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Until 1962, the United States Navy, the United States Marine Corps and the United States Coast Guard used a system to designate their aircraft that included information about a craft's role and its manufacturer. For a listing of all such designations see List of military aircraft of the United States (naval).

The systemEdit

The system conveyed its information in the form:

(Mission)(Design Number)(Manufacturer)-(Subtype)(Minor Modification)

For example, F4U-1A referred to the first minor modification (A) to the first major subtype (1) of Chance-Vought's (U) fourth (4) fighter (F) design.

For the first few years after the system was introduced, the manufacturer's letter and the mission letter were sometimes reversed. If it was the manufacturer's first design for that particular mission, there was no number before the manufacturer letter.

MissionEdit

The mission of the aircraft was designated by a one or two letter code. This code would also indicate whether the craft was a glider (L), helicopter (H) or lighter-than-air (Z). Duplicated codes were not in use at the same time.

Design numberEdit

In cases where an aircraft was its manufacturer's first design for a particular mission, the 1 would not be written. Thus the Consolidated Catalina patrol aircraft was the PBY, not PB1Y, and the McDonnell Phantom was FH, not F1H.

ManufacturerEdit

The codes used to denote manufacturers were not unique to a single company as they were reassigned, usually when the company had either ceased operations or had not produced an aircraft for the Navy for a considerable period of time. Additionally, aircraft built under license received a separate design number than the aircraft produced by the designing company. For example, Goodyear produced Vought's F4U as the FG and Grumman's TBF torpedo bomber was produced by General Motors as the TBM. Foreign aircraft generally did not receive a designation under this system unless they were to be built under license in the United States, or were built in Canada for use in the U.S.

Special modificationsEdit

Letters were occasionally appended after the design number, in the same place held for minor modifications to the subtype. Adding 'N' to the Grumman F6F-5 designated the radar equipped nightfighter version of that model: F6F-5N. There was no standarization with these codes.

End of the systemEdit

In 1962, the Department of Defense unified its aircraft designation systems along the lines of the Air Force's system. Many Navy aircraft then in service were redesignated. For many planes, the mission letters and design numbers were retained, as the AD Skyraider became the A-1 and the F4H Phantom II became the F-4. Some aircraft design numbers were not retained, like the North American Vigilante, which was redesignated from A3J to A-5.

Similar systemsEdit

A very similar system, the short system, was adopted by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service in the late 1920s that differed only in the use of the 1 for the first assigned type, and having letters assigned to match Japanese aircraft and manufacturers.

Aircraft Type Codes[1]
Code Type Example Period
AAttackAD1946–1962
AAmbulanceAE1943–1962
BBomberBG1931–1946
BDBomber - DroneBDR1944
BFBomber - FighterBF2C1934–1937
BTBomber - TorpedoBTD1942–1945
DSDrone - AntisubmarineDSN1959–1962
FFighterF2A1922–1962
GAerial Refueling TankerGV-11958–1962
GGliderRG (USCG)1946–1962
GTransport, Single EnginedGK1939–1941
HHospitalHE1929–1942
HAir-Sea Rescuenever assigned1946–1962
HCHelicopter - CraneHCH1952–1955
HJHelicopter - UtilityHJP1944–1949
HNHelicopter - TrainingHNS1944–1948
HOHelicopter - ObservationHO4S1944–1962
HRHelicopter - TransportHRB1944–1962
HSHelicopter - anti-SubmarineHSS1951–1962
HTHelicopter - TrainingHTK1948–1962
HUHelicopter - UtilityHUP1950–1962
JUtilityJB1928–1955
JRUtility transportJRM1935–1955
KDDroneKDA1945–1962
LBGlider Bomb (unmanned)LBD1941–1945
LNGlider - TrainerLNE1941–1945
LRGlider - TransportLRW1941–1945
MMarine ExpeditionaryEM1922–1923
NTrainer[2]N3N1922–1946
OObservationO2U1922–1962
OSObservation ScoutOS2U1935–1945
PPatrolPV1922–1962
PTPatrol Torpedonever assigned1922
PBPatrol BomberPBY1935–1962
PTBPatrol Torpedo BomberPTBH1937–1938
PPursuitWP1922–1923
RRacerR2C1922–1928
RTransportR4D1931–1962
RORotocycleRON1954–1959
SScoutSC1922–1946
Santi-SubmarineS2F1946–1962
SBScout Bomber (dive bomber)SBD1934–1946
SNScout Trainer[3]SNJ1939–1946
SOScout ObservationSOC1934–1946
TTorpedoDT1922–1935
TTransportTA1927–1930
TTrainerT2J1946–1962
TBTorpedo BomberTBD1935–1946
TDTarget DroneTDC1942–1946
TSTorpedo ScoutTSF1943–1946
UUtilityUF1955–1962
Wairborne early WarningWF1952–1962
ZPPatrol AirshipZPG1947–1962
ZRRigid AirshipZR1922–1935
ZSScout AirshipZS2G1954–1962
ZTTraining AirshipZTG1947–1962
ZWairborne early Warning AirshipZWG1952–1962
Aircraft Manufacturer Codes[1]
Code Name Example Period
AAlliedXLRA1943
AAtlantic/General Aviation[4]XFA-11927–1932
ABrewsterF2A1935–1943
ANoorduynJA-11946
BBee lineBR-11922
BBoeingF2B1923–1962
BBeechcraftGB1937–1962
BBuddRB1942–1944
BSBlackburn (UK)BST1922
CCurtiss and Curtiss-WrightR4C1922–1962
CCulverTDC1941–1946
CCessnaJRC1943–1951
Cde Havilland CanadaUC1955–1962
CHCaspar(Germany)CST1922
DDouglas[5]R2D1922–1962
DMcDonnellFD1942–1946
DRadioplaneTDD1943-1948
DFrankfortTD3D1945-1946
DHde Havilland (UK)XDC-601927–1931
DWDayton-WrightSDW1923
EBellancaXRE1931–1937
ECessnaOE1951–1962
EDetroitTE1928
EEdoOSE1943–1962
EEliasEM1922–1924
EHillerYROE1948–1962
EPiperAE-11941–1945
EPratt-Read/GouldLNE1942–1945
FGrummanSF1931–1962
FFairchild-CanadaSBF1942–1945
FFokker (Netherlands)FT1922
GA.G.A. (originally Pitcairn)XLRG1941–1942
GEberhartXF2G1927–1928
GGallaudetnot used1922–1923
GGlobeKDG1946–1959
GGoodyearF2G1942–1962
GGreat LakesBG1929–1935
HHall-AluminumPH1928–1937
HPHandley Page(UK)HPS1922–1923
HHowardGH1941–1944
HHuff-DalandHO1922–1927
HMcDonnellF3H1946–1962
HSneadLRH1942
HStearman-HammondJH1937–1939
JBerliner-Joyce[4]OJ1929–1935
JGeneral Aviation[4]PJ1935–1937
JNorth American[4]SNJ 1937–1962
JLJunkers-LarsonJL1922
KFairchild/Kreider-ReisnerXR2K1935,
1937-1942
KKaiser-FleetwingsXBTK1948–1950
KKamanHTK/HOK/HUK1950–1962
KKeystonePK1927–1930
KKinnerXRK1935–1936
KJ. V. MartinKF1922–1924
KNash-KelvinatorJRK1942
LBellXFL1939–1962
LColumbiaXJL1944–1946
LLangleyXNL1940
LLoeningOL1923–1933
LL.W.F.not used1922
MMartinJRM1922–1962
MGeneral Motors (Eastern)TBM1942–1945
MMcCullochHUM1951–1952
NGyrodyne CompanyDSN1960
NNaval Aircraft FactoryN3N1922–1962
OLockheedR2O1931–1942
OPiperUO1955–1962
OVikingOO1923–1941
PPiasecki/P.V./VertolHUP1946–1962
PPiperLNP1941–1945
PPitcairnOP1931–1932
PSpartanNP1940–1941
PLParnall(UK)PL?1922
QBristol[6]XLRQ1941–1943
QFairchildJ2Q1928–1962
QHall-Aluminumunkn. designation1926
QStinsonXR3Q1934–1936
RAeroncaLNR1942–1946
RAmerican Aviationunk. designation1942
RBrunswickdrone, unk. designation1942–1943
RFordJR/RR1927–1932
RInterstateTDR1942–1945
RMaxsonNR1939–1940
RRadioplaneKD2R1940–1952
RRyanFR1948–1962
ROMeridionali Romeo (Italy)unk. designation 1933
SAeromarineAS1922
SSchweizerLNS1941
SSikorskyJRS1928–1962
SSperryDrone, unk. designation1950
SStearmanN2S1934–1945
SStoutST1922
SSupermarineST reserved, not used1943
TNew StandardNT 1930–1934
TNorthropF2T1933-1937 &
1944-1962
TTaylorcraftLBT1942–1946
TTemcoKDT1955–1962
TThomas-MorseR-5 maybe not used1922
TTimmN2T1941–1943
UChance-VoughtF4U 1922–1962
VCanadian VickersPBV1941–1945
VLockheedP2V1942–1962
VVulteeSNV1943–1945
VKVickersViking unk. designation1923
WCanadian Car & FoundrySBW1942–1945
WWacoXJW1934–1945
WWillys-Overlandunk. designation1948–1962
WWrightNW1922–1926
XCox-KleminXS1922–1924
YConsolidatedPBY1926–1954
YStinsonOY1942–1950
YConvairF2Y1954–1962
ZWilford/PennsylvaniaXOZ1933–1934

NotesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 Swanborough, Gordon and Peter Bowers, US Navy Aircraft Since 1911, Putnam, 1990, ISBN 0-85177-838-0
  2. analogous to USAAC Primary Trainer
  3. analogous to USAAF Advanced Trainer
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Atlantic, Berliner-Joyce, General Aviation and North American Aviation shared a lineage as a result of mergers and renamings, hence the reuse of the designation letter "J"
  5. The US Navy RD-2 and the USCG RD-2 designations referred to two substanntially different versions of the Douglas Dolphin
  6. Unrelated to British company of similar name.

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