She is the invisible crewmate inside every F/A-18 Hornet cockpit, shelling out snappy commands and dire warnings to even the world’s most experienced and confident fighter pilots. Now, the woman behind the Hornet’s famous Bitchin’ Betty aural warning system, with its distinct southern drawl, is retiring.
Leslie Shook has been Boeing’s voice for the Hornet for over 20 years, a bitter-sweet job at times because she knows full well that pilots generally don’t like hearing her pipe up—but then again, listening to her could save their lives.
Oral voice warning systems in cockpits have been around for many decades, augmenting and in some cases even replacing the warring lights and chimes of the early jet age. Yet they aren’t all voiced by women—far from it. “Barking Bob” may be your invisible safety pilot on certain aircraft, especially on many Airbus products for instance (see video below).
Some of the newest systems don’t just bitch, but they also give regular situational awareness reports, threat information, and mechanical function updates to air crews. This allows pilots or weapon system officers to keep their eyes outside the cockpit or focused more intently on the tactical picture at hand.
It is only fitting that America’s premier naval fighter talks to its crews like a stern but loving mother from Georgia. As for Betty—or should I say, Leslie— after 20 years of being the Hornet’s anthropomorphic voice, she knows just how important her work has been and that it will fly on until the Super Hornet ceases to plow the skies.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.