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PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

“Why is the Airbus called Fifi?”

I was asked an extremely good question by a new pilot in training, who is about to take her first solo flight. She wondered why the Airbus was called Fifi.

This is an excellent question. The fact that she is female, and a Princess, Fifi could be nothing more than the diminutive name of Fiona, Josephine, or Sophia… a woman who knows what she’s doing…is strong, assertive, and flying full speed ahead.

But I think the answer could be a bit more complex than that.

Could she be named after Fifi Le Fume? Fifi, a French skunk, flirtatious and stinky just like her mentor Pepe Le Pew, is skunk with passion. Her most notorious trait… she refuses to take “no” for an answer when love is involved. Some may think that the Airbus stinks, but then there are those that she’s captured their hearts. Could it be?

Fifi Le Fume

And then my mind wanders to Fifi the Duck. If it quacks like a duck, and flies like a duck… it must be a duck! Fifi the duck was “compassionate, curvaceous, and courageous." She was also a talented duck. Not only did she serve people well, but she piloted a Flying Bonger. The A330 is definitely talented, and serves her markets well. Curvaceous and courageous the A330 also might be…but compassionate? I doubt that.

Fifi The Duck

There was also Fifi, the beauty queen. Alias Ingrid Finger, who won the Miss International pageant in 1965. While the Airbus is a beauty, her winglets are not nearly as sexy as the 737-800. Could she win on performance alone?

1974, Hurricane Fifi, killed 8000-10,000 people, and ranked the 4th deadliest. Could Fifi be thought of as deadly? If you don’t know how to manage her, I suspect that could be.

And then there was her predecessor…

Did you know that Fifi wasn’t the first plane to be nicknamed Fifi?

The B-29 Superfortress took the nickname Fifi first. The B-29 was the largest aircraft in WWII and very advanced for her time, with an electronic fire-control system, a pressurized cabin, and she even had remote-controlled gun turrets. The airbus was very advanced for her time… could it be that a mechanic who knew the B-29 saw the advanced technology in the Airbus, and nicknamed her after the Superfortress?

B-29 Superfortress

I think the answer lies in her original performance. She was a dog. The mechanics nicknamed the A320 Fifi, after a French Dog. The first buses may have been dogs. However, the A330, Princess Fifi, is anything but. She is a Princess.

On a side note, did you know that Minnie Mouse’s dog was named Fifi? Fifi the Peke, who was also Pluto’s girlfriend. And if you must know, Fifi and Pluto actually had five puppies together. So are those puppies considered little buses?
Fifi the Peke

If anyone has a better answer as to how “Fifi” got her name, inquiring minds want to know.
Thanks for a great question Julia!

Enjoy the Journey!
~ Karlene


  1. I've always been told that the Airbus is called Fifi because it's French (which isn't completely true since a lot of assembly is done in Germany!). My friends call it the Fifiliner. I've heard it from college friends and pilots who were DC-9 drivers and 727 plumbers, as well. It's not exactly a term of endearment.

    From my experience you either love the A320 or you hate it. Pilots who loved the MD-80 (the last aircraft my airline flew) hate the A320, and vice versa. I believe it's an aversion to giving so much control to an airplane.

    Personally, I call the airplane Lola. Because "whatever Lola wants, Lola gets." It's a reference to a song from 'Damn Yankees.' I find that she wants to be flown a certain way (i.e. managed all the way!). It just annoys her when you try to tell her how to do her job.

  2. Thanks for a great comment Mikel. I think I like the name Lola. If I changed my name to Lola... will I get whatever I want too? :)

    I can see why pilots think that give up all control with the Bus... but you don't really. It's all just an illusion. Disengage everything and she's just an airplane. I think if you don't completely understand what mode your in, and the reason she's doing what she's doing, you feel like you have no control.

    It annoys her when you tell he how to do her job? There proves my point... she is a woman!:)

  3. Brings to mind the words from the great poet Billy Joel:

    "She's frequently kind and she's suddenly cruel
    She can do as she pleases she's nobody's fool
    She can't be convicted,she's earned her degree
    And the most she will do is throw shadows at you, But she's always a woman to me"

  4. I've called the Airbus a lot of thing. Fifi isn't one of them. Great post as always Mrs. P.

  5. Marty... Inquiring minds want to know! Or do we? :)

  6. >>I think the answer lies in her original performance. She was a dog. <<
    What? I think not. Though A-320 engines have had a thrust increase over the last 2 decades, I wouldn't have considered "her" performance as a dog!
    If that's the case then I'll start referring to the 767 as the Basset Hound!

  7. No dog? Okay... I think they thought she was a dog because she was always coming back to the gate. But then... some called the little bus a boomerang... so the story goes. Once I loved the 767... but oh yeah..definitely a basset hound I don't want to go to. So... why do they call her Fifi?

  8. There is only one B-29 named FiFi, they weren't all nicknamed that.

  9. Thanks Anonymous! That's interesting. And why was only "one" B-29 named Fifi? how did she get her name?

  10. Vic Agather, the man behind the recovery of that particular B-29 from the China Lake bombing range, named the airplane after his wife 'FiFi'.

  11. This is so cool! Thank you for sharing this. I must know how you know Vic, and this story. Please email me. :) Thank you!!!

  12. The A320 is definetly a Dog, don't you hear the PTU running when starting the engines? that is definetly a Dog !

  13. She may be a dog. But don't tell her that. She'll get pissed and you'll be on the short leash.

  14. Karlene:

    The story about FIFI the B-29 (well, most of it) is HERE.



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