offended that this practice had been stopped
    After this conversation The DOD reconsidered and declared that any new Helicopter that entered future service would be named after Indian tribes

  2. Cool, it’s like if germans would call Leopard 1 for Sephardic and Leopard 2 for Ashkenazi, tribute to the people that have been ethnically cleansed.

    Only in America you can bee that ignorant and stay alive!

    • To the European mind honouring an old enemy for their bravery and courage through a long conflict must seem incomprehensible. In any event natives are among the fastest growing ethnicities in North America, so its just good politics.

      • We europeans have no problems with honoring an old enemy, actually all european countries have been enemies in some extent at some point in history and today we are friends. Europeans (nor does someone else) on the other hand have god taste not to use names of ethnic groups that have almost been extinct by its policies for military hardware that is supposed to do same thing to other groups today. It’s more like bad joke than honoring an old enemy.

        Take Apache for instance, Geronimo has been seen as terrorist and hunted in a same extent as bin Laden is/have been in our time. Maybe next generation of helicopters will be called Arab? Or Iranian? Taliban?

        How about future iraqi precision bombs that are called Kurd? Turkish helicopter called Armenian, German ground attack planes called Polish or bomber called British? Japanese future aircraft carrier called Perl Harbor?

        • Both John & Demi, you are somewhat mistaken on different points.
          In America it’s not that an “old enemy” is being honored. The US Army uses these Native *American* names -because it can- and to emphasize that the Indian nations were and are a cultural component (however honestly reduced and actually marginalized today) that belongs to the American identity or “experience”. The natives are a component part of America.
          The Jews were never such a part of any host country they’ve lived in, otherwise why need a “homeland” in Palestine? Even Jews living in Germany today do not consider themselves part of Germany or German – they set themselves apart by choice and design. I back up my claim with the words of Michel Friedman, then-Vice president of the Council of Jews in Germany who said: “Versöhnung ist ein absolut sinnloser Begriff. Den Erben des judenmordenden Staates kommt gar nichts anderes zu, als die schwere historische Verantwortung auf sich zu nehmen, generationenlang, für immer.“

          In English: “Reconciliation [between Germans and Jews] is an absolutely senseless idea…”

          You get the point. Yes, the Germans fought the French, Poles and Russians, the French (under Napoleon) fought nearly all Europe, the English fought the Danes, French, Spanish, Scots and Irish… and the Jews fought/fight all of Europe . (Probably with a more effective strategy: Playing the various Europeans off against each other. But that’s another story…) The point is, for example, the Russian “enemy” was never part of the German nation nor vice versa so no one would expect or consider German tanks to be named “Zhukov” or Russian ones “Manstein”.

          Demiurg makes a good point about the silliness of then using post-“War on Terror” names like “Taliban”, etc. Yes, but Afghanistan was never part of America like the Native Americans were – as noted above. But all this is still sufficiently ridiculous in light of the Afghan & Iraq wars being based on the lie of 9-11 and its’ amazing 3 (three) … “collapsing” buildings.

          Regarding the Holocaust myth I suggest Demiurg look up “One Third of the Holocaust” or this:

        • Because Hitler is so English for example? Or Stalin is so Spanish??

          They are honoring the natives of the United States, who fought bravely in the United States for what they thought was right. You are trying to distort this with your ‘analogies’ – but you’re comparing apples to oranges. Typical misdirection ….. and your first post with reference to Nazi Germany is insultingly hilarious. Germans would much rather forget their Nazi history; the US embraces their former adversaries, and those who were brave and fought for their land and their lives. They are heroic – Nazi’s, Fascists, and the like are reprehensible, disgusting, and no one believes they had any sort of honor in anything that they did.

          Embracing Native Americans – and honoring them by naming Military Helicopters after their tribes and tribal leaders, is a great way to pay tribute to them. Same way the US names its aircraft carriers after former US Presidents, and its tanks after former military generals. It is out of respect, and to honor them. Your ‘argument’ is the only thing wrong here.

    • I think it’s more because Indian Tribes are ….distinctly American rather than it having anything to do with ethnic cleansing. During WWII American Indians were used to communicate in their native language because it was an “unbreakable code” to our enemies.
      It’s really not the same thing as naming a football team the “Redskins” if that is where you are going with this.

      • Good point about the Indians. There language code was instrumental in securing our invasion plans at a now famous beach. So is it disrespectful for our nations Capitol to use Redskins as its mascot?

  3. Army aviation began in Ft. Sill and is surrounded by many reservations and they decided to name helicopters after tribes…to make it even more clear.

  4. “The name should appeal to the imagination without sacrifice of dignity, and should suggest an aggressive spirit and confidence in the capabilities of the aircraft. The name also should suggest mobility, agility, flexibility, firepower and endurance.”

    How is that description offensive to anyone? Seems very complimentary to me.

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