Quick – F4H or F-110?

Depending on the markings and the date, it could have been either – or none.  Despite the fact that 15 years earlier, the Department of Defense (and departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force) were created by the National Security Act of 1947, the three Services continued with their separate methodologies of aircraft designations.  Hence, the Phantom II was known as the F4H by the Navy and Marines while as the F-110 by the Air Force.  The Navy’s system, in effect from 29 March 1922, rolled up the mission and manufacturer (including design number) in the designator or in detail:(status prefix)(Type)(Manufacturer type sequence)(manufacturer) – (configuration sequence number)(special purpose suffix)– hence the F4H broke out as Fighter, 4th design from McDonnell while the first land-based AEW aircraft, a variation of the Army Air Force Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress, was the PB-1W: Patrol (P)+Boeing (B)-First configuration (1) for Early Warning (W).  Since the aircraft wasn’t originally designed for AEW and a modification for AEW from an existing platform, the W fell into the special purpose suffix.  Conversely, the first purpose built AEW aircraft, was (briefly) known as the W2F-1 (AEW+2nd type+Grumman – 1st sequence)

Over the course of the forty-year run of the designation system, it led to some unofficial, and colorful nicknames that included the:

  • “Ford” – Douglas F4D Skyray

  • “Willie Victor” – Lockheed WV-1 Warning Star

  • “Fudd” – Grumman WF-1 Tracer (shortened from “Willie Fudd”)

  • “All Three Dead” – Douglas A3D Skywarrior (which was also known in ‘polite’ circles as the Whale)

  • “SPAD” – from the Douglas AD Skyraider

As elegant as the nomenclature system may have been, to outsiders it was prone to confusion.  Not helping the matter were instances where even in the naval services, the same platform had different designators (e.g., the Navy’s version of Kaman’s HH-43 Huskie was designated the HUK-1 while the Marine’s was HOK-1).

HUK? HOK? HH-43?

Presumably SecDef McNamara had his fill while being briefed on the F4H/F-110 and said “enough” (or words to that effect) and on this date in 1962 a joint Army-Navy-Air Force regulation was issued establishing a uniform system of designating military aircraft similar to that previously in use by the Air Force. By it, all existing aircraft were re-designated using a letter, dash, number, and letter to indicate in that order, the basic mission or type of aircraft, its place in the series of that type, and its place in the series of changes in its basic design.  Some Navy aircraft, like the F8U, F9F, F4H and A3D made relatively straightforward changes (F-8, F-9, F-4 and A-3 respectively) while others ended up with new sequence numbers (but are still referred to today by their old ones – e.g., the F3D/F-10 and F4D/F-6).  USAF aircraft kept their pre-62 designations (F-101, B-52, etc.).  Of course, like any regulation hat purports to lock-down configuration – there will be exceptions, and there were more than one or two where the 1962 designation system was concerned – here are a few:

Recce crew – quick ID’s?

Article Series - Centenary of Naval Aviation (1911-2011)

  1. Flightdeck Friday: Smoke and the Battle of Midway
  2. Flightdeck Friday: RF-8 Crusaders and BLUE MOON
  3. Flightdeck Friday: Midway POV – Wade McClusky
  4. Flightdeck Friday: 23 October 1972 and The End of Linebacker I
  5. Former VFP-62 CO and DFC Recipient, CAPT William Ecker, USN-Ret Passes Away
  6. CAPT John E. “Jack” Taylor, USN-Ret.
  7. Flightdeck Friday: USS MACON Added to National Register of Historical Places
  8. Tailhook Association and Association of Naval Aviation
  9. Flightdeck Friday: Speed and Seaplanes – The Curtiss CR-3 and R3C-2
  10. Flightdeck Friday: A Family Remembers a Father, Naval Officer and Former Vigilante B/N
  11. Out of the Box Thinking and Execution 68 Years Ago: The Doolittle Raid
  12. The ENTERPRISE Petition – A Gentle Reminder
  13. USS Enterprise (CVAN/CVN-65) At Fifty
  14. A Golden Anniversary: The Hawkeye At 50
  15. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy
  16. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part II)
  17. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part III)
  18. Reflections on the E-2 Hawkeye’s 50th Anniversary
  19. An Open Letter to “The 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation”
  20. U.S. Naval Aviation – 100 Years
  21. Doolittle’s Raiders: Last Surviving Bomber Pilot of WWII Doolittle Raid, Dies at 93
  22. More Naval Aviation Heritage Aircraft (But Still No Hawkeye)
  23. Naval Aviation Centennial: Neptune’s Atomic Trident (1950)
  24. Naval Aviation Centennial: One Astronaut, A Future Astronaut and Reaching for New Heights
  25. Flightdeck Friday Special Edition: The Space Shuttle – Thirty Years of Dreams, Sweat and Tears
  26. Flightdeck Friday – Postings from the Naval Aviation Museum
  27. Saturday Matinee: US Naval Aviation – the First 100 Years
  28. National Museum of Naval Aviation – Some Thoughts and A Call to Action
  29. Flightdeck Friday – 100 Years of Naval Aviation and the USCG
  30. Guest Post: THE U.S. NAVY’S FLEET PROBLEMS OF THE THIRTIES — A Dive Bomber Pilot’s Perspective
  31. This Date in Naval Aviaiton History: Sept 18, 1962 – Changing Designators
  32. Centennial Of Naval Aviation – The Shadow Warriors


  1. SSG Jeff (USAR)

    This would be a lot easier without the 31 other posts listed between the photos and the reply box…
    I don’t know why the F-35 is out of sequence, but yes, I don’t believe I’ve heard of the F-24 through F-33 at least.
    The F-111 was the last of the Century series to survive… until the F-117 next to it popped up in an effort to obscure it by using an off-series number.
    The AV-8B and the F/B-18 both suffer from multi-roliosis.
    I believe that the 4 engine turboprop in the lower left is known as a Dash 7, or the RC-7, thanks to it’s civilian counterpart. Which thereby confuses it with a completely different aircraft, the C-7 Caribou. It’s also be known as the O-5A and the EO-5B. But then why was the OV-1 Mohawk called that? It certainly didn’t have VTOL capabilities.
    Then we’ve got the TR-1/U-2R, another case of CIA naming as much as anything – the TR-1 at least makes sense, although calling that platform “tactical” is somewhat ironic, given it’s lack of maneuverability in it’s normal flight regime.
    The SR-71 should have been the RS-71 – wasn’t that a presidential level typo? And finally we have the A-12 which I assume was another case of CIA obscure naming.

  2. Spiraling clockwise from center:

    – AV-8 designation would imply that it was the eighth different design of vertical takeoff aircraft with the attack mission. I’m not aware of seven predecessors.
    – F-35C has the same sequencing “problem”
    – FB-111 – is it a bomber with a secondary fighter mission? Number out of sequence if so.
    – F-117 – No idea why this airplane got called a fighter, except that the Air Force fighter jocks hated the attack mission designation. Sequence number similar to the F-110 original designation of the Phantom, maybe part of the cover story?
    – F/A-18 – I see no slashes in the description of the naming conventions.
    – A-12 – not sure on this one, because it was a CIA plane but appears in Air Force colors here. Interesting to the discussion because the A-12 designation was reused for the Avenger II.
    – SR-71 – originally RS-71, designation got flipped somehow.
    – TR-1A – the “T” secondary mission designation is supposed to be for trainers.
    – no clue on the last one.

    Thanks for the prompt to research some interesting stuff!

  3. Jeff –

    A-12 came from the Lockheed development team — it was the 12th of their Archangel design iterations.
    OV-1 designation was probably consistent with the system. V could be used for either vertical or short takeoff.

  4. F-35 is out of sequence being taken from the X-35 demonstrator rather than taking the next fighter number in sequence (24). Precedence being established when Northrop wanted the F-5G renamed the F-20 to both ID it as a “new” generation and differentiate it from Communist bloc fighters in the overseas market (they used odd number sequences). Although the mission letters of the AV-8 Harrier’s designation are correct, the series number is not. The Ryan XV-8 (“Fleep”) had already existed, so, while A-8 would have been fine, the V designation should have been AV-14.
    w/r, SJS

  5. Southern Air Pirate

    Some of those sequences may not be out of sequence. If rumors are to be believed, http://tinyurl.com/read-eagles like this book, then some of the fighter and attack sequenced numbers were assigned to “borrowed” aircraft that were “donated” from allied or semi-friendly nations or groups.

  6. sjs — my first comment seems to have disapparated. I posted it about 20:20 or so.

  7. Southern Air Pirate

    So going from left to right starting at approximately the 11 o’clock position is the following aircraft.

    F-35 Lightening 2, so designated as per a mistake from the SecDef at the time the contract was awarded
    FB-111A The strategtic bomber variant of the F-111 Aardvark which had a slightly different wing glove to comply with the SALT treaties about cruise missile carriers. It was really an upgraded version of the F-111A and F-111K (the UK variant was was canx’ed due to $$$) which a larger fuel capacity and the capability to carry SRAM and other SAC cruise missiles and built to replace the B-58 Hustler.
    F-117 – Which was according to legend a cover designation to throw off Moles in the Defense Department and to hide funding with in the DoD budget for experimental aircraft
    A-18 Hornet – As envisioned and when you actually research the paperwork as when the contract was written for the light weight fighter to augement the F-14 on carrier decks, there was going to be two different aircraft order. A pure F-18 fighter that was going to be a daylight, light weight, tactical fighter ala F-16 to replace the F-4 and F-8 (at the time the contract was written some still envsioned a role for the “newer” 27C carriers in a general war) on carrier decks. While at the same time there was supposed to be an A-7 and A-4 replacement that was strictly going to be a bomb carrier with some very limited fighter missions. In the end someone said that this was silly and combined the two roles. So for a while when the aircraft was introduced it was initially called the F/A-18 and now it is referred to as the F-18. Give this book, http://tinyurl.com/hornet-history, about the design and ordering of the F-18 into fleet service.
    We then have the A-12 Oxcart aircaft that was born from the YF-12 mach 3 fighter. Some of these aircraft were modified by skunkworks from the original YF-12 aircraft to become recon aircraft. These modifications were paid for by the CIA to augement and replace the U-2 in the CIA’s air force. Some of these aircraft were used over Vietnam and these were the only aircraft to use the D-21 recon drone and they differ from the SR-71 in the shape of the nose and the electronics installed in it.
    To the left of the A-12 is the SR-71 which USAF version of the A-12, but with further revisions done to it by Kelly and Skunkworks, also using USAF electronics. The A-12 and SR-71 are not the same aircraft.
    From there at the 6 o’clock postion is the TR-1A, which was a revision of the U-2 aircraft that has “tactical” recon equipment installed such as Side-looking radar and improved avionics and ECM systems. These aircraft were expected to provide improved strategtic tactical recon efforts.
    We finally have at the 9 o’clock postion an aircraft an EO-5C or should it be called the RC-7? This is a strange aircraft because it belongs to the US Army Aviation. Though it should belong the DoD designation system, in reality US Army Aviation seems to slip through the cracks.
    Finally in the center we have AV-8A Harrier. The question is should V be the primary mission or should it be designated VA-8A?

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