Since 1962, the armed forces have used a standard, unified system of identifying aircraft that sometimes is referred to as the MDS (Mission Design Series) system (see “Bluejacket’s Manual,” June, p. 8). Readers of naval history prior to 1962 will encounter other aircraft identification systems used by the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, depending on the era.
The earliest naval aircraft were identified by a simple system consisting of a letter designating the manufacturer, followed by a number representing the sequence of procurement. There were only three manufacturers in those early days of naval aviation, and only five letters were used to distinguish types of aircraft:
Note: Much of the information in this article was derived from United States Naval Aircraft Since 1911, 2nd ed., by Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers (Naval Institute Press, 1976). Complete tables of type designations, manufacturer codes, and special-purpose suffixes are available in the online version of this article.