The autopilot of an airplane is frequently referred to as "George" (for example, in this answer). When did this nickname enter common usage, and what is its origin? Please cite sources if possible!


4 Answers 4


The first "practical" autopilot was invented by George DeBeeson (the patent can be found here, updated here) - This seems to be the most likely reason for the informal name "George" for the autopilot system on aircraft.

Autopilots are also sometimes called "Otto" (as in Otto the Autopilot from Airplane!, and our very own chat bot, but this seems to be less common than "George".

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Don't forget Otto from Wall-E ! (Actually it could be "Auto" there, but to me they sound just about the same.) $\endgroup$
    – Tonny
    May 28, 2014 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ Audible warning systems are often called "Bitchin' Betty@. $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Nov 16, 2015 at 13:00

It is my understanding that the Pullman railcar of America ran an advert at the turn oh the 19 century "let George do it"

Source: https://h2g2.com/edited_entry/A87996172

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site! Do you have any source that links that to aviation? $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Aug 16, 2016 at 22:12

The term "George" as a reference to autopilots originated in the RAF in WWII. It is a reference to the aircraft's "owner" King George. Also, at the time, there was a popular radio show referenced in an earlier answer that may have reinforced the use of "George". I have spoken to a number of British WWII pilots. Everyone assumed it was a reference to King George. None of these pilots were aware of the name of the inventor of the earliest autopilot. They were, however, aware of the name Sperry.

  • $\begingroup$ You should provide links and references to improve your answer. $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Nov 16, 2015 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ Who is “Sperry” and why is that relevant? $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Feb 15, 2022 at 16:14

Perhaps from the Old Tyme Radio Show "Let George Do It!" wherein the hero hired himself out to do jobs too tough for his customers.

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    $\begingroup$ This answer appears to be little more than speculation. Are there any references you can cite which would support your proposed answer? $\endgroup$
    – user
    May 28, 2014 at 11:03

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