US Navy Fighter Designations

Last revised December 24, 1999




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

(status prefix)(Type)(Manufacturer type sequence)(manufacturer) - (configuration sequence number)(special purpose suffix)

The fields have the following meaning:


  • Type

    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)

  • Manufacturer

    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 different letter. 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.

    LetterManufacturer
    ABrewster Aeronautical Corporation
    B Boeing Aircraft Company
    C Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company
    DDouglas Aircraft Corporation
    DMcDonnell Aircraft Corporation (to H in 1946)
    FGrumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation
    GGoodyear Aircraft Corporation
    GEberhart Aeroplane and Motor Company
    HHall-Aluminum Aircraft Corporation (to 1940)
    HMcDonnell Aircraft Corporation (1946 ->)
    JBerliner-Joyce Aircraft Corporation (to 1935)
    JNorth American Aviation Corporation (1937->)
    LLoening Aircraft Corporation (to 1932)
    LBell Aircraft Corporation
    MGeneral Motors Corporation (Eastern Aircraft Division)
    NSeversky Aircraft Corporation
    OLockheed Aircraft Corporation (Plant B, 1931-1950)
    RRyan Aeronautical Company
    TNorthrop Aircraft, Inc
    UChance Vought Corporation
    VLockheed Aircraft Corporation (Vega plant)
    WWright Aeronautical Corporation
    YConvair


  • Manufacturer type sequence number

    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.

  • Aircraft Configuration Sequence Number.

    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.

  • Status Prefix

    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.

  • Special Purpose Suffix

    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.

  • General Aviation

    1. General Aviation FA


  • Brewster

    1. Brewster F2A

    2. Brewster F3A Corsair


  • Boeing

    1. Boeing FB

    2. Boeing F2B

    3. Boeing F3B

    4. Boeing F4B

    5. Boeing F5B

    6. Boeing F6B

    7. Boeing F7B

    8. Boeing F8B


  • Curtiss

    1. Curtiss CF

    2. Curtiss F2C

    3. Curtiss F3C

    4. Curtiss F4C

    5. Curtiss F6C

    6. Curtiss F7C

    7. Curtiss F8C Falcon

    8. Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk

    9. Curtiss F10C

    10. Curtiss F11C

    11. Curtiss F12C

    12. Curtiss F13C

    13. Curtiss F14C

    14. Curtiss F15C


  • McDonnell

    1. McDonnell FD Phantom

    2. McDonnell F2D Banshee


  • Douglas

    1. Douglas FD

    2. Douglas F3D Skyknight

    3. Douglas F4D Skyray

    4. Douglas F5D Skylancer

    5. Douglas F6D Missileer


  • Grumman

    1. Grumman FF

    2. Grumman F2F

    3. Grumman F3F

    4. Grumman F4F Wildcat

    5. Grumman F6F Hellcat

    6. Grumman F7F Tigercat

    7. Grumman F8F Bearcat

    8. Grumman F9F Panther/Cougar

    9. Grumman F10F Jaguar

    10. Grumman F11F Tiger

    11. Grumman F12F


  • Eberhart

    1. Eberhart FG

    2. Eberhart F2G


  • Goodyear

    1. Goodyear FG Corsair

    2. Goodyear F2G


  • Hall

    1. Hall FH


  • McDonnell

    1. McDonnell FH Phantom

    2. McDonnell F2H Banshee

    3. McDonnell F3H Demon

    4. McDonnell F4H Phantom II


  • Berliner-Joyce

    1. Berliner-Joyce FJ

    2. Berliner-Joyce F2J


  • North American

    1. North American FJ Fury


  • Loening

    1. Loening FL


  • Bell

    1. Bell FL

    2. Bell F2L


  • General Motors

    1. General Motors FM Wildcat

    2. General Motors F2M

    3. General Motors F3M


  • Seversky

    1. Seversky FN


  • Lockheed

    1. Lockheed FO


  • Ryan

    1. Ryan FR Fireball

    2. Ryan F2R Dark Shark


  • Northrop

    1. Northrop FT

    2. Northrop F2T Black Widow


  • Vought

    1. Vought FU

    2. Vought F2U

    3. Vought F3U

    4. Vought F4U Corsair

    5. Vought XF5U

    6. Vought F6U Pirate

    7. Vought F7U Cutlass

    8. Vought F8U Crusader


  • Lockheed

    1. Lockheed FV


  • Wright

    1. Wright F2W

    2. Wright F3W


  • Convair

    1. Convair FY Pogo

    2. Convair F2Y Sea Dart


1962 Unified 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 DesignationOld Designation
North American F-1 Fury North American FJ Fury
McDonnell F-2 Banshee McDonnell F2H Banshee
McDonnell F-3 DemonMcDonnell 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 used.

Sources

  1. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers

  2. American Combat Planes, Ray Wagner

  3. Warplanes of the Second World War, William Green

  4. United States Navy Aircraft Since 1911, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

  5. McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft Since 1920, Rene Francillon