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Aircraft Mission-Design Series (MDS)

All US military aircraft were given a two-part Model Design Series (MDS) symbol or designation when the DOD unified all military aircraft designations in 1962 under a common designation system, based on that of the US Air Force. The first part is a letter which tells the kind of aircraft and the second part is a number which tells the model of the aircraft. When originally developed, designations for planes were used much the same as they are today with few exceptions. For example F is the designator for a modern day fighter aircraft but in World War II, F meant a photographic plane used for reconnaissance. During World War II these designators were used: A for attack. B for Bombardment, C for Cargo, L for Liaison, P for Pursuit and T for Training. This letter indicated the function of the plane. The following number indicated sequence within a type as in B-17. If there was a letter after the number it indicated an improved model type such as B-17E.

A Attack
B Bomber
C Cargo
D Drone
E Electronic
F Figher
H Search and Rescue (SAR)
I[not used]
J Test - Temporary
K Tanker
L Polar
M Multi-Mission
N Test - Permanent
O Observation
P Patrol
Q Drone and Target
R Reconnaissance
S Anti-Submarine
T Trainer
U Utility
W Weather
X Experimental
Y Prototype
Z Lighter-Than-Air

The general policy of naming Army aircraft after Indians tribes, chiefs or terms was made official by authority of AR 70-28, dated 4 April 1969. Although this regulation has been recinded, the Indian names were very popular among Army personnel and the practice continues in place. The commanding general of the US Army Material Command has the responsibility of initiating action to select a popular name for aircraft. For this purpose he has a list of possible names obtained from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (for brevity the names usually consist of only one word). When a new aircraft reaches the production stage or immediately before it goes into production, the commanding general selects five possible names. He bases his selection on the way they sound, their history and their relationship to the mission of the aircraft. They must appeal to the imagination without sacrificing dignity and suggest an aggressive spirit and confidence in the capabilities of the aircraft. They also must suggest mobility, firepower and endurance.

The names are sent to the Trade Mark Division of the US Patent Office to determine if there is any legal objection to their use. After approval by the Patent Office the five names are sent to the Chief of Research and Development, Department of the Army, with a short justification for each. From these five the Chief of Research and Development selects one. The approved name then goes to the Aeronautical Systems Division, Directorate of Engineering Standards, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. This Department of Defense unit has the responsibility of officially registering the names of all aircraft used by the military. It also prints a list of the names in a publication called "Model Designation of Military Aircraft, Rockets and Guided Missiles." Some Army aircraft, such as the Bird Dog and Otter, do not have Indian names. Most were named before the present policy went into effect. AR 70-28 specifies that these will not be changed.

The 1919 Type System

When the Army first acquired military aircraft they were referred to by the manufacturer's designation. Few aircraft were acquired in the pre-World War I period, and they were mainly used for observation purposes. During the war, aircraft types became more specialized and a more precise system of aircraft identification was needed, although one was not developed until after the war.

The Army Air Corps aircraft designation system introduced in 1919 described aircraft according to types; assigning a Type numeral to each. The following year the Engineering Division at McCook Field instituted a series of letter designations to supplement the Type series. Numbers were added to these letters to further identify aircraft, thus creating an identification system familiar to us today. These were 2-3 letter designations that served as abbreviations for the function of the aircraft.

Between 1919 and 1924 eight more letter designations were added by the Engineering Division. The letters were proving to be more flexible and descriptive than the Type numerals, and the new designations were not assigned Type numerals. The first major revision occurred in 1924. The Roman numerated Type designations were completely abandoned, and identification was entirely by function of the aircraft. It is during this period that the prefix X was first used to designate experimental aircraft, prototypes, and temporary test aircraft; Y denoted service aircraft; and Z designated obsolete models.

Type I PWPursuit watercooled
Type II PN Pursuit night
Type III PA Pursuit aircooled
Type IV PG Pursuit ground attack
Type V TP Pursuit two-place
Type VI GA Ground attack
Type VII IL Infantry liaison
Type VIII NO Night observation
Type IX AO Artillery observation surveillance
Type X CO Corps observation
Type XI DB Day bomber
Type XII NBS Night bombardment short distance
Type XIII NBL Night bombardment long distance
Type XIV TA Training air-cooled
Type XV TW Training water-cooled

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:34:10 ZULU