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Aircraft Carrier Training

An F/A-18 Super Hornet sits on the flight deck of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, off the coast of Florida, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009. The ship was participating in a Joint Task Force Exercise in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

“Bitchin’ Betty” is no longer crabby.

She’s no longer “Betty,” either. She’s now Leslie Shook, a retired Boeing employee who lives with her husband and 92-year-old mother in the Harvester area of St. Charles County.

Shook recently retired from providing the voice of cockpit warnings heard by F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter pilots worldwide.

When an F/A-18 pilot hears “Roll right! Roll right!” that is Shook’s recorded voice giving the urgent order. Same with “Pull up! Pull up!” and dozens of other voice commands meant to help pilots avoid disaster.

“Bitchin’ Betty” is the nickname pilots have for stern and insistent voice instructions that are part of cockpit warning systems in military aircraft.

Though Shook, 60, has never ridden in an F/A-18, her Southern-accented voice has flown with all of the plane’s pilots for 20 years.

She got her start one evening in a recording studio at McDonnell Douglas’s complex at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, where technicians transferred cockpit voice commands from the F-15 fighter to the F/A-18. Officials determined the incumbent “Bitchin’ Betty’s” voice lacked the urgency required for four new commands.

Shook, a media producer filling in that evening as a sound engineer, was asked to step into the recording booth. She knew what was required and snapped out the commands. At the time, her focus was completing the job quickly.

“In the interest of getting home and having dinner at some point that evening, I went in the booth and did the initial four calls,” she said. “And it went on from there.”

Because company officials admired Shook’s initial performance and wanted cockpit commands in a single voice, she wound up recording all the instructions as the F/A-18’s new voice commands.

Boeing and McDonnell Douglas merged in 1997; Shook remained with the company and her voice stayed with the aircraft.

Her retirement prompted coverage by NPR, the Marine Corps Times, the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom and other media outlets.

Shook said Sunday she assumes her voice will stay in the F/A-18 as long as the aircraft continues to fly.

Though she no longer records for Boeing, she recently used her voice in a present for her husband, William Shook, who works for the company in logistics support. For Valentine’s Day, she got him a stuffed animal equipped with a voice chip.

“He has a Teddy Bear that says: ‘I love you. I love you,’” she said.

Tim Bryant is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.