“Bitchin’ Betty’s” real name is Leslie Shook, but many of the men and women whose lives she’s saved don’t know that.
Shook has been on every flight the F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter has flown since 1995, when the F-18 entered service — or at least her voice has.
Fighter jets, like most airplanes, have pre-recorded emergency messages and command prompts to call a pilot’s attention to aspects of the plane more urgently than a blinking light can. When Boeing was designing the F-18, many of the alert messages transferred over from its predecessor, the F-15, but they still needed to record more. Leslie Shook was a media producer for Boeing filling in as a sound engineer to record the sound bytes, but the hired voice talent wasn’t cutting it. The voice of the cockpit warning system had to be urgent, sharp, and commanding, Shook thought, and while she was demonstrating what she wanted, her manager overheard her. The fill-in sound director became the talent, as Shook became “Bitchin’ Betty,” the affectionate nickname fighter pilots give the disembodied voice of their plane’s warning system.
Bitchin’ Betty is a term of endearment — pilots know that her word is law in the cockpit, and while they may act like she’s a nag, they also know she will save their lives. While she doesn’t say “Do a barrel roll!”, Betty’s instructions to “Pull up! Pull up!” or “Roll right! Roll Right!” are the last line of warning before a pilot makes a fatal error, something Shook said she has heard about from friends.
“You hear this voice every day telling you things are okay or that you need to take action,” Dana Perkins, a Weapons Systems Operator at Boeing Flight Operations, said. “You start trusting this person’s voice. If she said ‘stand up straight,’ everyone would stand up straight!”
Twenty years later, she’s ready to retire, and Boeing took her out to a U.S. Air Force hangar to say goodbye to the planes she’d been a part of for so many years.
But Shook’s legacy will live on, as long as the Super Hornet stays in service. Other aircraft have different “Bitchin’ Betty” (or “Barkin’ Bob” if the voice is male) recordings, but Shook will continue to snap orders at an entire generation of F-18 pilots even as she steps into retirement. She’s even got a beer named after her, and although the “Bitchin’ Betty” term seems to be universal to Cockpit Alert Systems voices, we’d like to think that the brewers had Shook in mind.
“Retiring is hard work!” Shook said. “I have loved these planes for a lot of years, so I wanted to come out and say goodbye, say goodbye to the girls.”