US Navy rigid airship Los Angeles tied up to the mooring mast aboard airship tender Patoka, circa 1931
A US Marine Corps SBD-1 Dauntless of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 132 (VMSB-132) in flight over the Pacific Ocean, circa 1941
A US Navy HSS-1 Seabat of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Two (HS-2) aboard aircraft carrier Yorktown, circa 1959
A US Marine Corps F4H-1 Phantom II jet of Marine All-Weather Fighter Squadron 314 (VMF(AW)-314) firing an AIM-7 Sparrow missile, circa 1961

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.

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 systems

1911 system

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 system

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]

  • 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 system

Main article: 1922 United States Navy aircraft designation system

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 balloons

Main article: List of airships of the United States Navy

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

Rigid airships were designated as ZR-class—"R" for rigid—with a suffixed number identifying the individual aircraft, and unlike all other lighter-than-air craft were commissioned no differently that surface ships; therefore, the ZR code was included as a hull classification symbol with those of surface ships. With the introduction of the Akron-class airship, an "S" mission suffix was added to signify scout (ZRS-class).[6]

Other airships

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 gas balloons used for airship crew training were considered ZF-class aircraft but never received formal designations and were identified only by serial number and volume; similarly, crewed kite balloons and uncrewed barrage balloons were considered ZK-class, but were undesignated.[10]

Other exceptions

The non-standard XDH designation was applied to two de Havilland aircraft procured in 1927 and 1934 for use by the U.S. Naval Attaché in London.[11]

In 1952, the Navy and Air Force agreed to standardize some flight training curricula and equipment.[12] Accordingly, the T-28 Trojan and T-34 Mentor trainers were adopted and operated by the Navy under their Air Force designations.[13]

1911 system designations, 1911–1914

Data from Baugher, Joe (2006)[14]

1914 system designations, 1914–1917

Data from Baugher, Joe (2014)[15] and Swanborough and Bowers (1976), as noted

A: Heavier-than-air

AB: Flying boat

AH: Aeroplane, Hydro

AX: Amphibian

B: Free balloon

BC: Kite balloon

1922 system designations, 1922–1962

Airborne early warning

W: Airborne early warning (1952–1962)


ZP: Patrol (1954–1962)

ZS: Scout (1954–1962)

ZW: Airborne Early Warning (1954–1962)


A: Ambulance (1943–1962)

H: Hospital (1929–1942)

H: Air-Sea Rescue (1946–1962)

No designations were assigned in this sequence.


S: Anti-submarine (1946–1962)

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


A: Attack (1946–1962)

Douglas Skyraider, 1966


B: Bomber (1931–1943)

BF: Bomber fighter (1934–1937)

BT: Bomber torpedo (1942–1945)


BD: Bomber drone (1944)

DS: Antisubmarine drone (1959–1962)

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

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

KD: Unified sequence (1945–1962)

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

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

KS: Anti-ship missile (1946–1947)

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

KU: Research missile (1946–1947)

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

TD: Target drone (1942–1945)

U: Unpiloted aircraft (1946–1955)


F: Fighter (1922–1962)

Grumman F6F-3 Hellcats in 1943
Vought F4U-4 Corsair, 1950
McDonnell F3H-2N Demon, 1956

P: Pursuit (1923)


LB: Bomb glider

LN: Trainer glider (1941–1945)

LR: Transport glider (1941–1945)


HC: Crane (1952–1955)

HJ: Utility (1944–1949)

HO: Observation (1944–1962)

HN: Trainer (1944–1948)

HR: Transport (1944–1962)

HS: Antisubmarine (1951–1962)

HT: Trainer (1948–1962)

HU: Utility (1950–1962)

R: Rotorcycle (1954–1959)

Marine Expeditionary

M: Marine Expeditionary (1922–1923)


O4U Corsair

O: Observation (1922–1962)

OS: Observation scout (1935–1945)


P: Patrol (1923–1962)

P2V-2 Neptune over NAS Jacksonville, 1953

PB: Patrol bomber (1935–1962)

A flight of PBY-5 Catalinas over the Aleutian Islands

PT: Patrol torpedo (1922)

No designations were assigned in this sequence.

PTB: Patrol torpedo bomber (1937–1962)



R: Racer (1922–1928)


SC Seahawk

S: Scout (1922–1946)

SB: Scout bomber (1934–1946)

Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless

SN: Scout trainer (1939–1948)

SNJ-5 Texan, 1950

SO: Scout observation (1934–1946)


G: Tanker (1958–1962)


T: Torpedo (1922–1935)

TB: Torpedo bomber (1935–1946)

Grumman TBF Avenger in mid-1942

TS: Torpedo scout (1943–1946)


N: Trainer (1922–1948)

T: Trainer (1948–1962)


G: Transport, single engine (1939–1941)

R: Transport, 1931–1962

T: Transport (1922–1931)


J: Utility (1931–1955)

JR: Utility transport (1935–1955)

U: Utility (1955–1962)

Foreign-built utility aircraft (1920–1962)

Pre-1954 airship systems

Commissioned vessels (1922–1935)

USS Shenandoah (ZR-1)

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.[19]

1940 system

ZNN: Training (1940–1946)

ZNP: Patrol (1940–1946)

1947 system

ZP: Patrol (1947–1953)

ZT: Training (1947–1953)

ZW: Airborne Early Warning (1947–1953)

See also



  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. ^ Non-standard XDH designation applied to two de Havilland aircraft procured for use by the U.S. Naval Attaché in London.[11]


  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, pp. 504–505.
  11. ^ a b Swanborough & Bowers 1976, pp. 480–481.
  12. ^ Swanborough & Bowers 1976, p. 350.
  13. ^ Swanborough & Bowers 1976, pp. 350, 412.
  14. ^ Baugher, Joe (5 May 2006). "US Navy and US Marine Corps Military Serial Numbers, First Alphanumeric Series (1911-1914)". Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  15. ^ Baugher, Joe (6 March 2014). "US Navy and US Marine Corps Military Serial Numbers, Second Alphanumeric Series (1914-1917)". Retrieved 19 September 2021.
  16. ^ Swanborough & Bowers 1976, p. 96.
  17. ^ a b Swanborough & Bowers 1976, p. 417.
  18. ^ Swanborough & Bowers 1976, p. 485.
  19. ^ Smith, Alfred Emanuel (21 September 1921). "Lessons of the ZR-2". The Outlook. 129: 80, 82. Retrieved 30 July 2009.