November 17, 2008 / 10:45 AM / in 9 years

Italy's new combat jet trainer a flying pizza pie?

An Internet contest to name the new M-346 combat jet trainer has elicited more than 2,000 ideas. First prize includes a free ride.

Manufacturer Alenia Aermacchi, a subsidiary of Italy’s aerospace and defense giant Finmeccanica, is not revealing any names, but aviation buffs at Internet forums have proposed choices like the Pizza Pie, Italian Stallion, Turbo Pigeon and Pompeii.

In-house aircraft naming competitions are common enough. But the month-long Internet contest, taking entries until November 23, has drawn far-flung responses from countries such as Britain, the United States, Canada, Indonesia, Bahrain, Turkey, the Philippines and Slovenia. About 70 percent are from Italy.

The nimble twin-engine M-346, capable of mimicking cockpit conditions on advanced fighters like the F-22, is the first aircraft the company has named since World War Two.

“We plan to renew that tradition with the aim of making the M-346 readily identifiable through a name that reinforces the distinctive elements of the aircraft,” a source close to the company said.

Naming aircraft can be tricky. Italy, Spain, Britain and Germany are partners on the Eurofighter, a.k.a. the Typhoon. But Germany shuns the label, having been heavily bombed by a plane with that name in World War Two.

“They just call it the Eurofighter EF 2000,” said David Donald, editor of the quarterly International Air Power Review.

Sometimes the name itself bombs, he said, like the world’s most popular fighter, the F-16.

“Officially it’s the Fighting Falcon, but no one has ever used it. It’s such a horrible mouthful,” he said. “It got christened the Viper very quickly as a nickname, and that stuck.”

The M-346 had a long development period, starting with studies for a new advanced trainer in the 1980s. A partnership with the Russian Yakovlev dissolved in 1999. The first prototype rolled out in 2003.

Italy, which owns a third of Finmeccanica, has opted for up to 15 M-346 trainers. But the nine-nation Advanced European Jet Pilot Training program is bogged down and not expected to be operational for a decade.

Alenia Aermacchi has forged partnerships in countries like the United States, Chile and Portugal. Currently the M-346 is short-listed in Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, facing off against the Korean Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin T-50, a.k.a the Golden Eagle.

Name contest entry forms are available at concorsom346.aermacchi.it.

Editing by Jon Loades-Carter

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