What's In a Name?

Have you been hearing a lot about Whiskey Mike or Charlie Mike lately? LifeFlight of Maine's helicopters and airplane, like most aircraft, have nicknames which are based on each one's unique tail number identifier. Back in 1998, when LifeFlight was started with two helicopters purchased by Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems in Bangor and Central Maine Health Care in Lewiston, the organization's founders chose the numbers N901EM and N901CM.

All US civilian-registered aircraft identifiers start with the letter N. The 901 portion came from the helicopter model, an AgustaWestland 109. N109 was already taken, so we flipped it around to N901. The EM was added to signify "Eastern Maine" and the CM for "Central Maine."

The LifeFlight airplane arrived in 2015 and was given the number N901LM. Since the plane has a much larger range than the helicopters (across the state and also up and down the eastern seaboard), the LM stands for "LifeFlight Maine."

The brand new third helicopter sports the number N901WM for "Western Maine."

Throughout the aviation world, people use the ICAO phonetic alphabet to communicate the letters often found in aircraft identifiers. ICAO stands for International Civilian Aviation Organization, the group that developed the system back in the 1950s in an effort to avoid confusion or discrepancies in radio communications. In this system, every letter has a specific word that represents it. So A, B, C translates to Alfa, Bravo, Charlie and so on.

Here at LifeFlight, we often refer to the aircraft using the words that correspond with the last two letters of each identifier. So we get Echo Mike (EM), Charlie Mike (CM), Lima Mike (LM) and Whiskey Mike (WM).

In the case of our newest helicopter, Whiskey Mike, we have also seen a second nickname emerge: the Lobster Chopper. This $6.5 million aircraft was supported almost entirely by private donations, led by the very generous $3 million contribution from Linda Bean and her lobster company, Bean Maine Lobster. In recognition of this leadership gift, we replaced one of the helicopter's signature gold stripes with a red one, and will also be adding the company's logo to the side of the aircraft when it arrives in Maine ... hence the Lobster Chopper.