For many years, the US Navy used a completely different aircraft designation system from the USAAC/USAAF/USAF. In 1923, the Navy introduced an aircraft designation system in which its aircraft were designated according to manufacturer, type, and model sequence by a sequence of 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 naval designation scheme is as follows
The fields have the following meaning:
This was a letter or pair of letters which designated the role that the aircraft was to fulfill. There were several
different type designations that were used for attack aircraft throughout the years: BF for bomber-fighter (1934-1937), BT for
bomber-torpedo (1942-1945), SB for scout-bomber (1934-1946), TB for torpedo bomber (1935-1946), plus A for
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
|A||Brewster Aeronautical Corporation|
|C||Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company|
|D||Douglas Aircraft Corporation|
|F||Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation|
|F||Canadian Fairchild Corporation (1942-1945)|
|G||Great Lakes Aircraft Corporation|
|H||Hall-Aluminum Aircraft Corporation (to 1940)|
|H||McDonnell Aircraft Corporation (1946 ->)|
|J||North American Aviation Corporation (1937->)|
|K||Kaiser Cargo, Inc, Fleetwings Division (1943-1945)|
|M||General Motors Corporation (Eastern Aircraft Division)|
|M||Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Corporation|
|N||Naval Aircraft Factory|
|U||Chance Vought Corporation|
|W||Canadian Car and Foundry|
This number indicated the procurement sequence for different models of a similar type ordered from the same
manufacturer. For example, SBA-1 was the first Navy scout bomber ordered from Brewster, SB2A-1 the second.
This number identified the sequence of different modifications within the same basic aircraft. For example,
there were six different versions of the Douglas SBD Dauntless, designated by SBD-1, SBD-2, SBD-3, SBD-4, SBD-5, and SBD-6.
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 Skyraider was designated XBT2D-1.
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 attack version of the AD-3 Skyraider was designated AD-3N.
Here is a list of Navy/Marine Corps aircraft that fall into the attack category:
On September 11, 1962, the Navy mission-manufacturer-number designation system
that had been in use for so many years was replaced by a unified Department of Defense
system in which Navy and Air Force aircraft were designated according to the same scheme. One of the changes was the
introduction of a new A for attack series which would be used by both the Navy and the Air Force. Several of the Navy
attack aircraft in the 1946-1962 attack series were redesignated with
numbers in the new system.
Here are the existing Navy attack aircraft that were redesignated:
|New Designation||Old Designation|
|Douglas A-1 Skyraider||Douglas AD Skyraider|
|North American A-2 Savage||North American AJ Savage|
|Douglas A-3 Skywarrior||Douglas A3D Skywarrior|
|Douglas A-4 SkyhawkI||Douglas A4D Skyhawk|
|North American A-5 Vigilante||North American A3J Vigilante|
|Grumman A-6 Intruder||Grumman A2F Intruder|