REC.AVIATION.MILITARY FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Ross Smith <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: H.9. British aircraft designations
Unlike the US system, the proper name is the principal part of an
aircraft's formal designation in British service. The full designation
consists of the name, a letter or set of letters indicating the role, and a
mark number; in a few cases the mark number is followed by a letter
indicating a modification. The full designation is written as, for
example, "Tornado GR.1A", or sometimes "Tornado GR Mk 1A" (the Tornado GR.1
is the ground attack/reconnaissance version of the Tornado; the GR.1A is a
variant in which one of the two guns is replaced by reconnaissance gear).
For export versions, the role letters are usually left out, and the mark
numbers are restarted from a high number, usually 50 (for example, the
Indian Navy's Sea Harriers are Mk 51).
Before WW2, mark numbers alone were used, and were written in Roman
numerals; during the war, the role letters were added, and conventional
numerals were used for mark numbers above 20. The Roman numerals were
dropped altogether after the war; apart from that, the system has remained
Role letters (an asterisk indicates an obsolete code):
AEW = Airborne early warning
AH = Army helicopter
AL = Army liaison
AS = Anti-submarine (*)
B = Bomber
B(I) = Bomber/interdictor
B(K) = Bomber/tanker
B(PR) = Bomber/photo-reconnaissance
C = Cargo transport
CC = Communications (also used for VIP transports)
E = Electronic warfare
F = Fighter
FA = Fighter/attack
FAW = All-weather fighter (*)
FB = Fighter/bomber (*)
FG = Fighter/ground attack
FGA = Fighter/ground attack
FGR = Fighter/ground attack/reconnaissance
FR = Fighter/reconnaissance
FRS = Fighter/reconnaissance/strike
GA = Ground attack
GR = Ground attack/reconnaissance
HAR = Search and rescue helicopter
HAS = Anti-submarine helicopter
HC = Cargo helicopter
HCC = Communications helicopter (also used for VIP transports)
HT = Training helicopter
HU = Utility helicopter
K = Tanker
KC = Tanker/transport
Met = Weather reconnaissance (*)
MR = Maritime reconnaissance
NF = Night fighter (*)
PR = Photographic reconnaissance
R = Reconnaissance
S = Strike
SR = Strategic reconnaissance
T = Trainer
TF = Torpedo fighter (*)
TT = Target tug
U = Unmanned drone
W = Weather reconnaissance
Subject: H.10. Canadian aircraft designations
The Canadian designation system is based on a simplified version of the
American system. A designation consists of the letter "C" (for Canadian),
a letter to indicate the aircraft's role, a dash, and a number, sometimes
followed by a letter to indicate a modification; usually "A" for a modified
version, or "D" for a dual-control trainer. Sometimes the aircraft's
original designation in its country of origin is used, with some
modification; for example, the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, in Canadian
service, is known as the CC-130, versions being CC-130E (C-130E) and
CC-130H (C-130H) transports and CC-130HT (KC-130H) tankers.
The numbers are assigned in a single sequence for all types in Canadian
service, and are always over 100. This has led to a few aircraft having a
real designation that differs from the one they're commonly known by; for
example, the F-5 and F/A-18 in Canadian service are usually referred to as
the CF-5 and CF-18, but the correct designations are CF-116 and CF-188,
C = Cargo transport
E = Electronics
F = Fighter
H = Helicopter
P = Maritime patrol
T = Trainer
Types in current Canadian service:
CH-113 Labrador = Boeing CH-46 Sea Knight
CT-114 Tutor = Canadair CL-41 Tutor
CC-115 Buffalo = De Havilland Canada DHC-5 Buffalo
CF-116 ("CF-5") = Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter
CH-118 Iroquois = Bell UH-1 Iroquois
CH-124 Sea King = Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King
CC-130 Hercules = Lockheed C-130 Hercules
CT-133 Silver Star = Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star
CT-134 Musketeer = Beech Musketeer
CH-135 = Bell 212
CH-136 Kiowa = Bell OH-58 Kiowa
CC-137 = Boeing 707
CC-138 Twin Otter = De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter
CH-139 Jetranger = Bell 206 Jetranger
CP-140 Aurora/Arcturus = Lockheed P-3 Orion derivatives
CC-142/CT-142 = De Havilland Canada DHC-8 Dash 8
CC-144/CE-144 Challenger = Canadair CL-601 Challenger
CC-145 King Air = Beech King Air 200
CH-146 Griffon = Bell 412 (about to enter service)
CC-150 Polaris = Airbus A310
CF-188 ("CF-18") Hornet = McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet
Subject: H.11. Chinese aircraft designations
Chinese aircraft use a fairly simple system consisting of a letter or
letters to indicate the role, a dash, and a number, sometimes followed by
additional letters or numbers to indicate subtypes. The role letters are
often replaced by their English equivalents for export versions (for
example, the export version of the Q-5 (Qiang = Attack) is the A-5).
The numeric sequences always start with 5. Oddly enough for one of the
last bastions of Communism, this is the result of superstition; 4 is
considered an unlucky number in China (because the Chinese words for "four"
and "death" are very similar). The designation "J-2", often quoted for the
licence-built MiG-15, is mythical; the Chinese aircraft have always been
known simply as MiG-15, even after the Chinese and Russian governments
CJ (export PT) = Chujiao (basic trainer)
H (export B) = Hong (bomber)
J (export F) = Jian (fighter)
JJ (export FT) = Jianjiao (fighter trainer)
Q (export A) = Qiang (attack)
SH (export PS) = Shuihong (maritime bomber)
Y = Yun (transport)
Z = Zhi (vertical, i.e. helicopter)
Many Russian, and more recently Western, aircraft have been manufactured in
China and given Chinese designations. These include:
CJ-5 = Yakovlev Yak-18 "Max"
H-5 = Ilyushin Il-28 "Beagle"
H-6 = Tupolev Tu-16 "Badger"
J-5 = Mikoyan MiG-17 "Fresco"
J-6 = Mikoyan MiG-19 "Farmer"
J-7 = Mikoyan MiG-21 "Fishbed"
JJ-7 = Mikoyan MiG-21U "Mongol" (but see below)
Y-5 = Antonov An-2 "Colt"
Y-7 = Antonov An-24/26 "Coke/Curl"
Y-8 = Antonov An-12 "Cub"
Z-5 = Mil Mi-4 "Hare"
Z-6 = Mil Mi-8 "Hip"
Z-8 = Aérospatiale AS.321 Super Frelon
Z-9 = Aérospatiale AS.365 Dauphin 2
Training versions of the J-5 and J-6 were built (JJ-5 and JJ-6); these had
no Russian counterparts (there was no MiG-17U or MiG-19U). Equating the
JJ-7 to the MiG-21U in the list above is slightly misleading, since the
trainer version was developed independently, not based on the Russian
Indigenous Chinese fighter designs have gone up to at least J-12. The J-8
has entered service (see B.13). The J-9 was cancelled about 1978, with no
examples built; the J-7III and J-8II were developed partly as replacements
for it. The J-10 is a current project, started in the late 1980s, and
expected to enter service before the end of this decade. The J-11
designation has not been used. The J-12 was built (one or two prototypes
only) in Nanchang during the 1970s (the number seems to have been used out
of sequence for some reason), in competition with the J-7 and J-8; it
resembled a scaled-up MiG-15/17, and was cancelled because of its poor
It has recently been reported that China and Israel are collaborating on a
new fighter based on Israel's abandoned Lavi project (J-11?).
Two Chinese aircraft have been given NATO codenames: J-8 "Finback" and Q-5
Subject: H.12. German aircraft designations (WW2)
German aircraft were identified by two letters denoting the manufacturing
company, a number denoting the aircraft type (separated from the letters by
a space), and various modifiers for subtypes.
Arado = Ar
Bücker = Bü
Bachem = Ba
Blohm und Voss = Bv, Ha
Dornier = Do
Fieseler = Fi
Flettner = Fl
Focke-Achgelis = Fa
Focke-Wulf = Fw, Ta
Gotha = Go
Heinkel = He
Henschel = Hs
Horten = Ho
Junkers = Ju
Messerschmitt = Bf, Me
"Bf" for Messerschmitt came from Bayerische Flugzeugwerke, the company's
name before Willy Messerschmitt took over. "Ha" for Blohm und Voss came
from Hamburger Flugzeugbau, the name of the aircraft division of the Blohm
und Voss shipbuilding company. "Ta" for Focke-Wulf was used in honour of
designer Kurt Tank.
Type numbers were assigned by the RLM (air ministry); a single sequence was
used for all manufacturers. Related types were often given numbers
differing by 100; for example, the Messerschmitt Me 210 was designed as a
replacement for the Bf 110, and was developed into the Me 310 (abandoned
before flight) and Me 410.
Prototype aircraft had a "V" followed by a number identifying individual
aircraft, separated from the main designation by a space (e.g. Me 262 V1).
Major variants were denoted by a letter immediately following the type
number (e.g. Me 262A), minor variants by a number separated from the major
variant letter by a dash (e.g. Me 262A-1). Pre-production aircraft had a
zero in this position (e.g. Me 262A-0). Further variations on a subtype
could be denoted by a lower case letter attached to the variant number
(e.g. Me 262A-1a). Modified aircraft were indicated by "/R" or "/U" and a
number (e.g. Me 262A-1a/U5), or by "/Trop" (which I assume indicated a
tropical climate adaptation).
Subject: H.13. Japanese aircraft designations and codenames (WW2)
Japanese aircraft designations are a highly confusing subject, since four
different systems were in use simultaneously in Japan, in addition to the
codenames used by the Allies. The Japanese Army and Navy each used two
systems to identify the same aircraft, so a type used by both services
(there were a few) could have up to five different designations -- Japanese
Army Kitai number, Army type number, Navy designation code, Navy type
number, and Allied codename!
Just to confuse matters a bit further, a few types were known best by
nicknames that had no official status. The Mitsubishi A6M fighter, also
known as the Carrier-Borne Fighter Type 0, had the official Allied codename
of "Zeke"; but it went down in history under the unofficial nickname used
by both sides: "Zero".
The Japanese Army Air Force identified aircraft by "Kitai" (airframe)
numbers, which simply consisted of "Ki", a dash, and a number. Originally
the numbers were a simple numeric sequence; later, some randomisation was
added, as a security measure. Gliders received "Ku" ("Guraida") numbers
instead. Subtypes or variants were indicated by Roman numeral suffixes, or
by various Japanese abbreviations (a common one was "Kai" (for "Kaizo"),
indicating a major modification).
In addition to Kitai numbers, most Army aircraft also received a second
designation in a parallel system based on role and the year of entry into
service. Originally this was the last two digits of the year; 100 was used
for the Japanese year 2600 (1940), then the numbers were restarted from 1.
Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft received a designation code very similar to
those used by the US Navy. This consisted of a letter to indicate the
aircraft's function, a sequential number to indicate a specific aircraft
type (unlike the USN system, the number 1 was left in), and a letter to
indicate the manufacturing company. This was followed by a dash and a
number to indicate a subtype, plus an optional letter or letters for
A = Carrier-borne fighter
B = Carrier-borne torpedo bomber
C = Carrier-borne reconnaissance
D = Carrier-borne dive bomber
E = Reconnaissance seaplane
F = Observation seaplane
G = Land-based bomber
H = Flying-boat
J = Land-based fighter
K = Trainer
L = Transport
M = Special-purpose seaplane
N = Fighter seaplane
P = Bomber
Q = Patrol
R = Land-based reconnaissance
S = Night fighter
Some manufacturer letters:
A = Aichi
D = Showa
K = Kawanishi
M = Mitsubishi
N = Nakajima
P = Nihon
V = Seversky
W = Kyushu, Watanabe
Y = Yokosuka
The IJN also used a parallel system based on role description and year
number, similar to (but independent of) the Army's, except that the year
2600 (1940) became 0 instead of 100. This system was abandoned in 1943,
when it was decided that revealing the year of an aircraft's entry into
service might give useful information to the enemy. Aircraft were then
given proper names instead.
Because the correct designations of Japanese aircraft were often not known
(and, as you've probably gathered by now, difficult to keep straight
anyway), the Allies assigned codenames to them. The basic rules for these,
not always followed, were:
Bombers, dive bombers, reconnaissance aircraft, seaplanes, torpedo
bombers -- Girls' names
Fighters, reconnaissance seaplanes -- Boys' names
Gliders -- Names of birds
Trainers -- Names of trees
Transport aircraft -- Girls' names beginning with "T"
The following list gives various designations for some of the more
important Japanese aircraft of WW2:
Aichi D3A = Navy Type 99 Carrier-Borne Fighter = "Val"
Kawanishi H8K = Navy Type 2 Flying-Boat = "Emily"
Kawanishi N1K1/2 Shinden = "George"
Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu = Navy Type 2 Heavy Fighter = "Nick"
Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien = Navy Type 3 Fighter = "Tony"
Kawasaki Ki-100 = Navy Type 5 Fighter
Kyofu N1K = "Rex"
Mitsubishi A5M = Navy Type 96 Carrier-Borne Fighter = "Claude"
Mitsubishi A6M = Navy Type 0 Carrier-Borne Fighter = "Zeke"
Mitsubishi F1M = Navy Type 0 Observation Seaplane = "Pete"
Mitsubishi G4M = Navy Type 1 Attack Bomber = "Betty"
Mitsubishi J2M Raiden = "Jack"
Mitsubishi Ki-15 Karigane = C5M = "Babs"
Mitsubishi Ki-21 = Army Type 97 Heavy Bomber = "Sally"
Mitsubishi Ki-30 = Army Type 97 Light Bomber = "Ann"
Mitsubishi Ki-46 Shitei = Army Type 100 Reconnaissance Aircraft = "Dinah"
Mitsubishi Ki-67 Hiryu = Army Type 4 Heavy Bomber = "Peggy"
Nakajima B5N = Navy Type 97 Carrier-Borne Bomber = "Kate"
Nakajima B6N Tenzan = "Jill"
Nakajima J1N Gekko = "Irving"
Nakajima Ki-27 = Army Type 97 Fighter = "Nate"
Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa = Army Type 1 Fighter = "Oscar"
Nakajima Ki-44 Shoki = Army Type 2 Fighter = "Tojo"
Nakajima Ki-49 Donryu = Army Type 100 Heavy Bomber = "Helen"
Nakajima Ki-84 Hayate = Army Type 4 Fighter = "Frank"
Yokosuka D4Y Suisei = "Judy"
Yokosuka P1Y Ginga = "Frances"
Subject: H.14. Swedish aircraft designations
The aircraft designations used by the Swedish armed forces consist of a set
of letters to indicate the role, and a number to indicate an aircraft type,
with a space between them. A letter may be added after the number to
The numbers are assigned in a single sequence for all types of aircraft.
The same number is always used for the same basic aircraft type, but the
prefix may be changed to indicate different roles.
Role codes (these may be combined, e.g. "JA" for fighter/attack):
A = Attack
B = Bomb
Fpl = Flygplan (aeroplane; used for multirole light aircraft)
Hkp = Helikopter
J = Jakt (fighter)
S = Spaning (reconnaissance)
SF = Spaning foto (photographic reconnaissance)
SH = Spaning havsövervakning (maritime reconnaissance)
Sk = Skol (trainer)
T = Torped (torpedo bomber) (obsolete)
Tp = Transport
The following types are currently in Swedish service:
Hkp 3 = Agusta/Bell AB-204 Iroquois
Hkp 4 = Boeing/Kawasaki KV-107 Sea Knight
Hkp 5 = Schweizer (Hughes) 300
Hkp 6 = Agusta/Bell AB-206 Jetranger
Hkp 9 = MBB BO 105
Hkp 10 = Aérospatiale AS.332 Super Puma
J 32 = Saab Lansen
J/Sk 35 = Saab Draken
AJ/AJS/JA/SF/SH/Sk 37 = Saab Viggen
JAS 39 = Saab Gripen
Sk 50 = Saab Safir
Fpl 53 = Dornier 27
Tp 54 = Piper PA-31 Navajo
Sk 60 = Saab 105
Fpl/Sk 61 = BAe Bulldog
Tp 84 = Lockheed C-130 Hercules
Tp 86 = Rockwell Sabreliner
Tp 88 = Fairchild Metro
SH 89 = CASA C-212 Aviocar
Tp 100 = Saab 340
Tp 101 = Beech Super King Air
Tp 102 = Gulfstream IV
Subject: J.1. Reference books
This is not intended to be a general list of reference books on military
aviation; it's simply a list of most of the books I found useful in
compiling this FAQ list. I've quoted ISBN numbers where I could find them.
I assume Jane's Planes has a new ISBN each year; the one quoted here is
from the 1990-91 edition, the latest available to me.
Roy Braybrook, S Skrynnikov & L Yakutin (1993): _Russian Warriors:
Sukhois, MiGs and Tupolevs_ (Osprey Aerospace, UK; ISBN 1-85532-293-5)
Piotr Butowski (1992): _Military Aircraft of Eastern Europe: (1) Fighters
and Interceptors_ (Concord Publications, Hong Kong; ISBN 962-361-028-9)
Piotr Butowski (1992): _Military Aircraft of Eastern Europe: (2) Bombers
and Attack Aircraft_ (Concord Publications, Hong Kong; ISBN 962-361-035-1)
David Donald & Robert F Dorr (1990): _Fighters of the United States Air
Force_ (Military Press, USA; ISBN 0-517-66994-3)
Lou Drendel (1984): _C-130 Hercules in Action_ (Squadron/Signal
Publications, USA; ISBN 0-89747-111-3)
Marcus Fülber (1993): _Red Stars Over Europe_ (Concord Publications, Hong
Kong; ISBN 962-361-709-7)
Tony Gibbons and David Miller (1992): _Modern Warships_ (Salamander Books,
Yefim Gordon & Bill Sweetman (1992): _Soviet X-Planes_ (Motorbooks
International, USA; ISBN 0-87938-498-0)
Bill Gunston (1976): _The Encyclopaedia of the World's Combat Aircraft_
(Salamander Books, UK)
Bill Gunston (1981): _Military Helicopters_ (Salamander Books, UK; ISBN
Bill Gunston (1983): _Modern Airborne Missiles_ (Lansdowne Press,
Australia; ISBN 0-7018-1705-4)
Bill Gunston (1987): _Modern Fighters and Attack Aircraft_ (Salamander
Books, UK; ISBN 0-86101-320-4)
Bill Gunston (1987): _The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Aircraft Armament_
(Salamander Books, UK; ISBN 0-86101-314-X)
Bill Gunston (1988): _Combat Arms: Modern Fighters_ (Salamander Books,
UK; ISBN 0-86101-413-8)
Bill Gunston (1989): _Combat Arms: Modern Attack Aircraft_ (Salamander
Books, UK; ISBN 0-86101-451-0)
Bill Gunston & Mike Spick (1983): _Modern Air Combat_ (Salamander Books,
Bill Gunston & Mike Spick (1986): _Modern Fighting Helicopters_ (Tiger
Books, UK; ISBN 1-85501-164-6)
John Jordan (1992): _Modern US Navy_ (Salamander Books, UK; ISBN
Mark Lambert, ed (annual): _Jane's All the World's Aircraft_ (Jane's
Publishing, UK; ISBN 0-7106-0908-6)
Chris Marshall, ed (1988): _The Defenders_ (Oriole Publishing, UK; ISBN
R A Mason & John W R Taylor (1986): _Aircraft, Strategy and operations of
the Soviet Air Force_ (Jane's Publishing, UK; ISBN 0-7106-0373-8)
Doug Richardson (1989): _Stealth Warplanes_ (Salamander Books, UK)
Mike Spick (1987): _Modern Fighter Combat_ (Salamander Books, UK; ISBN
Mike Spick & Tim Ripley (1992): _Modern Attack Aircraft_ (Smithmark
Publishers, USA; ISBN 0-8317-5054-5)
Mike Spick & Barry Wheeler (1992): _Modern Aircraft Markings_ (Salamander
Books, UK; ISBN 0-86101-695-5)
Mike Spick & Barry Wheeler (1992): _Modern American Fighters and Attack
Aircraft_ (Salamander Books, UK; ISBN 0-86101-696-3)
Bill Sweetman (1989): _Stealth Bomber_ (Airlife Publishing, UK; ISBN
Bill Sweetman (1993): _Aurora_ (Motorbooks International, USA; ISBN
Michael J H Taylor (1983): _Military Prototypes of the 1950s_ (Arms and
Armour Press; UK; ISBN 0-85368-579-7)
Michael J H Taylor (1987): _Encyclopaedia of Modern Military Aircraft_
(Bison Books, UK; ISBN 0-86124-349-8)
Michael J H Taylor (1991): _Jane's American Fighting Aircraft of the 20th
Century_ (Studio Editions, UK; ISBN 1-85170-767-0)
Masami Tokoi (1990): _Soviet Military Aircraft in Monino_ (Dai Nippon
Kaiga, Japan; ISBN 4-499-20561-1)
Steven J Zaloga (1991): _Modern Soviet Warplanes: Fighters and
Interceptors_ (Concord Publications, Hong Kong; ISBN 962-361-014-9)
Steven J Zaloga (1991): _Modern Soviet Warplanes: Strike Aircraft and
Attack Helicopters_ (Concord Publications, Hong Kong; ISBN 962-361-015-7)
Steven J Zaloga (1992): _Russian Falcons_ (Concord Publications, Hong
Kong; ISBN 962-361-707-0)
Subject: J.2. Magazines
As with the list of reference books, these are the magazines whose articles
I found useful in compiling these answers.
_Air Forces Monthly_ (Key Publishing, UK; monthly)
_Air International_ (Key Publishing, UK; monthly)
_Aviation Week and Space Technology_ (McGraw Hill, USA; weekly)
_Flight International_ (Reed Business Publishing, UK; weekly)
Subject: J.3. Acknowledgements
Thanks to the following people for their help:
Kevin Au <email@example.com>
Guy Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Al Bowers <email@example.com>
Martin Briscoe <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Carlton Brown <email@example.com>
Dwight Brown <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Wei-Bin Chang <email@example.com>
Dave Cherkus <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Rodney Clark <email@example.com>
Geoff A Cohen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Jim Davis <email@example.com>
Albert Dobyns <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dave Elliott <email@example.com>
Bernd Felsche <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Peter Fenelon <email@example.com>
Read Fleming <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Robert M Franklin <email@example.com>
Urban Fredriksson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
George Gale <email@example.com>
Emmanuel Gustin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Lee Hauser <email@example.com>
Scott Hemsley <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Richard Hunt <email@example.com>
John B Iodice <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cal Jewell <email@example.com>
Larry & Kim Jewell <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Rheza Jina <email@example.com>
Paul Kennedy <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Krzysztof Krzysztofowicz <email@example.com>
Lanny Lancaster <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Robin John Lee <email@example.com>
Ray Loy <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Steven Malikoff <email@example.com>
Duane P Mantick <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Chris Maxfield <email@example.com>
Paul McGinnis <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Jack McKillop <email@example.com>
Jeff Mitchell <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Eugene N Miya <email@example.com>
Chris Neary <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Vince Norris <email@example.com>
Christopher Ridlon <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Jaap Romers <email@example.com>
Geoff Russell <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Simon D Shpilfoygel <email@example.com>
Steven Vincent <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Mark W <email@example.com>
Rustam Yusupov <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Stefan Zamel <email@example.com>
...and some others who have asked not to be named.
... Ross Smith (Wellington, New Zealand) <firstname.lastname@example.org> ...
"Being in the air farce and navy means you only get to kill people by
remote control, which takes some of the fun out of it."
(Steve Kieffer-Higgins, in alt.tasteless)