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If US aircraft numbering systems were never amalgamated

Abraham Gubler

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This is the product of a bout of insomnia last night… pointless but remotely interesting in a what-if way. What would have happened if the USAF and USN aircraft naming systems were not amalgamated in 1962?

USAF Aircraft Designations

Fighters

McDonnell F-110 Spectre (F-4)
Northrop F-112 Tiger (F-5)
Lockheed YF-113 (YF-12)
McDonnell Douglas F-114 Eagle (F-15)
General Dynamics F-115 Fighting Falcon (F-16)
Northrop YF-116 (YF-17)
Northrop F-117 Tigershark (F-20)
IAI F-118 Kifir (F-21)
Lockheed Martin F-119 Raptor (F-22)
Northrop YF-120 (YF-23)
Lockheed Martin F-121 Lightning II (F-35A)
Lockheed F-208 Nighthawk (F-117)

The F-117 code is purely speculative it would have emerged with a completely different cover code thanks to the continuation of the century series fighter codes. This aircraft would have been the 8th in line of the designation system derived for the MiG-21 (aka YF-110) in USAF service. The JSF does not retain its NASA X-35 code in this series because it would have clashed with the P-35 and it would have been grossly out of sync with other fighters.

Bombers

North American Rockwell B-72 Lancer (B-1)
Northrop Grumman B-73 Spirit (B-2)

Attack Aircraft

LTV A-46 Cowboy (A-7)
Northrop YA-47 (YA-9)
Fairchild A-48 Thunderbolt II (A-10)
General Dynamics/McDonnell Douglas A-49 (A-12)

Cowboy is a speculative name for the A-7D based on the F-110A Spectre example of USAF wanting its own but similar, popular name for a saltwater plane.

USN

Fighters

McDonnell F4H Phantom II (F-4)
General Dynamics F3Y (F-111B)
Grumman F13F Tomcat (F-14)
McDonnell Douglas F5H Wraith (F-18)
Northrop F3T (F-5E)
Lockheed Martin F2V (F-35C)

Attack Aircraft

Grumman A2F Intruder (A-6)
Vought A3U Corsair II (A-7)
General Dynamics/McDonnell Douglas AY Avenger II (A-12)
McDonnell Douglas/BAe A2H Harrier (AV-8)

The Wraith name is speculative but follows the McAir tradition. The A-12A may have been coded the A4H as part of GDFW’s giving up of some naming rights in the partnership deal with McAir. The A3H would have been the planned A-18 Hornet.
 

Abraham Gubler

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Filling in some of the blanks above... especially the popular names that would differ between the services as is the example of the Sabre/Fury and Phantom/Spectre. USAF tended to wait until an aircraft was in service, if even then (F-111, B-1), before giving it a popular name. So the A-12A Avenger II wouldn’t have a USAF name. On the flipside the USN was very keen on allocating names.

So the F-111B or F3Y? The Convair USN naming tradition of fighters and attack aircraft is sparse with only the TBY Sea Wolf and the XF2Y Sea Dart having names. So maybe something like F3Y Sea Blade? Combining the Sea X Convair/GD style with the ‘switchblade’ early F-111 nickname.

The F3T (F-5E) and F2V (F-35B/C) are tougher. The F3T wouldn’t retain its Tiger name to avoid confusion with the F11F and might be called the Aggressor. The F2V is much, much tougher considering the intense politics associated with the project. Maybe the Sea Fury II as it combines both US and UK names a la the Lightning II pitch? Fury was a name bandied around LM in the lead up to the name (the three Furies, etc).
 

Robert

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I came up with a similar list several years ago, mainly to refute the repeated posts on rec.aviation.military that the F-117 designation would have fit in place perfectly if the old pre-1962 USAF fighter designation series had continued. Fighter and Attack, didn't do one for Bombers.
 

Abraham Gubler

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That's good stuff. But here's something we both missed... What would have USAF called the AD Skyraider in their service?
 

Robert

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Hrm, I did indeed miss that. Since the USAF wasn't using the Attack designation, I would have to say it would most likely have received a Fighter designation. I base this on the re-designation of the Douglas A-24 Banshee (in 1947/1948) to F-24. I doubt it would have been given a Bomber designation, based on the example of the Douglas A-26 Invader being re-designated B-26. Unless, of course, the USAF decided to resurrect the Attack designation...
 

KJ_Lesnick

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Abraham Gubler,

Considering how the military, particularly the USN, doesn't like bad luck numbers, I could imagine the Tomcat getting a designation of F14F instead of F13F, though I could be wrong, and the Blackbird Interceptor being designated YF-114.


KJ Lesnick
 

Jos Heyman

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It is interesting to note that the Lockheed Blackbirds were ordered in FY1960 but received the F-12 designation, a September 1962 'invention'.
I have always wondered if these FY1960 aircraft would have had a pre-1962 designation in the USAF's 'F' series but that there was no need to publish the designation as this was a black program.
Could it have been F-112????
Would have been very convenient - just remove the first '1' from documentation and, presto, you got F-12.

Of course I am just fantasising.
 

Abraham Gubler

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KJ_Lesnick said:
Considering how the military, particularly the USN, doesn't like bad luck numbers, I could imagine the Tomcat getting a designation of F14F instead of F13F, though I could be wrong, and the Blackbird Interceptor being designated YF-114.

The US Navy didn't seem to mind lucky thirteen. The only company to reach this number in their designation system was Curtiss with the F13C (they went on to F15C before going bust post war). Realistically but the Tomcat would have been the F12F, because it would appear that the XF12F was never officially allocated to the missile armed Super, Super Tiger.

As to F-113 being skipped. Its a tenuous case because the number isn't actually thirteen, its one hundred and thirteen.
 

Tailspin Turtle

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XF12F

Abraham Gubler said:
Realistically but the Tomcat would have been the F12F, because it would appear that the XF12F was never officially allocated to the missile armed Super, Super Tiger.

Perhaps, but perhaps not:
 

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KJ_Lesnick

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Abraham Gubler said:
KJ_Lesnick said:
Considering how the military, particularly the USN, doesn't like bad luck numbers, I could imagine the Tomcat getting a designation of F14F instead of F13F, though I could be wrong, and the Blackbird Interceptor being designated YF-114.

The US Navy didn't seem to mind lucky thirteen. The only company to reach this number in their designation system was Curtiss with the F13C (they went on to F15C before going bust post war). Realistically but the Tomcat would have been the F12F, because it would appear that the XF12F was never officially allocated to the missile armed Super, Super Tiger.

As to F-113 being skipped. Its a tenuous case because the number isn't actually thirteen, its one hundred and thirteen.

Perhaps you're right
 

Andreas Parsch

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Ah, the (not so) "old" triskaidekaphobia ... ;D

Abraham Gubler said:
The US Navy didn't seem to mind lucky thirteen. The only company to reach this number in their designation system was Curtiss with the F13C (they went on to F15C before going bust post war).
The F13C was from a time, when stupid superstitions were not as common as they are today. The Army and Air Force used a lot of -13 designations, including e.g. PT-13 and BT-13 for very popular basic trainers and H-13 for one of the most successful helicopter designs of all times.

In fact, the current custom of skipping -13 for all aircraft (and, incidentally, also satellite(!) designations) began with the Navy's F-14 in the 1960s. "F-13" was the first skipped "unlucky 13", but unfortunately I have never found out if the Navy, Grumman, or both had the idea to skip #13 for the VFX.

As to F-113 being skipped. Its a tenuous case because the number isn't actually thirteen, its one hundred and thirteen.
At least in the black world, the USAF apparently had no problem at all with -113 ;). Various YF-113 designations were used for secret projects between the 1970s and mid-1990s.
 

saturncanuck

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This all works but the "F-111" would have been the F13F as the USN version was built by Grumman and not General Dynamics, like the Air Force version.

That would mean the Tomcat would have been F14F.
 

gatoraptor

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Regarding the initial list, A2F for the Intruder was actually used before the redesignation, so it is not speculative like the others on the list.

I also agree that the Tomcat would not have been the F13F, just as it was not the F-13 in real life.
 

danwild6

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Just curious as to why the Air Force abandoned the century series designations after F-111?
 

Stargazer2006

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danwild6 said:
Just curious as to why the Air Force abandoned the century series designations after F-111?

Theoretically, the unified tri-service system introduced in 1962 was supposed to replace the old separate systems used by the Air Force, Navy and Army.

In actual fact, this never happened, for several reasons:
  • The Navy and the Army were forced to switch to the new system, but somehow the Air Force got away with keeping old designations alive (such as C-47, C-130, C-137, F-86 and the so-called "Century" series to name but a few). It was therefore impossible to have a unified system from then onwards.
  • The Air Force used the new F- series a bit reluctantly. First allocation was the F-5 Freedom Fighter, but this wasn't too bad because from 1959 to 1962, it was never called anything but the N-156F, so it came in handy. Then came the YF-12A, but this was only an extension of the "12" company designation found in A-12, M-12, etc. First actual program that was started with a two-digit fighter designation in mind was the F-15. All contenders called their projects "F-15" even before any prototype was built or any design chosen.
  • The Air Force saw an opportunity to keep its evaluation of foreign types and classified prototypes secret by continuing the "Century" series beyond F-111. And even then, F-110 was re-allocated in retrospect. In theory, one number corresponds to one basic type (MiG-21, MiG-23 etc.) but designations such as F-113 and F-117 seem to have been used for a wide array of projects. Of course only a handful of secret "century" designations are known, but it would seem the system was still alive well into the 1990s, with the McDonnell Douglas Bird of Prey being the YF-118G.
 

GeorgeA

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Stargazer2006 said:
Theoretically, the unified tri-service system introduced in 1962 was supposed to replace the old separate systems used by the Air Force, Navy and Army.

The system was complex, and it was applied inconsistently at times, but the basic system was implemented.

  • The Navy and the Army were forced to switch to the new system, but somehow the Air Force got away with keeping old designations alive (such as C-47, C-130, C-137, F-86 and the so-called "Century" series to name but a few). It was therefore impossible to have a unified system from then onwards.


Well, the taxonomy of the system was based on the Air Force model, with a forced restart at -1 for new designations. (Again, that was inconsistently applied, T- and C-series being notorious examples). Thus the Navy especially had to redesignate almost everything, but attempts were made to map key systems such as the A4D, F4H, and F8U to the new system in order to minimize confusion. That wasn't always possible due to the structure of the old Navy system (A3D and A3J for example).


  • The Air Force used the new F- series a bit reluctantly.


I don't understand this statement. The Air Force adopted the system with the first mainline fighter it procured after the F-111 (the F-15), the most prolific fighter of the 60s and 70s was switched from F-110 to F-4 to match up with the new Navy designation, it readopted the Attack category with the A-1 and A-7, the AMSA became the B-1, etc.


  • The Air Force saw an opportunity to keep its evaluation of foreign types and classified prototypes secret by continuing the "Century" series beyond F-111. And even then, F-110 was reallocated in retrospect. In theory, one number corresponds to one basic type (MiG-21, MiG-23 etc.) but designations such as F-113 and F-117 seem to have been used for a wide array of projects. Of course only a handful of secret "century" designations are known, but it would seem the system was still alive well into the 1990s, with the McDonnell Douglas Bird of Prey being the YF-118G.

Clearly the black programs are/were a different kettle of fish and normal rules either did not apply or were used to hide the truth.
 

Stargazer2006

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George Allegrezza said:
The Air Force used the new F- series a bit reluctantly.

I don't understand this statement.

Well, they never made an effort to redesignated the F-106, the F-105, the F-111... the only reason the F-110 became the F-4 was because the type was used jointly by the Air Force and Navy.
 

Andreas Parsch

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Stargazer2006 said:
Well, they never made an effort to redesignated the F-106, the F-105, the F-111...
That's because these designations matched the new regulations. USAF designations, which didn't, had to be changed, too (e.g. applying mission prefixes to all helicopter designations).

F-110 was changed to F-4, because at that time the Phantom was primarily a Navy program, and therefore it seems logical to use the (new) Navy designation.
 

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George Allegrezza said:
The Air Force adopted the system with the first mainline fighter it procured after the F-111 (the F-15)
Actually it already adopted the new system with the YF-12A. That the number 12 matched Lockheed's in-house designations for the airframe ("A-12" etc.) sure was a very convenient coincidence, but it was a coincidence nevertheless.
 

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Apologies for a bit of thread necromancy here, but while poking around this subject I came across this - and spotted something in the OP that everyone seems to have missed!

Abraham Gubler said:
USAF Aircraft Designations

*snip*

IAI F-118 Kifir (F-21)

The F-21As acquired for DACT weren't Air Force aircraft - they were operated by the Marines. So they'd have received a F_-1 or F#_-1 designation. As all letters had been used, there'd be a case of "recycling" for IAI.

I'd suspect that the most likely designation would have been F2N-1. Since it was a one off for, essentially, internal Navy purposes, reusing the 'N' manufacturer code that had once been used for the Naval Aircraft Factory would make sense; as 'FN-1' had been (perhaps unofficially) assigned to the proposed naval version of the P-35, the next number in the F_N sequence is, as far as I can tell, 2, hence F2N-1.

(Alternatively "FZ-1" would be a plausible designator; 'Z' was only used for one other company: Pennsylvania Aircraft in 1932, for one single N2Y converted to an autogyro!)
 

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This may have come up before, but why wasn't the F-111 re-designated with a new F number (F-7 or something like that). IIRC, it was first proposed in 1962, and first few in Nov 64.


Also, there were a few cases of an Air Force numbering system used on Navy aircraft prior to the Sep 62 common scheme, T-28 and C-130, I believe.




Wes W.
 

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tigercat2 said:
This may have come up before, but why wasn't the F-111 re-designated with a new F number (F-7 or something like that). IIRC, it was first proposed in 1962, and first few in Nov 64.
Also, there were a few cases of an Air Force numbering system used on Navy aircraft prior to the Sep 62 common scheme, T-28 and C-130, I believe.

The F-111 has always been something of a mystery to me, and it seems like it was sending a strong message that the Navy had to comply to the tri-service system while the Air Force basically did what they wanted...

The Navy/Coast Guard C-130 were designated R8V-1 and GV-1 in the old system, respectively, never C-130. As for the T-28B, it was experimentally chosen to test a tentative bi-service scheme in 1952, and therefore never received the logical T2V that was later assigned to the Buckeye (see attachment).
 

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tigercat2

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Skyblazer,


Your knowledge on this subject is quite impressive!! Digging up an article from 60 some years ago is really something.


I did not know that a tri-service scheme was first envisioned in 1952; makes me wonder why such a scheme was not proposed in 1948 when the Department of Defense replaced the War Department.


The Navy, even now, does retain a touch of the old system with aircraft serial numbers. Instead of numbering by Fiscal year (72-1234, etc), the Navy uses BuAir numbers, presumably going back to BuAir number 1.




Wes W.
 

Triton

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It also gets confusing since the United States Air Force has been assigning new designations to the Century series since 1962, be they fighters or cargo aircraft.
 

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tigercat2 said:
This may have come up before, but why wasn't the F-111 re-designated with a new F number (F-7 or something like that). IIRC, it was first proposed in 1962, and first few in Nov 64.

F-111 was assigned to TFX before the changeover. Note that no* USAF aircraft were redesignated - only Navy and Army ones, as they were the ones with 'non-conforming' systems.

* To the best of my knowledge, at least.


Triton said:
It also gets confusing since the United States Air Force has been assigning new designations to the Century series since 1962, be they fighters or cargo aircraft.
Fighters, no, with the exception of the F-117 which came from the 'black world'. The other example you're looking for is helicopters; in that case the only 'new' designations were renumbered Army and Navy types, then the "old" lineage was resumed...

The reason the cargo system 'switched back' was because some overly-lawyerphobic type decided that if they designated the Coast Guard's Canadair Challengers C-43 then the Ikarus lightplane company in Germany would sue the Department of Defense for infringing their trademark!! The same bright spark noted, however, that C-143 was available and, in fact, next in line in that sequence...
 

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The Bushranger said:
Note that no* USAF aircraft were redesignated - only Navy and Army ones, as they were the ones with 'non-conforming' systems.
* To the best of my knowledge, at least.

Mostly true, but not entirely. In fact, the F-110 Spectre was redesignated as the F-4C Phantom II in a rare case of USAF aligning on USN...
 

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The Bushranger said:
Note that no* USAF aircraft were redesignated - only Navy and Army ones, as they were the ones with 'non-conforming' systems.

* To the best of my knowledge, at least.
L-20A -> U-6A, L-21A -> U-7A, L-28A -> U-10A, SA-16A/B -> HU-16A/B

The reason the cargo system 'switched back' was because some overly-lawyerphobic type decided that if they designated the Coast Guard's Canadair Challengers C-43 then the Ikarus lightplane company in Germany would sue the Department of Defense for infringing their trademark!! The same bright spark noted, however, that C-143 was available and, in fact, next in line in that sequence...
The legally offending designation was C-42. C-43 was skipped to avoid a clash with CT-43.
 

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