U-2, the sweary spy plane

In the 1950s the aerospace corporation Lockheed developed a single-seat, high-altitude plane under great secrecy, built by a small team of engineers in the company’s  Skunk Works facility. The craft was not designated B or F, being neither bomber nor fighter: this was a spy plane. But an R for reconnaissance would not be discreet, so it was given a low-key U, for utility, and a 2 for its place in the development chain.

That’s the official story behind the U-2’s name, and there’s no real reason to doubt it. But there’s an apocryphal – and sweary – alternative, described by Phil Patton in his book Travels in Dreamland: The Secret History of Area 51 (Orion, 1997). Patton’s anecdote features top test pilot Tony LeVier and pioneering aircraft designer Clarence Johnson, who ran Skunk Works and was nicknamed Kelly for his pugnacious streak.

On the U-2’s maiden trip in 1955, LeVier was in control and Johnson flew behind in support. It was a tough aircraft to fly, nicknamed the Dragon Lady for good reason, apparently:

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What the fuck is the “A” in “fucking A”?

Swearing loves the alphabet – or euphemisms for swearing do, at least. To avoid saying fuck outright, we might just drop an f bomb, sidestep with the f word, or register ‘initial’ reactions with WTF. Some swears play with spelling: see you next Tuesday, say. Yet others, including a number originating from military expressions, are acronyms: snafu, or Situation Normal: All Fucked UpThat’s no BS, an abbreviation of bullshit that Mark Peters has written a whole damn book on.

But what about fucking A? What is this doing? Is it standing in for another swearword? What the fuck is this A in fucking A?

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