1924 United States Army Air Service aircraft designation system

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In 1924 problems with the previous designation system led to a general revamping of the designation system used by the United States Army Air Service. This system was to remain in effect with the U.S. Army Air Corps, the U.S. Army Air Forces and the independent U.S. Air Force, as well as those aircraft remaining in the U.S. Army after 1947, with some minor changes until 1962 when a unified tri-service designation system for all services came into effect.

1924-1962 Designation System[edit]

The designation given to a particular aircraft can be broken down to provide information about that specific aircraft. A hypothetical example shows a typical designation, and what each section is. Tables below indicate possible codes used for each section, what their meanings were, and the time period in which they were used - not all codes were in use at the same time, and some codes, such as P for pursuit were changed to F for fighter for a given aircraft while they were in service, so that the Lockheed P-80 was redesignated as the Lockheed F-80. The portion of the designation after the subtype may be omitted in normal use. The hyphen before the block number may be replaced with the word "block", and in some cases the block number may be omitted. This information, along with the name of the service (USAAC, USAAF, USAF), the base (if permanently assigned) and the serial number was painted on the forward fuselage side under the cockpit.

Status Mission-Modifier Mission- Model Subtype -Block Number -Production Facility Code
X W B- 29 A -10 or  Block 10 -BO

Status Prefix[edit]

(generally applied only to specific aircraft)

Code Meaning Period
E Exempt from modification orders (loaned to outside organizations) 1946–1955
G Grounded permanently (for groundcrew instruction) 1924–1962
J Temporarily modified for Special Tests (i.e.: NACA) 1956–1962
N Permanently modified for Special Tests (i.e.: NACA) 1956–1962
R Restricted (i.e. no aerobatics, no passengers or similar) 1943–1947
X Experimental pre-production development aircraft 1925–1962
Y Service test pending production orders 1928–1962
Y1 Funding from outside normal fiscal year procurement 1931–1936
Z Obsolete - limits maintenance and repairs 1928–1962

Mission Modifier prefix[edit]

Used when an aircraft has been modified for a different role from originally designed.

Code Meaning Period
C Cargo Transport 1943–1962
D Director (Drone Controller) 1948–1962
F Photographic 1945–1947
G Carrier (parasite aircraft mothership) 1948
K Ferret (electronic intelligence) 1944–1947
K Tanker 1949–1962
M Medical 1951–1952
P Passenger Transport (Only) 1948–1962
Q Radio Controlled Drone 1948–1962
R Reconnaissance (Photographic) 1948–1962
S Search and Rescue 1948–1962
T Trainer 1943–1962
U Utility (light transport) 1943–1962
V VIP Transport 1945–1962
W Weather 1948–1962

Mission Letter[edit]

Code Meaning Period
A Aerial Target 1940–1941
A Amphibian 1948–1962
A Attack 1924–1947
AG Assault Glider 1942–1944
AT Advanced Trainer 1925–1947
B Bomber 1925–1962
BC Basic Combat 1936–1940
BG Bomb Glider 1942–1944
BLR Bomber, Long Range 1935–1936
BQ Bomb, Controllable (glide bombs & cruise missiles) 1942–1945
BT Basic Trainer 1930–1947
C Cargo 1925–1962
CG Cargo Glider 1941–1947
CQ Target Control 1942–1947
F Fighter 1948–1962
F Photographic 1930–1947
FG Fuel Glider 1930–1947
FM Fighter, Multiplace 1936–1941
G Glider 1948–1962
G Gyroplane 1935–1939
GB Glide Bomb 1942–1947
GT Glide Torpedo 1942–1947
H Helicopter 1948–1962
HB Heavy Bomber 1925–1927
JB Jet-Propelled Bomb 1943–1947
L Liaison 1942–1962
LB Light Bomber 1924–1932
O Observation 1924–1942
OA Observation Amphibian 1925–1947
OQ Aerial Target (Model Airplane) 1942–1947
P Pursuit 1925–1947
PB Pursuit, Biplace 1935–1941
PG Powered Glider 1943–1947
PQ Aerial Target (Man Carrying) 1942–1947
PT Primary Trainer 1925–1947
Q Aerial Target 1948–1962
R Reconnaissance 1948–1962
R Rotary Wing 1941–1947
S Supersonic/Special Test 1946–1947
T Trainer 1948–1962
TG Training Glider 1941–1947
U Utility 1952–1962
V VTOL or STOL 1954–1962
X Special Research 1941–1947

Model Number[edit]

In theory each new design in a specific Mission category is numbered in sequence starting at 1, so that succeeding designs are numbered 2,3,4 etc. however numbers were occasionally skipped.

Sub-type[edit]

Minor modifications to a basic design are usually given a sequentially assigned letter denoting the particular subtype, starting with A and continuing with B, C, D, etc. In general, no additional meaning can be deduced from the sub-type letter.

Block Number[edit]

Analogous to the order number, these help not just to identify when an airframe was built, but in some types distinguish changes that occurred during production not identified by the sub-type letter, as between the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt razorback variant and the bubble canopy variant. Block numbers are unique to each type of aircraft.

Production facility code[edit]

Each factory producing aircraft for the USAAF was assigned a two letter code to distinguish between the product of one facility from another. This was important because parts were not always interchangeable between different plants, and the aircraft may have required different modifications during service.

info from: http://rwebs.net/avhistory/acdesig/usarmy.htm

Code Manufacturer Location
AD Aero Design & Engineering Co. Bethany, OK
AE Aeronca Middletown, OH
AG Air Glider Akron, OH
AH American Helicopter Manhattan Beach, CA
AV Avro Canada Montreal, QC, Canada
BA Bell Atlanta, GA
BB Babcock Aircraft Deland, FL
BC Bell Aerosystems Buffalo, NY
BE Bell Buffalo, NT
BF Bell Fort Worth, TX
BH Beech Wichita, KS
BL Bellanca New Castle, DE
BN Boeing Renton, WA
BO Boeing Seattle, WA
BR Briegleb Sailplane Beverley Hills, CA
BS Bowlus San Francisco, CA
BU Budd Philadelphia, PA
BV Boeing-Vertol Morton, PA
BW Boeing Wichita, KS
CA Chase Aircraft West Trenton, NJ
CC Canadian Commercial Corp. Toronto, ON, Canada
CE Cessna Wichita, KS
CF Convair/Consolidated-Vultee Fort Worth, TX
CH Christopher Aircraft St. Louis, MO
CK Curtiss-Wright Louisville, KY
CL Culver Wichita, KS
CM Commonwealth Aircraft Kansas City, MO
CN Chase Aircraft Willow Run, MI
CO Convair/Consolidated-Vultee San Diego, CA
CR Cornelius Dayton, OH
CS Curtiss-Wright St. Louis, MO
CU Curtiss-Wright Buffalo, NY
CV Chance Vought, Vought Dallas, TX
DA Doak Aircraft Torrance, CA
DC Douglas Chicago, IL
DE Douglas El Segundo, CA
DH De Havilland Canada Toronto, ON, Canada
DJ SNCA Sud-Ouest Marignane, France
DK Douglas Oklahoma City, OK
DL Douglas Long Beach, CA
DM Doman Helicopter Danbury, CT
DO Douglas Santa Monica, CA
DT Douglas Tulsa, OK
FA Fairchild Hagerstown, MD
FB Fairchild Burlington, NC
FE Fleet Fort Erie, ON, Canada
FL Fleetwings Bristol, PA
FO Ford Willow Run, MI
FR Frankfort Joliet, IL
FS Firestone Los Angeles, CA
FT Fletcher Aviation Pasadena, CA
GA G & A Aircraft Willow Grove, PA
GC General Motors (Fisher) Cleveland, OH
GE General Aircraft Astoria, Long Island, NY
GF Globe Fort Worth, TX
GK General Motors Kansas City, KS
GM General Motors (Fisher) Detroit, MI
GN Gibson Refrigerator Greenville, MI
GO Goodyear Aircraft Akron, OH
GR Grumman Bethpage, Long Island, NY
GT Grand Central Aircraft Eng. Tucson, AZ
GY Gyrodyne Co., of America St. James, Long Island, NY
HE Helio Norwood, MA
HI Higgins Aircraft New Orleans, LA
HI Hiller Palo Alto, CA
HO Howard Aircraft Chicago, IL
HP Handey Page Radlett, Herts, UK
HS Hawker Siddeley Aviation Kingston, Surrey, UK
HU Hughes Aircraft Culver City & San Diego CA
IN Interstate A. & Eng. El Segundo, CA
KA Kaman Windsor Locks, CT
KE Kellet Philadelphia, PA
KM Kaiser Manufacturing Willow Run, MI
LK Laister-Kauffman St. Louis, MO
LM Lockheed Aircraft Marietta, GA
LO Lockheed Aircraft Burbank, CA
MA Martin Baltimore, MD
MC McDonnell St. Louis, MO
MD Martin Baltimore, MD
MF Martin Orlando, FL
MH McCulloch Motors Los Angeles, CA
MM McDonnell Memphis, TN
MO Martin Omaha, NE
NA North American Inglewood, CA
NC North American Kansas City, KS
ND Noorduyn Aviation Montreal, QC, Canada
NF North American Fresno, CA
NH North American Columbus, OH
NI North American Downey, CA
NK Nash-Kelvinator Detroit, MI
NO Northrop Hawthorne, CA
NT North American Dallas, TX
NW Northwestern Aeronautical Co. St. Paul, MN
OM On Mark Engineering Van Nuys, CA
PA Piper Lock Haven, PA
PH Piasecki Morton, PA
PI Piper Lockhaven, PA
PI Piasecki Philadelphia, PA
PL Platt-LePage Eddystone, PA
PR Pratt, Read & Co. Deep River, CT
RA Republic Evansville, IN
RD Read-York Kenosha, WI
RE Republic Farmingdale, Long Island, NY
RI Ridgefield Mfg. Ridgeville, NJ
RO Robertson Aircraft St. Louis, MO
RP The Radioplane Co. Van Nuys, CA
RY Ryan Aeronautical San Diego, CA
SA Stroukoff West Trenton, NJ
SE Seibel Helicopter Wichita, KS
SI Sikorsky Aircraft Stratford, CT
SL St. Louis Aircraft St. Louis, MO
SP Spartan Tulsa, OK
SW Schweizer Elmira, NY
TA Taylorcraft Alliance, OH
TE Temco Dallas, TX
TG Texas Engineering & Manufacturing Greenville, TX
TI Timm Van Nuys, CA
TP Texas Engineering & Manufacturing Grand Prairie, TX
UH United Helicopter Palto Alto, CA
UN Universal Molded Products Bristol, VA
VE Vega Aircraft Corp. Burbank, CA
VI Canadian Vickers Montreal, Canada
VL Vertol Aircraft Morton, PA
VN Vultee Nashvillee, TN
VO Chance Vought Dallas, TX
VU Vultee Downey, CA
VW Vultee Wayne, MI
WA Ward Furniture Co. Fort Smith, AK
WI Wichita Engineering Wichita Falls, TX
WO Waco Troy, OH

Exceptions[edit]

Aircraft ordered by foreign governments but taken over by the US Government often used the manufacturer's internal designations rather than the designation used for similar aircraft ordered by the US Government, so that the Consolidated LB-30 was a B-24 ordered by the British but not delivered, and the Vultee V.77 was similarly an AT-19.

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Websites[edit]

Books[edit]

  • Fahey, James C. (1946). U.S. Army Aircraft (Heavier-Than-Air) 1908-1946. 
  • Swanborough, Gordon; Bowers, Peter M. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909. Putnam.