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U.S. NAVAL AIRCRAFT
DESIGNATIONS, 1922-1962


Introduction

In March 1922, following a reorganization of naval aviation into the Bureau of Aeronautics, a new aircraft designation system was adopted.  Two classes of aircraft were recognized.  Aeroplanes were identified by the letter "V'  and airships, lighter-than-air (LTA), were identified by "Z".  The V and Z were used for administrative purposes and didn't appear in actual aircraft designations with the exception of some LTA where Z appears in the rigid airship designation.  The more common use of V and Z is in the squadron designation where for example, VP and ZP designate patrol squadrons of heavier than air and LTA aircraft. 

Naval aircraft are identified by an alpha numeric sequence that in the basic form details aircraft manufacturer, type and model.  These designations consists of a minimum of three parts and a maximum of six parts.  Three sample aircraft designations are broken into the six parts of the designation in the following sample table.  The six parts of the aircraft designation are more fully elaborated in the text below.

Sample Table
XF4B-1 X F 4 B -1  
SB2C-4C   SB 2 C -4 C
HO2S-1   HO 2 S -1  
Part (5) (1) (4) (2) (3) (6)

The definitions of the six parts of the designation are:
(1) Type or Class (Required)
(2) Manufacturer Code (Required)
(3) Aircraft Configuration Sequence (Required)
(4) Manufacturer Type Sequence (Optional, but required for the second and subsequent aircraft produced by the manufacturer.)
(5) Status or Class Prefix (Optional)
(6) Special Purpose Suffix (Optional)

1. Type or Class (Required)


One or two letters are used to identify the basic purpose of the aircraft.  Originally, only single letters were used but the need for amplification of aircraft function led to the use of up to two letters in March 1934.  In one case three letters are used to identify the basic purpose of the aircraft. 

The letter/s assigned during the period 1922-1962 follow with the general dates of use and examples of an aircraft of each type.

A
Ambulance (1943-1946) (Piper AE-1 Cub)
Attack (1946-1962) (Douglas AD-1 Skyraider)

B
Bomber (1931-1943) (Douglas BD-1 Havoc)

BF
Bomber Fighter (1934-1937)(Curtiss BF2C-1 Goshawk)

BT
Bomber Torpedo (1942-1946; to A in 1946) (Douglas BD2D-1 Destroyer II)

DS
Anti-Submarine Drone (1959-1962) (Gyrodyne DSN-1 DASH)   

F
Fighter (1922-1962) (Goodyear FG-1E Corsair)

G
Glider (1946-1962) (Schweizer G-8)
Transport, single-engine (1939-1941) (Beech GB-1 Traveler)
In-Flight refueling tanker (1958-1962) (Lockheed GV-1 Hercules)

H
Hospital (1942; to A in 1943) (Piper HE-1 Cub)
Air-Sea-Rescue (1946-1962) (

HC
Helicopter, Crane (1952-1955) (McDonnell HCH)

HJ
Helicopter, Utility (1944-1949) (Sikorsky XHJS-1)

HN
Helicopter, Training (1944-1948) (Sikorsky HNS-1 Hoverfly)

HO
Helicopter, Observation (1944-1962) (Sikorsky HOS-1 Hoverfly)

HR
Helicopter, Transport (1944-1962) (Sikorsky HRS-1)

HS
Helicopter Anti-submarine (1951-1962 ) (Sikorsky HSS-1 Seabat)

HT
Helicopter, Training (1948-1962) (Hiller HTE)

HU
Helicopter, Utility (1950-1962) (Sikorsky HUS-1 Seahorse)

J
Utility, General (1931-1955) (Grumman JF-1 Duck)
Utility Transport (1928-1931) (Ford JR Tri-Motor)

JR
Utility Transport (1935-1955) (Beechcraft JRB-3 Expeditor)

KD
Target Drone (1945-1962) (Beechcraft KD2B)

LB
Glider, Bomb-Carrying (1941-1945) (Piper LBP-1)

LN
Glider, Training (1941-1945) (Pratt-Read LNE-1)

LR
Glider, Transport (1941-1945) (Waco LRW-1 Haig)

M
Marine Expenditionary (1922-1923) (Elias EM-2)

N
Trainer (1922-1960) (Stearman N2S-4 Kaydet)

O
Observation (1922-1962) (Stinson OY-1 Sentinel)

OS
Observation Scout (1935-1945) (Vought OS2U-3 Kingfisher)

P
Patrol (1923-1962) (Lockheed PV-2C Ventura)
Pursuit (1923) (Wright WP-1)

PB
Patrol Bomber (1935-1962) (Martin PBM-3D Mariner)

PT
Patrol Torpedo Bomber (1937)(Hall XPTBH-2)

R
Racer (1922-1928) (Curtiss R3C-2)
Transport (1931-1962) (Douglas R4D-5 Skytrain)

RO
Rotocycle (1954-1959) (Hiller ROE-1)

S
Anti-submarine (1946-1962) (Grumman S2F-1 Tracker)
Scout (1922-1946) (Curtiss SC-2 Seahawk)

SB
Scout Bomber (1934-1946) (Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless)

SN
Scout Trainer (1939-1948) (North American SNJ-3C Texan)

SO
Scout Observation (1934-1946) (Curtiss SOC-3A Seagull)

T
Torpedo (1922-1935) (Douglas DT-2)
Trainer (1948-1962) (Lockheed T2V-1 Seastar)
Transport (1927-1930) (Atlantic TA-1)

TB
Torpedo Bomber (1935-1946) (Douglas TBD-1 Devastator)

TD
Target Drone (1942-1946) (Culver TDC-1 Cadet)

TS
Torpedo Scout (1943) (Grumman XTSF-1)

U
Utility (1955-1962 ) (Grumman UF-1 Albatross)
Unpiloted Drone (1946-1955) (Culver UC-1K)

W
Early Warning (1952-1962) (Grumman W2F-1 Hawkeye)

2. Manufacturer Code (Required)

The manufacturer of the aircraft is indicated by a one alpha character code. Since the Navy purchases aircraft from many manufactures the same letter may be used to specify multiple suppliers.  The Manufacturer Codes used from 1922-1962 are shown below.  Companies in parenthesis are affiliated or purchased the original company.  The dates of Navy affiliation may vary.

A:
Aeromarine Plane and Motor Company, Keyport, New Jersey (1922)
Atlantic Aircraft Corporation (American Fokker), New Jersey (1927-1930)
Allied Aviation Corporation, Cockeysville, Maryland (1941-1943)
Brewster Aeronautical Corporation, Long Island City, New York (1935-1943)
General Aviation Corporation (ex Atlantic Aircraft), New Jersey (1930-1932)
Noorduyn Aviation, Limited, Montreal, Quebec, Canada (1946)

B:
Beech Aircraft Corporation, Wichita, Kansas (1937-1945)
The Boeing Airplane Company, Seattle, Washington (1923-1959)
Boeing Aircraft of Canada, Limited, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (1941-1945
Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1942-1944)

C:
The Cessna Aircraft Company, Wichita, Kansas (1943-1962)
Culver Aircraft Corporation, Wichita, Kansas (1943-1946)
Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, Hammondsport, New York (1922-1946)
The Curtiss-Wright Corporation, Airplane Division, New York, New York (1948-1962)
DeHaviland Aircraft of Canada, Downsview, Ontario, Canada (1955-1962)

D:
The Douglas Aircraft Company, Santa Monica, California (1922-1962)
Frankfort Sailplane Company, Joliet, Illinois (1945-1946)
McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri (1942-1946)
The Radioplane Company, Van Nuys, California (1943-1962)

DH:
DeHaviland Aircraft Company, Limited, England (1927-1931)

DW:
Dayton-Wright Airplane Company, Dayton, Ohio (1923)

E:
Bellanca Aircraft Corporation, New Castle, Delaware (1931-1937)
Edo Aircraft Corporation, College Point, Long Island, New York (1943-1946)
Cessna Aircraft Company, (Pratt-Read) (1942-1945)
G. Elias & Brothers, Buffalo, New York (1922-1924)
Hiller Aircraft Corporation Palo Alto, California (1948-1962)
Eberhart Steel Products Company (1922-1923)
The Piper Aircraft Corporation, Lockhaven, Pennsylvania (1941-1945)
Gould Aeronautical  (Pratt-Read) (1942-1945)
Pratt-Read & Company, Deep River, Connecticut (1942-1945)

F:
Fairchild Aircraft Ltd , Longueuil, Quebec, Canada (1942-1945)
The Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, Bethpage, Long Island, New York (1931-1962)
Columbia Aircraft Company (Commonwealth Aircraft) (1943-1944)

G:
A.G.A. Aviation Corporation (G & A Aviation) (Firestone), Willowgrove, Pennsylvania (1942)
The Goodyear Aircraft Corporation, Akron, Ohio (1942-1962)
Great Lakes Aircraft Corporation, Cleveland, Ohio (1929-1935)
Globe Aircraft Corporation, Fort Worth, Texas (1946-1948)
Gallaudet Aircraft Corporation, Norwich, Connecticut (1929-1935)

H:
Hall-Aluminum Aircraft Corporation, Bristol, Pennsylvania (1928-1940)
Howard Aircraft Corporation, St Charles, Illinois (1941-1944)
Huff-Daland Company, Ogdensburg, New York (1923-1932)
Snead and Company (1942)
McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri (1946-1952)
Stearman-Hammond  Aircraft Corporation, San Francisco, California (1937-1939)

J:
North American Aviation Corporation, Inglewood, California (1937-1962)
Berliner-Joyce Aircraft Company, Dundalk, Maryland (1937-1942)

K:
The Fairchild Aircraft Division of the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation, New York, New York (1937-1942)
Kaiser Cargo, Incorporated, Fleetwings Divison, Bristol, Pennsylvania (1943-1945)
Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, Detroit, Michigan (1942)
Kaman Aircraft Corporation, Bloomfield, Connecticut (1950-1962)
Keystone, Bristol, Pennsylvania (1927-1932)
Kinner Airplane & Motor Corporation, Van Nuys, California (1935-1936)

L:
Bell Aircraft Corporation, Buffalo, New York (1939-1962)
Columbia Aircraft Corporation, Valley Stream, Long Island, New York (1944-1945)
Andover Kent Aviation Corporation, New Brunswick, New Jersey. (1942-1943)
Grover Loening Aircraft Company, New York, New York (1928-1933)
Loening Aeronautical Engineering Corporation, (Curtiss-Wright) New York, New York (1922-1928)

M:
The Glenn L. Martin Company, Baltimore, Maryland (1922-1962)
General Motors Corporation, Eastern Aircraft Division, Linden, New Jersey (1942-1945)

N:
The Naval Aircraft Factory, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1922-1945)
Gyrodyne Company of America, St. James, Long Island, New York (1955-1962)
Naval Air Development Station (ex Brewster factory), Johnsville, Pennsylvania (1948-1962)

O:
The Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, Burbank, California (1931-1950)

P:
The Piper Aircraft Corporation, Lockhaven, Pennsylvania (1942-1943)
P-V Engineering Forum, Inc., Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania (1944-1945)
The Spartan Aircraft Company, Tulsa, Oklahoma (1940-1941)
Pitcairn Autogyro Company, (G & A Aviation) (Firestone) Horsham, Pennsylvania (1931-1932)
Piasecki Helicopter Corporation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1946-1955)
Vertol Aircraft Corporation, Morton, Pennsylvannia (1955-1962)

Q:
Bristol Aeronautical Corporation, New Haven, Connecticut (1941-1943)
The Fairchild Aircraft Division of the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation, New York, New York (1937-1942)
Stinson Aircraft Division of Aviation Manufacturing Corporation, Wayne, Michigan (1934-1936)

R:
The Aeronca Aircraft Corporation, Middletown, Ohio (1942)
American Aviation Corporation (1942)
Brunswick-Balke-Collender Corporation, Chicago, Illinois (1942-1943)
Interstate Aircraft & Engineering Corporation, El Segundo, California (1942-1962)
Maxson-Brewster Corporation (W.L. Maxson Corporation), New York, New York (1939-1940)
Radioplane Division, Northrop Corporation, Van Nuys, California (1943-1962)
The Ryan Aeronautical Company, San Diego, California (1941-1946)
Ford Motor Company, Dearborn, Michigan (1927-1932)

S:
Sikorsky Manufacturing Corporation, College Point, Long Island, New York (1928-1929)
Sikorsky Aviation Division, United Aircraft Corp, Stratford, Connecticut (1929-1939)
Vought-Sikorsky Aviation Division, United Aircraft Corp, Stratford, Connecticut (1939-1943)
Sikorsky Aviation Division, United Aircraft Corp, Bridgeport, Connecticut (1928-1962)
Stearman Aircraft Division, Boeing Aircraft Corporation, Wichita, Kansas (1940-1945)
Vickers-Armstrong, Ltd, Southampton, England (1943)
Schweizer Aircraft Corporation, Elmira, New York(1941)
Sperry Gyroscope Company (North American Aviation) (Sperry Corporation), New York  (1948-1962)

T:
Taylorcraft Aviation Corporation, Alliance, Ohio (1942)
The Northrop Corporation, Hawthorne, California (1933-1937)
Northrop Aircraft, Hawthorne, California (1933-1937)
Timm Aircraft Corporation, Van Nuys, California (1941-1943)
Tempco Aircraft Corporation, Dallas, Texas (1955-1962)
New Standard Aircraft Corporation, Patterson, New Jersey (1930-1934)

U:
Lewis & Vought, Long Island, New York (1922-1929)
Chance Vought Corporation, Hartford, Connecticut (1929-1935)
Chance Vought Aircraft Division. United Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation, Hartford, Connecticut (1935-1936)
Chance Vought Aircraft Division, United Aircraft Corporation, Hartford, Connecticut (1936-1939)
Vought-Sikorsky Division, United Aircraft Corporation, Stratford, Connecticut (1939-1943)
Chance Vought Aircraft Division, United Aircraft Corporation, Stratford, Connecticut (1943-1954)

V:
Vega Aircraft Corp, Burbank, California (1942-1943)
The Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, Burbank, California (1943-1962)
Canadian Vickers, Limited, Montreal, Canada (1942-1944)
Canadair, Limited Montreal, Canada (1944-1945)
Vultee Aircraft, Inc., Downey, California (1941)

W:
The Waco Aircraft Co. Troy, Ohio (1934-1945)
Canadian Car & Foundry Company Limited, Montreal, Quebec, Canada (1942-1945)
Willys-Overland Company, Toledo, Ohio (1948-1962)
Wright Aeronautical Corporation, Paterson, New Jersey (Curtiss-Wright),  (1922-1926)

X:
Cox-Klemin Aircraft Corporation, College Point, New York (1922-1924)

Y:
The Consolidated Aircraft Corporation, San Diego, California (1926-1943)
The Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation, San Diego, California (1943-1962)
General Dynamics Corporation, Convair Division, Fort Worth, Texas (1954-1962)

Z:
Pennsylvania Aircraft Syndicate, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1933-1934)

3. Aircraft Configuration Sequence (Required)

The Aircraft Configuration Sequence, a one numeric character indicates the version of the aircraft starting with the number “1".  The Navy identified the first experimental version, e.g., XSB2C-1, and the first production version, e.g., SB2C-1, with the same numeric even though there may be major changes between the two aircraft. Subsequent versions of the aircraft would have a different numeric, e.g., SB2C-2, SB2C-3, etc.

4. Manufacturer Type Sequence (Optional, but required for second and subsequent aircraft produced by a manufacturer)

The manufacturer type sequence, a numeric character, identifies the procurement sequence of different models of a similar type purchased from the same manufacturer.  In example, the first fighter the USN purchased from Grumman was the FF-1 (the number “1" is implied), the second fighter purchased from Grumman was the F2F-1, the third was the F3F-1, the fourth was the F4F-1 Wildcat.  The numbering applies to the type of class of aircraft.  The first Utility Transport (Class JR) that the USN purchased from Grumman was the JRF-1 Goose (the number “1" is implied) and the second Utility Transport was the JR2F-1 Albatross.

5. Status or Class Prefix (Optional)

The status or class prefix first introduced in 1927 indicates an experimental or prototype aircraft. Up through World War II, the only letter used was “X” indicating an experimental aircraft.  Example, XSB2C-1.

6. Special Purpose Suffix (Optional)

The Special Purpose Suffix is a one- or two-alpha character code to indicate a special configuration of the basic aircraft.  The one exception to this rule, the North American PBJ-1 Mitchell is the Navy version of the Army Air Force B-25. The Special Purpose Suffix for the PBJ-1 was the same letter as the USAAF’s Series Letter:  PBJ-1C  is the B-25C and the PBJ-1 continues to follow the Army suffix through the J model.

Codes assigned.

A
Amphibious version (PBY-5A)
Armament on normally unarmed aircraft (J2F-2A)
Arrester gear on non-carrier aircraft (SOC-3A)
Built for or obtained from Army Air Force (SBD-3A)
Land-based version of carrier aircraft (F4F-3A)
Miscellaneous modification (JRF-1A)
Non-folding wings and no carrier provisions (SB2C-1A)
Target Towing and photography (JRF-1A)

B
British lend-lease version (F4U-4B)
Special armament version (PB4Y-2B)
 
C
British-American standardized version (PBM-3C)
Carrier operating version of a non-carrier aircraft (SNJ-2C)
Cannon armament (SB2C-1C)
Equipped with two .50 cal machine guns (TBF-1C)

CP
Equipped with trimetrogen camera (TBF-1CP)

D
Drop tank configuration (FG-1D)
Special search radar (TBF-1D)

E
Electronic version (FG-1E)
Special electronic version (SB2C-4E)

F
Re-engined version (F6F-3F)
VIP Transport (R5D-1F)
Converted for use a flagship (PB2Y-3F)

G
U.S. Coast Guard aircraft (JRF-5G)
Air-sea rescue version (TBM-5G)

H
Ambulance or medical evacuation (SNB-2H)
Air-sea rescue version (PB2Y-5H)

J
Cold weather equipment (TBF-1J)
Target towing version (tbM-3J)

K
Target drone version

L
Search light version (TBM-1L)

N
Night operating version (all weather) (F6F-5N)

P
Photographic version (SBD-2P)

Q
Countermeasure version (TBM-3Q)

R
Transport version (PBM-3R)

S
Antisubmarine version (P5M-2S)

T
Training version (R4D-5T)

U
Utility version (PBM-3U)

W
Early warning (TBM-3W)
Special search version (PB-1W)

Z
Administrative version (R4D-5Z)

Sources:

Swanborough, Gordon and Bowers, Peter M., United States Navy Aircraft Since 1911 : Annapolis MD, Naval Institute Press, 1976.
Swanborough, Gordon and Bowers, Peter M.,  United States Military Aircraft Since 1908, 2nd Edition; London, Putnam, 1971.
Grossnick, Roy A.: Naval Aviation 1910-1995 Washington D.C.; Naval Historical Center, 1997
Trimble, William F., Wings for the Navy: A History of the Naval Aircraft Factory, 1917-1956; Annapolis, MD, Naval Institute Press, 1990.
Larkins, William T., U. S. Navy Aircraft 1921-1941; U. S. Marine Corps Aircraft 1914-1959; New York, NY, Orion Books, 1988.


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