Up until 1922, there was no unified designation scheme for American naval aircraft. Before that time, aircraft had always served under their original manufacturer's designation (e. g. Curtiss N-9). On March 29, 1922, it was decided that some sort of unified designation scheme was needed for American naval planes. The airplanes were classified according to manufacturer, type, and model sequence by letters and numbers. The system was also used by the US Marine Corps, which is a part of the Navy, as well as by the US Coast Guard beginning in 1935. This system continued relatively unchanged until the introduction of the unified designation scheme of 1962.
The system was not actually applied to all airplanes operated by the Navy. Sometimes, civilian aircraft taken into service by the Navy during World War II were operated under their civilian model numbers and were not given special Navy designations. Sometimes, aircraft acquired from the Army were assigned separate Navy designations, but on other occasions their original Army designations were kept. There were some postwar examples in which the Navy acquired aircraft in quantity and kept their original designations-e.g. the North American T-28 and the Beech T-34, with the changes made for naval use being reflected only in using a different suffix letter-e.g. T-28B and C and T-34B.
The naval designation scheme is as follows
The fields have the following meaning:
This was a letter or pair of letters which designated the role that the aircraft was to fulfill. Examples were
F for fighter, BF for bomber-fighter, PB for patrol bomber, TB for torpedo bomber, S for scout, etc)
This was a one letter (on rare occasions two-letter) code which specified the manufacturer of the aircraft.
For example, the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation of Bethpage, Long Island was designated by the letter F.
The letter H stood for the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation. In some cases, a letter used by one manufacturer was reassigned to
another after the first went out of business. During the heavy production period during World War 2, it was
not uncommon to have several manufacturers using the same letter at the same time. Usually the aircraft were of different
types, so there was no danger of confusion. However, when there was, one of the manufacturers would have to be issued a
There is a full list of manufacturer's identification letters in Swanbourough and Bowers' book.
Here are the manufacturer's letters that were used by builders of fighters.
|A||Brewster Aeronautical Corporation|
|B||Boeing Aircraft Company|
|C||Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company|
|D||Douglas Aircraft Corporation|
|D||McDonnell Aircraft Corporation (to H in 1946)|
|F||Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation|
|G||Goodyear Aircraft Corporation|
|G||Eberhart Aeroplane and Motor Company|
|H||Hall-Aluminum Aircraft Corporation (to 1940)|
|H||McDonnell Aircraft Corporation (1946 ->)|
|J||Berliner-Joyce Aircraft Corporation (to 1935)|
|J||North American Aviation Corporation (1937->)|
|L||Loening Aircraft Corporation (to 1932)|
|L||Bell Aircraft Corporation|
|M||General Motors Corporation (Eastern Aircraft Division)|
|N||Seversky Aircraft Corporation|
|O||Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (Plant B, 1931-1950)|
|R||Ryan Aeronautical Company|
|T||Northrop Aircraft, Inc|
|U||Chance Vought Corporation|
|V||Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (Vega plant)|
|W||Wright Aeronautical Corporation|
This number indicated the procurement sequence for different models of a similar type ordered from the same manufacturer. For example, FF-1 was the first Navy fighter ordered from Grumman, F2F-1 the second, F3F-1 the third, etc.
Sometimes, some type sequence numbers had to be skipped because they conflicted with previous designations.
For example, Brewster's first Navy fighter had to be designated F2A, since the designation FA had already been
used by General Aviation Corporation for an experimental fighter.
This number identified the sequence of different modifications within the same basic aircraft.
For example, there were five different versions of the Grumman F6F Hellcat, designated by F6F-1, F6F-2, F6F-3, F6F-4, and F6F-5.
This letter was added in front of the class designation to indicate special status such as
experimental or service test. X generally stood for experimental, Y for service test. For example, the prototype Convair
Sea Dart was designated XF2Y-1, the service test aircraft being designated YF2Y-1.
This was a letter which was added after the configuration sequence number to indicate a minor
alteration deemed not sufficient to justify a new configuration sequence number. Sometimes these were
field modifications, but sometimes these modifications were performed at the factory. For example, the
night fighter modification of the F6F-5 Hellcat was designated F6F-5N. A photographic reconnaissance version of the
F6F-5 was designated F6F-5P.
The following is a list of Navy fighter aircraft that were ordered under the 1922-1962 designation system.
The Navy's designation system lasted until September 16, 1962, when the US Defense Department decided to introduce
a new designation system. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara supposedly got frustrated
when his advisers tried to explain the aircraft designation system to him, and was surprised to find that
the Navy and the Air Force had two different designation systems, often for what was basically the same
airplane (e.g. F-110 for the Air Force version of the Phantom, F4H for the Navy version). The
Secretary ordered that the Navy abandon its separate designation system and redesignate all of its aircraft
according to the Air Force system. For fighters, the Air Force sequence had reached F-111, and the Defense
Department decided to start a brand new fighter designation series with 1, which would cover both Navy and
Air Force fighters. Existing Navy fighter aircraft in service at that time were assigned new numbers in
the new unified fighter system.
|New Designation||Old Designation|
|North American F-1 Fury||North American FJ Fury|
|McDonnell F-2 Banshee||McDonnell F2H Banshee|
|McDonnell F-3 Demon||McDonnell F3H Demon|
|McDonnell F-4 Phantom II||McDonnell F4H Phantom/F-110 Spectre|
|Douglas F-6 Skyray||Douglas F4D Skyray|
|Convair F-7 Sea-Dart||Convair F2Y Sea Dart|
|Vought F-8 Crusader||Vought F8U Crusader|
|Grumman F-9 Cougar||Grumman F9F Cougar|
|Douglas F-10 Skyknight||Douglas F3D Skyknight|
|Grumman F-11 Tiger||Grumman F11F Tiger|
Air Force fighters in service at the time (e.g. F-100, F-101, etc) retained their original designations, but
new Air Force fighters ordered after 1962 were assigned numbers in the new unified designation scheme (F-15, F-16). New
Navy fighters were assigned numbers in the system as well, for example, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, which would probably have
borne the designation F13F under the old system, assuming that the number 13 would have been