It has been suggested that this article should be split into articles titled List of United States Air Force aircraft designations (1919–1962) and List of United States Tri-Service aircraft designations. (discuss) (August 2021)

This list of military aircraft of the United States includes prototype, pre-production, and operational types. For aircraft in service, see the list of active United States military aircraft. Prototypes are normally prefixed with "X" and are often unnamed (note that these are not the same as the experimental X-planes, which are not generally expected to go into production), while pre-production models are usually prefixed with "Y".

The United States military currently employs a designation and naming system to provide identifications to all aircraft types. Until 1962, the United States Army, United States Air Force (formerly Army Air Force), and United States Navy all maintained separate systems. In September 1962,[1] these were unified into a single system heavily reflecting the Air Force method. For more complete information on the workings of this system, refer to United States military aircraft designation systems.

This list does not include early aircraft used by the U.S. military during time periods when no numerical designation system was in effect, nor aircraft that did not receive designations for other reasons, such as foreign military aircraft borrowed for testing or civil aircraft impressed into military service during wartime. For these aircraft, see List of undesignated military aircraft of the United States. It also does not include aircraft designated under pre-1962 United States Navy designation systems. For these aircraft, see List of United States Navy aircraft designations (pre-1962).

A collection of NASA experimental aircraft, including (clockwise from left) the X-31, F-15 ACTIVE, SR-71, QF-106, F-16XL, X-38, Radio Controlled Mothership, and X-36.
A collection of NASA experimental aircraft, including (clockwise from left) the X-31, F-15 ACTIVE, SR-71, QF-106, F-16XL, X-38, Radio Controlled Mothership, and X-36.

Prior to 1919

Main article: List of undesignated military aircraft of the United States

Prior to 1919, all aircraft flown by the Army Air Service were referred to by the designation given to them by their manufacturer. The United States Navy used two designation systems in this time period, but abandoned the second system in 1917 with the country's entry into World War I (WWI). During this period, a variety of both domestic and foreign types were operated, with the latter being the primary front-line types during WWI.

Army Air Service system (1919–1924)

Curtiss PW-8
Curtiss PW-8

In September 1919, the Army Air Service decided that it needed an organized designation sequence, and adopted fifteen classifications, designated by Roman numerals. Several other unnumbered designations were added later. Each designation was assigned an abbreviation, and each design a number within that abbreviation. Variants were designated by alphabetically appending letters to the design number. For more information on the designation system, see 1919 United States Army Air Service aircraft designation system.

Type O: Foreign-Built Pursuit Aircraft

Type I: Pursuit, water-cooled

Type II: Pursuit, night

Type III: Pursuit, air-cooled

Type IV: Pursuit, ground attack, 1922

Type V: Two-seat pursuit

Type VI: Ground attack, 1920–1922

Type VII: Infantry liaison

Type VIII: Night observation

Type IX: Artillery observation

Type X: Corps observation

Type XI: Day bombardment

Type XII: Night bombardment, short range

Type XIII: Night bombardment, long range

Type XIV: Trainer, air-cooled

Type XV: Trainer, water-cooled

Ambulance, 1919–1924


Pursuit, special


Verville-Sperry R-3
Verville-Sperry R-3



Lighter-than-air craft

Army Air Corps/Army Air Forces/Air Force system (1924–1962)

For more information on the designation systems, see 1924 United States Army Air Service aircraft designation system, 1922 United States Navy aircraft designation system, and List of United States Navy aircraft designations (pre-1962).


OA: Observation Amphibian (1925–1948)

A: Amphibian (1948–1962)


A-3 Falcon
A-3 Falcon

A: Attack (1924–1948)


Huff-Daland LB-1
Huff-Daland LB-1

Until 1926, the Army Air Service had three sequences for bombers. Light bombers were indicated by the LB- prefix, medium bombers by the B- prefix, and heavy bombers by the HB- prefix. In 1926, the three-category system was scrapped and all bombers subsequently built were placed in the B- sequence.

LB: Light Bomber (1924–1926)

B: Medium Bomber (1924–1926)

HB: Heavy Bomber (1924–1926)

B: Bomber (1926–1962)

Martin B-10B
Martin B-10B

Beginning with #69, the "M-" (missile) and "B-" (bomber) series diverged. The missiles designated M-69 to M-92, some of which are incorrectly labeled as "formerly designated B-xx" in some sources, never used a "B-" series designation. Beginning with #70, another sequence diverged, the "RS-" (Reconnaissance/Strike) series, which was later changed to the "SR-" (Strategic Reconnaissance) series of the Tri-Service system.


Some bomber designations were assigned out of sequence.

BLR: Bomber, long range (1935–1936)

A short-lived designation used from 1935–1936 to refer to three long-range bomber projects commissioned by the Army Air Corps. Most of the bombers were night bombers.


C: Cargo (1924–1962)

Douglas C-1 refueling Fokker C-2
Douglas C-1 refueling Fokker C-2

This sequence was restarted at C-1 with the introduction of the Tri-Service system. However, the original sequence was picked up at C-143 starting in 2005, leading to the US military maintaining two separate sequences for cargo aircraft.


Aerial Target

GL: Target Glider (1922–1935)
A: Aerial Target (1940–1941)
PQ: Aerial Target, man carrying (1943–1948)
OQ: Aerial Target, model airplane (1942–1948)
Radioplane OQ-2A
Radioplane OQ-2A

BQ: Controllable Bomb (1942–1945)

CQ: Target Control (1942–1948)

Q: Drone (1948–1962)


S: Supersonic/Special Test (1946–1948)

The USAF extablished a separate sequence for purpose-built research aircraft in 1946. Originally designated with the "S" mission letter, the sequence switched to "X" in 1948.

X: Experimental (1948–1962)

Main article: List of X-planes

Below is a list of "X-planes" designated before 1962. For a list of X-planes designated after 1962, see #X: Special research.


P: Pursuit (1924-1948)

P-3 Hawk
P-3 Hawk

Designated P- for "pursuit" until June 1948, nine months after the United States Air Force was founded. After this, all P- designations were changed to F- ("fighter"), but the original numbers were retained.[6]


F: Fighter (1948–1962)


FM: Fighter, Multiplace

PB: Pursuit, Biplace


AG: Assault Glider (1942–1944)

BG: Bomb Glider (1942–1944)

CG: Cargo Glider (1941–1948)

Waco CG-4A
Waco CG-4A

FG: Fuel Glider (1930–1948)

PG: Powered Glider (1943–1948)

TG: Training Glider (1941–1948)

Schweitzer TG-3A
Schweitzer TG-3A

G: Glider (1948–1955)

In 1948, all the glider categories were unified into a single sequence.

S: Sailplane (1960–1962)


L: Liaison (1942–1962)


O: Observation (1924–1942)


F: Photographic Reconnaissance (1930–1948)

R: Reconnaissance (1948–1962)

RS: Reconnaissance/Strike (1960–1962)

Both of the following aircraft are numbered in the B- (bomber) sequence.


G: Gyroplane (1935–1939)

R: Rotary wing (1941–1948)

In 1941, the category letter R- was allotted for "rotary wing" aircraft, and this designation was used until the founding of the United States Air Force in 1947, at which point the category letter was changed to H-, for "helicopter". However, the original numbering sequence was retained.

H: Helicopter (1948–1962)


AT: Advanced Trainer (1925–1948)

BC: Basic Combat (1936–1940)

BT: Basic Trainer (1930–1948)

PT: Primary Trainer (1925–1948)

T: Trainer (1948–1962)

In 1948, the Advanced, Basic, and Primary Trainer categories were unified into one sequence. Below are the designations that were assigned before the introduction of the Tri-Service system. For the designations in the same sequence that were assigned after 1962, see #Continued original sequence (1962–present).

Army system (1956–1962)

AO-1 Mohawk
AO-1 Mohawk

In 1956, the U.S. Army adopted a new, and relatively simple, designation system for its aviation assets. Aircraft were divided into three different types – 'A' for fixed-wing aircraft, 'H' for helicopters, or 'V' for V/STOL aircraft, and then were given a mission modifier, which, unlike the USAF system, came after the type code: 'C' for transports, 'O' for observation and reconnaissance aircraft, 'U' for utility types, and 'Z' for experimental aircraft. Aircraft types designated in this system were numbered sequentially.[10] For more information on the designation system, see 1956 United States Army aircraft designation system.

AC: Airplane, Cargo (1956–1962)

AO: Airplane, Observation (1956–1962)

HO: Flying Platform (1956–1956)

HC: Helicopter, Cargo (1956–1962)

HO: Helicopter, Observation (1956–1962)

HU: Helicopter, Utility (1956–1962)

HZ: Helicopter, Experimental (1956–1962)

VZ: Vertical Takeoff and Landing Research (1956–1962)

VZ-9 Avrocar
VZ-9 Avrocar

Tri-Service system (1962–present)

For more information on the designation system, see 1962 United States Tri-Service aircraft designation system.

A: Attack aircraft

Non-sequential designations

B: Bomber

Non-sequential designation

C: Cargo/Transport

Revived 1924-1962 sequence (2005-present)

Non-sequential designations

D: Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) control segment

The "D" sequence is assigned to ground control stations for UAVs.[15]

E: Special electronic installation

F: Fighter

Non-sequential designations

Other designations

Designations YF-110, YF-112 through YF-116, and YF-118 were captured foreign aircraft used for evaluation and aggressor training. They were given designations in sequence—based on chronology—with black project aircraft, continuing the pre-1962 "F" series.[16][17]

G: Glider

H: Helicopter

Unlike most other categories of aircraft, the introduction of the tri-service designation system in 1962 did not result in a wholesale redesignation of helicopters. While six types received new designations in the unified, "re-started" sequence, the original "H-" series of designations that started in 1948 was also continued, and no further types of rotorcraft have been designated in the "post-1962" system.

Continuation of 1948 sequence

Lockheed XH-51
Lockheed XH-51

Non-sequential designations

K: Tanker (modified mission designator)

No specialised types have been acquired to receive a stand-alone 'K for Tanker' designation; for aircraft modified for use as tankers, see the parent aircraft in the proper sequence.

L: Laser-equipped

O: Observation

P: Maritime patrol

Q: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

Non-sequential designations

R: Reconnaissance

S: Anti-submarine warfare

S: Spaceplane

S is also used as a vehicle type designator spaceplanes.

SR: Strategic Reconnaissance

The "SR" sequence is a continuation of the original USAF bomber sequence, which ended at B-70.

T: Trainer

Despite the adoption of the unified Mission Designation System in 1962, only two aircraft were designated in the new sequence, both former Navy types. New trainer aircraft after 1962 continued to use the original sequence. In 1990, an alternate sequence was started, with the first designation being T-1, though the old sequence continues to be used. The next designation available in the 'T' series is T-54 or T-8, depending on which series is continued.

Continued original sequence (1962–present)

Only aircraft designated after the adoption of the Tri-Service system are listed below. For aircraft in the sequence designated before 1962, see #T: Trainer (1948–1962).

1962 redesignations

1990 Sequence

U: Utility

Non-sequential designations

V: Vertical take-off/short take-off and landing (VTOL/STOL)

X: Special research

Main article: List of X-planes

In addition to aircraft intended to support military operations, the unified system includes experimental craft designed to push the boundaries of aeronautical and aerospace knowledge. These aircraft are designated in the "X-series", which led them to become known as "X-planes". Only those designated after 1962 are listed here. Some aircraft did not have military sponsors, but since they were designated under the same sequence they are listed here. For aircraft in the sequence designated before 1962, see #X: Experimental (1948–1962).

Z: Lighter-than-air

See also



  1. ^ Trapp, Robert E.; Berkeley, William P.; Egerland, Arnold V. (1967). "The Criteria for an Equipment Identification Coding System" (PDF). Air Force Institute of Technology School of Systems and Logistics. p. III-20. Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 April 2022. Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  2. ^ "Airship AC-1 Lands At Field". The Airship Log. Vol. 1. Belleville, Illinois: Meyer & Farrell. 4 May 1923. p. 1 – via
  3. ^ "RN-1 Zodiac Arrived at Scott Field". The Airship Log. Vol. 1, no. 1. Belleville, Illinois: Meyer & Farrell. 4 May 1923. p. 1 – via
  4. ^ "Lockheed B-71 (SR-71)". National Museum of the United States Air Force. October 29, 2009. Archived from the original on October 4, 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-02.
  5. ^ Andrade 1979, page 60
  6. ^ Knaack, Marcelle Size (1978). Encyclopedia of US Air Force Aircraft and Missile Systems: Volume 1 (PDF). Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History. p. 1. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  7. ^ "". rec.aviation.military FAQ, Part 4. Retrieved 2007-01-13.
  8. ^ Andrade 1979, p. 162
  9. ^ Office of History, Headquarters Third Air Force, United States Air Forces in Europe: Installations and USAAF Combat Units in the United Kingdom 1942–1945, Revised and Expanded Edition Archived 2011-09-24 at the Wayback Machine. October 1980; reprinted February 1985
  10. ^ Chorney, Andrew. Systems of Designation, U.S. Army Aircraft, 1956–1962 System. U.S. Military Aircraft Designations 1911–2004
  11. ^ Swanborough, Gordon; Bowers, Peter M. (1990). United States Navy Aircraft since 1911. Putnam Aeronautical. p. 338. ISBN 0-87021-792-5.
  12. ^ a b Officially, the F/A-18 is designated in both the A-for-attack and F-for-fighter series.
  13. ^ a b c Parsch 2009, "DOD 4120.15-L"
  14. ^ Chorney, Andrew. "U.S. Military Aircraft Designations 1911-2004".
  15. ^ "DOD 4120.15-L - Addendum". Retrieved 2022-05-15.
  16. ^ a b c Parsch, Andreas (2006-11-27). "Cover Designations for Classified USAF Aircraft". Designation-Systems.Net. Retrieved 2006-12-29.
  17. ^ Fulghum, David A., "MiGs in Nevada", Aviation Week & Space Technology, November 27, 2006
  18. ^ "Edwards AFB website". Col. Joseph A. Lanni, USAF biography. Archived from the original on 2005-03-18. Retrieved 2007-01-07.
  19. ^ a b c d e f "94th Flying Training Squadron aircraft". Archived from the original on 2009-03-10.
  20. ^ a b c d Parsch 2009, "DOD 4120.15-L"
  21. ^ a b c d e Parsch 2009, "DOD 4120.15-L"
  22. ^ DOD 4120.15-L: Model Designation of Military Aerospace Vehicles Archived 2007-10-25 at the Wayback Machine, Department of Defense, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (AT&L) (Defense Systems), May 12, 2004. Retrieved April 7, 2010.
  23. ^ Parsch 2009, "DOD 4120.15-L"
  24. ^ a b c d Parsch 2009, "DOD 4120.15-L"
  25. ^ "Photo essay: Flight of a T-52A" U.S. Air Force.
  26. ^ Parsch 2009, "DOD 4120.15-L"
  27. ^ a b c d Parsch, Andreas. ""Missing" USAF/DOD Aircraft Designations". Designation-Systems.Net. Retrieved 2010-04-13.
  28. ^ a b Parsch 2009, "Missing Designations"
  29. ^ DOD 4120.15-L: Model Designation of Military Aerospace Vehicles Archived 2007-10-25 at the Wayback Machine, Department of Defense, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (AT&L) (Defense Systems), May 12, 2004. Retrieved April 7, 2010.
  30. ^ Parsch 2009, "DOD 4120.15-L"