List of United States Navy aircraft designations (pre-1962)

This list of United States Navy aircraft designations (pre-1962) includes prototype, pre-production and operational type designations under the 1922 United States Navy aircraft designation system, which was used by the United States Navy, the United States Marine Corps, and the United States Coast Guard. The list also includes airships, which were designated under different systems than fixed-wing aircraft and rotorcraft until 1954, and naval aircraft that received designations under the 1911 and 1914 U.S. Navy systems, which were sequential by manufacturer and/or aircraft class, and did not convey information about the aircraft's mission.

A US Naval officer and his civilian pilot in the cockpit of a beached Curtiss HS flying boat, circa 1917. Built in large numbers, the HS first saw service in World War I. They continued in service until 1928, and also saw a great deal of civilian use.
A trio of US Navy Vought VE-7s in flight, circa 1920s
US Navy Rigid airship Los Angeles tied up to the mooring mast aboard the tender Patoka, circa 1931
A US Marine Corps Douglas SBD-1 Dauntless of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 132 (VMSB-132) in flight over the Pacific Ocean, circa 1941
A US Navy Sikorsky HSS-1 Seabat of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS-2) aboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown, circa 1959
A U.S. Marine Corps F4H-1 Phantom II jet of Marine All-Weather Fighter Squadron VMF(AW)-314 firing an AIM-7 Sparrow missile, circa 1961

For aircraft designations under the U.S. Army Air Force/U.S. Air Force system or the post-1962 Tri-Service system—which includes U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aircraft currently in service—see List of military aircraft of the United States. For Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aircraft that did not receive formal designations—including those procured from 1917 to 1922 when no designation system was in force, and later aircraft that did not receive designations for other reasons—see List of undesignated military aircraft of the United States.

Summary of pre-1962 designation systemsEdit

1911 systemEdit

The first U.S. Navy designation system, adopted in 1911, consisted of a letter signifying the manufacturer followed by sequential numbers for individual aircraft from each manufacturer. Only heavier-than-air craft (i.e. airplanes) were given designations. The system was subsequently amended to differentiate aircraft classes from the same manufacturer. The designation letters were as follows:[1]

1914 systemEdit

In March 1914, the navy introduced a system similar to hull classification symbols for warships, with an alphabetical code for the aircraft class followed by a sequential number assigned to an individual aircraft. All aircraft designated under the 1911 system that were still in inventory were redesignated.[2] Also consistent with warship designation practices, the designation of the first aircraft of a particular design became the type designation for similar aircraft; for instance, aircraft similar to AH-8 were referred to as AH-8 type.[3]

The aircraft classes and sub-types were as follows:[4]

  • A – Heavier than air
  • AH – Aeroplane, Hydro
  • AB – Flying boat
  • AX – Amphibian

This second system was abandoned in May 1917 without immediate replacement; until March 1922, the navy used manufacturers' model designations. However, some later aircraft similar to types with 1914 system designations were given conforming designations, apparently on an informal basis.[5]

1922 systemEdit

On 29 March 1922, a new designation system was introduced with a reorganization of U.S. naval aviation under the Bureau of Aeronautics.[4] The system conveyed its information in the form:

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

For example, F4U-1A referred to a 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.

Prototypes under the 1922 system were normally prefixed with "X" (differing from purely experimental X-planes, which were not generally expected to go into production), while pre-production or trials aircraft were usually prefixed "Y", and airships were prefixed "Z" (differing from Army or Air Force use of "Z" to designate obsolete aircraft for storage or disposal).

Airships and balloonsEdit

Prior to 1954, lighter-than-air craft used separate designation systems from those used for fixed-wing aircraft and rotorcraft, or were undesignated. As a general rule, a "Z" prefix identified lighter-than-air craft.[6]

Rigid airships were designated as ZR-class—"R" for rigid—with a suffixed number identifying the individual aircraft. With the introduction of the Akron-class airship, an "S" mission suffix was added to signify scout (ZRS-class).[6]

The first U.S. Navy non-rigid airship was ordered in 1915 before an airship designation system was standardized and was designated DN-1[b] for Dirigible, Non-rigid. When subsequent airships were ordered into series production for World War I (WWI), alphabetical class letters were adopted starting with the B-class blimp, with individual aircraft identified by a suffixed number; DN-1 was retroactively considered A-class by implication. Within each class, individual airships often had significant design variations, and were sometimes sourced from different manufacturers; the class designations referred to nominal power and size.[7]

The first mission designation system for non-rigid airships, introduced in 1940,[citation needed] took the following form:


For example, the ZNP-K referred to K-class (K) patrol (P) non-rigid airship (ZN).

In 1947, this system was replaced by one more similar to the 1922 fixed-wing system, and the "N" for non-rigid was dropped due to the termination of the rigid airship program. The 1947 system took the following form:[8]

(Z for airship)(Mission)(Design Number)(Class)-(Subtype)(Minor Modification)

For example, the ZP2N-1W referred to the airborne early warning modification (W) of the first subtype (1) of the N-class' (N) second (2) patrol (P) airship (Z).

The airship mission designations were initially "G" for scout, "N" for trainer, and "P" for patrol. In 1947, "N" was changed to "T" for trainers, while "H" for search and rescue and "U" for utility were added, although the latter two mission letters were ultimately not used.[8][9]

In 1954, the Navy did away with the separate airship designation system and unified it with the main 1922 system, while retaining the "Z" prefix.[8]

Spherical crewed free balloons—used for airship crew training until airship use ended—were considered ZF-class aircraft but never received formal designations and were identified only by serial number and volume.[10] Similarly, crewed kite balloons used during WWI and uncrewed barrage balloons used during World War II were considered ZK-class, but were undesignated.[11]

1911 system designations, 1911–1914Edit

Data from Baugher, Joe (2006)[12]

1914 system designations, 1914–1917Edit

Data from Baugher, Joe (2014)[13] and Swanborough and Bowers (1976), as noted

A: Heavier-than-airEdit

AB: Flying boatEdit

AH: Aeroplane, HydroEdit

AX: AmphibianEdit

B: Free balloonEdit

BC: Kite balloonEdit

1922 system designations, 1922–1962Edit

Airborne early warningEdit

W: Airborne early warning (1952–1962)Edit


ZP: Patrol (1954–1962)Edit

  • G: Goodyear
    • ZPG – redesignated from ZPN and ZP2N in 1954, redesignated Z-1 in 1962

ZS: Scout (1954–1962)Edit

  • G: Goodyear
    • ZSG – redesignated from ZP2K, ZP3K, and ZP4K
    • ZS2G – redesignated from ZP5K

ZW: Airborne Early Warning (1954–1962)Edit


A: Ambulance (1943–1962)Edit

H: Hospital (1929–1942)Edit

H: Air-Sea Rescue (1946–1962)Edit

No designations were assigned in this sequence.


S: Anti-submarine (1946–1962)Edit

In 1946, the "S for Scout" designation was replaced by "S for anti-Submarine", however, the numbers in the 'S' series were not restarted.

  • F: Grumman
    • SF – skipped to avoid confusion with the SF in the Scout sequence
    • S2F Tracker – redesignated S-2 in 1962
  • U: Vought
    • SU – skipped to avoid confusion with the SU in the Scout sequence
    • S2U


A: Attack (1946–1962)Edit

Douglas Skyraider, 1966


B: Bomber (1931–1943)Edit

BF: Bomber fighter (1934–1937)Edit

BT: Bomber torpedo (1942–1945)Edit

Foreign-built bomber aircraft (1910–1962)Edit


BD: Bomber drone (1944)Edit

DS: Antisubmarine drone (1959–1962)Edit

KA: Surface-to-air missile (1946–1947)Edit

For a brief period, surface-to-air missiles used the same designation system as aircraft.

KD: Unified sequence (1945–1962)Edit

KG: Air-to-surface missile (1946–1947)Edit

For a brief period, air-to-surface missiles used the same designation system as aircraft.

KS: Anti-ship missile (1946–1947)Edit

For a brief period, anti-ship missiles used the same designation system as aircraft.

KU: Research missile (1946–1947)Edit

For a brief period, research missiles used the same designation system as aircraft.

TD: Target drone (1942–1945)Edit

U: Unpiloted aircraft (1946–1955)Edit


Fighter (1910–1922)Edit

F: Fighter (1922–1962)Edit

P: Pursuit (1923)Edit

Foreign-built fighters (1910–1962)Edit


LB: Bomb gliderEdit

LN: Trainer glider (1941–1945)Edit

LR: Transport glider (1941–1945)Edit


HC: Crane (1952–1955)Edit

HJ: Utility (1944–1949)Edit

HO: Observation (1944–1962)Edit

HN: Trainer (1944–1948)Edit

HR: Transport (1944–1962)Edit

HS: Antisubmarine (1951–1962)Edit

HT: Trainer (1948–1962)Edit

HU: Utility (1950–1962)Edit

R: Rotorcycle (1954–1959)Edit

Marine ExpeditionaryEdit

M: Marine Expeditionary (1922–1923)Edit


O: Observation (1922–1962)Edit

OS: Observation scout (1935–1945)Edit

Foreign-built observation aircraft (1920–1962)Edit


Patrol (1910–1923)Edit

P: Patrol (1923–1962)Edit

P2V-2 Neptune over NAS Jacksonville, 1953

PB: Patrol bomber (1935–1962)Edit

A flight of PBY-5 Catalinas over the Aleutian Islands

PT: Patrol torpedo (1922)Edit

No designations were assigned in this sequence.

PTB: Patrol torpedo bomber (1937–1962)Edit

Foreign-built patrol aircraft (1910–1962)Edit


R: Racer (1922–1928)Edit

Research aircraftEdit

Undesignated research aircraft (1910–1962)Edit


S: Scout (1922–1946)Edit

SB: Scout bomber (1934–1946)Edit

SN: Scout trainer (1939–1948)Edit

SO: Scout observation (1934–1946)Edit

Foreign-built scout aircraft (1920–1962)Edit


G: Tanker (1958–1962)Edit


Torpedo (1910–1922)Edit

T: Torpedo (1922–1935)Edit

TB: Torpedo bomber (1935–1946)Edit

Grumman TBF Avenger in mid-1942

TS: Torpedo scout (1943–1946)Edit

Foreign-built torpedo aircraft (1920–1962)Edit


Trainer (1910–1922)Edit

N: Trainer (1922–1948)Edit

T: Trainer (1948–1962)Edit

Foreign-built trainer aircraft (1910–1962)Edit


G: Transport, single engine (1939–1941)Edit

R: Transport, 1931–1962Edit

T: Transport (1922–1931, 1950s–1962)Edit


Utility (1910–1931)Edit

J: Utility (1931–1955)Edit

JR: Utility transport (1935–1955)Edit

U: Utility (1955–1962)Edit

Foreign-built utility aircraft (1920–1962)Edit

Pre-1954 airship systemsEdit

Commissioned vessels (1922–1935)Edit

A series of four airships (two one-offs and two production Akron-class vessels) were the only airships in American history to be commissioned as ships of the United States Navy. Another airship, ZR-2 (the British R.38) crashed and was destroyed before delivery, and was therefore never commissioned.[17]

1940 systemEdit

ZNN: Training (1940–1946)Edit

  • ZNN-G – redesignated ZTG in 1947
  • ZNN-L – redesignated ZTL in 1947

ZNP: Patrol (1940–1946)Edit

  • ZNP-K – redesignated ZPK in 1947
  • ZNP-M – redesignated ZPM in 1947
  • ZNP-N – redesignated ZPN in 1947

1947 systemEdit

ZP: Patrol (1947–1953)Edit

  • ZPK – redesignated from ZNP-K
  • ZP2K – redesignated ZSG-2 in 1954
  • ZP3K – redesignated ZSG-3 in 1954
  • ZP4K – redesignated ZSG-4 in 1954
  • ZP5K – redesignated ZS2G-1 in 1954
  • ZPM – redesignated from ZNP-M
  • ZPN – redesignated from ZNP-N, redesignated ZPG-1 in 1954
  • ZP2N – redesignated ZPG-2 in 1954

ZT: Training (1947–1953)Edit

  • ZTG – redesignated from ZNN-G
  • ZTL – redesignated from ZNN-L

ZW: Airborne Early Warning (1947–1953)Edit

  • ZWN – redesignated ZPG-3W in 1954

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ a b The Curtis name in Burgess and Curtis referred to a business partner unrelated to Curtiss Aeroplane founder Glenn Curtiss; there was no relationship between the companies at the time. Burgess was subsequently absorbed by Curtiss Aeroplane after the 1911 designation system had been superseded.
  2. ^ Consulted references to not clarify why DN-1 did not receive a designation under the previously-adopted 1914 designation system even though an allowance was made for dirigibles.
  3. ^ a b Non-standard XDH designation applied to two de Havilland aircraft procured for use by the U.S. Naval Attaché in London.[16]


  1. ^ Swanborough & Bowers 1976, p. 4.
  2. ^ Swanborough & Bowers 1976, pp. 4–5.
  3. ^ a b c Swanborough & Bowers 1976, p. 94.
  4. ^ a b Swanborough & Bowers 1976, p. 5.
  5. ^ Swanborough & Bowers 1976, pp. 5, 29.
  6. ^ a b Swanborough & Bowers 1976, p. 503.
  7. ^ Swanborough & Bowers 1976, pp. 503, 507.
  8. ^ a b c Grossnik, Roy A., ed. (1987). Kite Balloons to Airships... the Navy's Lighter-than-Air Experience (Pages 67–75) (Report). Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air Warfare) and Commander, Naval Air Systems Command, United States Navy. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
  9. ^ Swanborough & Bowers 1976, pp. 503–504.
  10. ^ Swanborough & Bowers 1976, p. 505.
  11. ^ Swanborough & Bowers 1976, p. 504.
  12. ^ Baugher, Joe (5 May 2006). "US Navy and US Marine Corps Military Serial Numbers, First Alphanumeric Series (1911-1914)". Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  13. ^ Baugher, Joe (6 March 2014). "US Navy and US Marine Corps Military Serial Numbers, Second Alphanumeric Series (1914-1917)". Retrieved 19 September 2021.
  14. ^ Swanborough & Bowers 1976, p. 96.
  15. ^ a b Swanborough & Bowers 1976, p. 417.
  16. ^ Swanborough & Bowers 1976, pp. 480–481.
  17. ^ Smith, Alfred Emanuel (21 September 1921). "Lessons of the ZR-2". The Outlook. 129: 80, 82. Retrieved 30 July 2009.


  • Andrade, John M. (1979). U.S. Military Aircraft Designations and Serials Since 1909. Midland Counties Publications. ISBN 0-904597-22-9.
  • Bedford, Alan (May–June 1999). "Early American Carrier Jets: Evolving Jet Operations with the US Fleet, Part One". Air Enthusiast (81): 13–19. ISSN 0143-5450.
  • Bedford, Alan (July–August 1999). "Early American Carrier Jets: Evolving Jet Operations with the US Fleet, Part Two". Air Enthusiast (82): 18–23. ISSN 0143-5450.
  • Bedford, Alan (September–October 1999). "Early American Carrier Jets: Evolving Jet Operations with the US Fleet, Part Three". Air Enthusiast (83): 62–67. ISSN 0143-5450.
  • Fahey, James C. 1946 U.S. Army Aircraft 1908-1946
  • Grossnick, Roy A. United States Naval Aviation 1910–1995. Naval Historical Center
  • Swanborough, Gordon; Bowers, Peter M. (1976). United States Navy Aircraft since 1911 (2nd ed.). Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-968-5.

External linksEdit