US Navy aircraft designations, 1939-1945

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by evangilder, Jun 14, 2011.

  1. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    #1 evangilder, Jun 14, 2011
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2011
    US Navy aircraft designations used between 1939 and 1945 are kind of cryptic and confusing, but every digit in the designation has meaning. Not all components of the designation are used for all aircraft, which adds to the confusion. Hopefully, this will help make it more clear.

    Basic components of the designation system

    1. Special Class or Prefix
    This was used for aircraft that had special purposes. There were only three types in the special class.

    X Experimental classification
    L Gliders
    H Helicopters

    2. Aircraft Type or Class
    This was the main identifier of the types of duties or missions that the aircraft would perform. There are several in this classification.

    A Ambulance
    B Bomber
    BT Bomber-Torpedo
    F Fighter
    G Single-engined Transport
    H Hospital
    J Utility
    JR Utility Transport
    N Trainer
    O Observation
    OS Observation-Scout
    P Patrol
    PB Patrol-Bomber
    R Transport
    S Scout
    SB Scout-Bomber
    SN Scout-Trainer
    SO Scout-Observation
    TB Torpedo-Bomber
    TD Target Drone
    TS Torpedo-Scout

    3. Manufacturer's Type Sequence
    If this was the first of the type, no number was included. If there were multiple manufacturer types, a number great than 2 would be insterted between the Aircraft Type and the manufacturer code.

    4. Manufacturer Codes
    This is where things can get a little fuzzy, as some manufacturers were glider manufacturers with designations used for non-glider production. There are also times when designations were used for multiple manufacturers. I will denote which ones were for gliders.

    A Allied Aviation Corporation (gliders)
    A Brewster Aeronautical
    B Beech
    B Boeing
    B Budd Manufacturing
    C Culver Aircraft Corp.
    C Curtiss Aeroplane Motor Co.
    D Douglas Aircraft Corp., McDonnell Aircraft Corp. in 1942
    D Radioplane Corp. (drones)
    E Edo Aircraft Corp.
    E Gould Aeronautical Corp. (gliders)
    E Piper Aircraft Corp.
    E Pratt-Read (gliders)
    F Fairchild Aircraft, Ltd. Canada
    F Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp.
    G Goodyear Aircraft Corp.
    G Great Lakes Aircraft Co.
    G A.G.A. Aviation Corp. (gliders)
    H Hall-Aluminum Aircraft Corp.
    H Howard Aircraft Co.
    H Snead and Co. (gliders)
    J North American Aviation Corp.
    K Fairchild Aircraft Corp.
    K Kaiser Cargo, Inc. Fleetwings Div.
    K Nash-Kelvinator Corp.
    L Bell Aircraft Corp.
    L Columbia Aircraft Corp.
    L Langley Aviation Corp.
    M Glenn L. Martin Co.
    M General Motors Corp. Eastern Aircraft Division
    N Naval Aircraft Factory
    O Lockheed Aircraft Corp. Plant B
    P Piper Aircraft Corp. (gliders)
    P P-V Engineering Forum (later became Piasecki, Vertol)
    P Spartan Aircraft Co.
    Q Bristol Aeronautical Corp. (gliders)
    Q Fairchild Engine Airplane Corp.
    R Aeronca Aircraft Corp. (Army TG-5 gliders)
    R American Aviation Corp. (gliders)
    R Brunswick-Balke-Collender Corp.
    R Interstate Aircraft Eng. (drones)
    R Ryan Aeronautical Co.
    S Schweizer Aircraft Corp. (gliders)
    S Sikorsky Aviation Corp.
    S Stearman Aircraft Co. (became Boeing-Wichita in 1939)
    S Supermarine
    T Taylorcraft Aviation Corp. (Army TG-6 gliders)
    T Northrop Aircraft, Inc.
    T Timm Aircraft Corp.
    U Chance Vought Corp.
    V Lockeed Aircraft Corp. Vega Plant A
    V Canadian Vickers, Ltd.
    V Vultee Aircraft, Inc. (became part of Consolidated as Convair, code Y, in 1942)
    W Waco Aircraft Corp. (gliders)
    W Canadian Car Foundry Co., Ltd.
    Y Consolidated Aircraft Corp. (became Convair in 1942)

    5. Sub-type or Configuration
    This would be a -number designation to denote changes in design, minor and major. These would not necessarily be sequential, as some design changes were not placed into production.

    6. Special Use or Equipment Suffix
    This is like the "Catch-all" designation for any special equipment that is added to the aircraft. Again, some of the designations can be used for multiple special equipment.

    A Miscellaneous modification
    A Armament on normally unarmed aircraft
    A Arresting gear on normally non-carrier aircraft
    A Amphibian
    A Procured from Army
    B Miscellaneous modification
    B Special armament
    B British version
    C* Arrester gear added
    C Reinforced for catapulting
    C Cannon armament
    CP Trimetrogen camera
    D* Drop tanks
    D Special search or early radar
    E Electronic equipment
    F Flagship conversion
    G Coast Guard version
    G* Guns on normally unarmed aircraft
    H* Hospital conversion
    J* Special weather equipment
    K Drone conversion
    L Winterized
    L Searchlight carrier
    N Night fighter
    P Photographic
    R Support aircraft
    R Transport conversion
    S Anti-submarine
    U Utility
    W Special search or radar
    Z Administrative version

    So to put the above into perspective, lets look at an example. We will use Terry's favorite, the Wildcat.

    F4F-3
    F=Fighter
    4=Fourth fighter produced by this manufacturer
    F=Grumman
    -3= Revised version of the initial F4F.

    SNJ-6B
    SN=Scout-Trainer
    J=North American
    -6=Revision 6 of the original production model
    B=Miscellaneous equipment or Special Version or British Version

    Once you get the hang of it, you can decrypt the designations and figure out what it does, who made it, and other information.
     
  2. Lighthunmust

    Lighthunmust Banned

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    Thank you. I hope you will make this a sticky. That would help me and other people maintain sanity when trying to understand USN designations. Perhaps it could be expanded to include the coding systems of other nations and services?
     
  3. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    While this document might help everyone maintain their sanity on designations, I wonder what compiling lists of other nations would do to my sanity! ;) It is something I would like to tackle someday, but that is quite a big undertaking.
     
  4. Lighthunmust

    Lighthunmust Banned

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    Would you like some help? I would think any member coming across information could post it for you to edit. It could be a long term project for anyone who wanted to help. Just a suggestion.
     
  5. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    For gathering this kind of info for all nations, it would probably have to be a group effort. I know some of the documentation for the IJN/IJA is in Japanese, and while I know some conversational Japanese, I can't read or write it. I welcome anyone to contribute to this thread and I can create another thread to compile what we have. It could be an interesting project.
     
  6. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    How many nations or even "forces" used such a designation system?

    The USAAC/USAAF system just told you what type of plane and the place in the order system and even that was pretty spotty. I don't think the British had a system and the German "system" while it allotted type numbers in blocks to manufacturers may not have told you what type of plane it was and in some cases type numbers were allotted out out of sequence.
     
  7. Lighthunmust

    Lighthunmust Banned

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    I don't know of anything as arcane as the USN system. It will be interesting to see what is found.
     
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