Pre-1963 Designations Of U.S. Missiles And Drones

Copyright © 2000-2024 Andreas Parsch

1 Introduction

2 Missiles

3 Drones

4 Other Vehicles

5 Interim USAF System for Missiles, Rockets, and Spacecraft, 1961

6 Sources

1 Introduction

Until 1963, when the current Joint Designation System for all US military unmanned aerospace vehicles was introduced, the US armed services used several kinds of designation systems for their missiles and rockets. While there exist - in addition to the article on this site - several good references to the current designation system, the older systems are much less known.

The purpose of this article is to provide a reference to all alpha-numerical designation systems used for unmanned aerospace vehicles prior to 1963. From time to time, aircraft-like designations were assigned to missiles and/or drones. The aircraft designation systems are not detailed in this text, but a good reference to the US military aircraft designation systems can be found at the Wikipedia landing page United States military aircraft designation systems.

Notes for the designation lists:

2 Missiles

2.1 Army Air Force, 1941 - 1947

Between 1941 and 1943, the USAAF introduced some categories for missiles and guided bombs into its aircraft designation scheme:

These categories were discontinued in 1947, when the Army Air Force started to use the 1947 system. The few surviving projects were redesignated in the new system.

Designation List:

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks) Later Designations
BG-1 Fletcher (converted PQ-11)  
BG-2 Fletcher (converted CG-1; cancelled)  
BG-3 Cornelius (cancelled)  
BQ-1 Fleetwings    
BQ-2 Fleetwings (BQ-1 version)  
BQ-3 Fairchild (converted AT-21)  
BQ-4 Interstate (as Navy TDR)  
BQ-5 Interstate (BQ-4 version; as Navy TD2R; cancelled)  
BQ-6 Interstate (as Navy TD3R; cancelled)  
BQ-7 Boeing Aphrodite (converted B-17) MB-17
BQ-8 Consolidated (converted B-24)  
GB-1 Aeronca (preset glide path, no inflight guidance)  
GB-2 Bellanca (preset glide path, no inflight guidance)  
GB-3 Timm (preset glide path, no inflight guidance)  
GB-4 ATSC (TV controlled guidance)  
GB-5 Aeronca (GB-1 with light contrast seeker)  
GB-6 Aeronca (GB-1 with IR seeker)  
GB-7 Aeronca (GB-1 with passive or semi-active radar homing)  
GB-8 Aeronca (GB-1 with radio control)  
GB-9 ATSC (GB-4 modified for ground-skimming mode)  
GB-10 Aeronca (GB-1 with TV control)  
GB-11 Aeronca (GB-1 modified for chemical agent dispersal)  
GB-12 Aeronca (was GB-5C; GB-1 with light contrast seeker)  
GB-13 Aeronca (was GB-5D; GB-1 with flare seeker)  
GB-14 Aeronca (was GB-7B; GB-1 with active radar homing)  
GB-15 ATSC    
GT-1 Aeronca (GB-1 modified to deliver a torpedo)  
JB-1 Northrop Bat (flying wing SSM)  
JB-2 Willys-Overland Buzz Bomb (V-1 copy, ASM and SSM) LTV-A-1
JB-3 Hughes Tiamat (rocket powered AAM)  
JB-4 AAF (modified GB-4 with pulsejet, ASM)  
JB-5 - (cancelled rocket)  
JB-6 - (cancelled rocket)  
JB-7 - (reserved for jet-powered cruise missile; cancelled)  
JB-8 Boeing GAPA SAM-A-1
JB-9 - (reserved for short-range SSM; cancelled)  
JB-10 Northrop (JB-1 modified with pulsejet)  
VB-1 ATSC Azon ("Azimuth only", 1000 lb.)  
VB-2 ATSC Azon (2000 lb.)  
VB-3 ATSC Razon ("Range and Azimuth", 1000 lb..)  
VB-4 ATSC Razon (2000 lb.)  
VB-5 ATSC (light contrast seeker, 1000 lb.)  
VB-6 ATSC Felix (IR guided, 1000 lb.)  
VB-7 ATSC (TV guided)  
VB-8 ATSC (VB-7 version)  
VB-9 Douglas Roc (radar guided)  
VB-10 Douglas Roc (TV guided)  
VB-11 Douglas Roc (IR guided)  
VB-12 Douglas Roc (visually guided)  
VB-13 Bell Tarzon (12000 lb.) ASM-A-1

2.2 Navy, 1941 - 1945

From 1941 to 1945, the Navy used the LB category ("Bomb-Carrying Glider") for a few unpowered air-to-ground glide bombs. Powered assault drones were initially designated in the TD ("Target Drone") category (see section 3.1), but around 1944 a single assault drone was allocated a BD designation.

Designation Manufacturer Name Later Designations
BDR Interstate (jet-powered assault drone project)  
LBD McDonnell Gargoyle KSD, KUD, RTV-N-2
LBE Pratt-Read Glomb (Glider-Bomb)  
LBP Piper Glomb (similar to LBE; cancelled)  
LBT Taylorcraft Glomb (LBE built by Taylorcraft)  

2.3 Navy, 1946 - 1947

In March 1946, the Navy included missiles and drones in its aircraft designation scheme and introduced the K class with the following type designations:

The KA, KG and KS classes had been already defined preliminarily in October 1945. When the 1947 joint designation system was introduced, all categories except KD were dropped. Existing missiles were redesignated.

Designation List:

Designation Manufacturer Name Later Designations
KAM Martin Little Joe  
KAN NAMU Little Joe  
KAQ Fairchild Lark SAM-N-2, CTV-N-9
KAS Sperry Sparrow AAM-N-2, AIM-7A
KAY Convair Lark SAM-N-4, CTV-N-10
KGW Willys-Overland Loon (as USAAF JB-2) KUW, LTV-N-2
KSD McDonnell Gargoyle KUD, RTV-N-2
KUD McDonnell Gargoyle RTV-N-2
KUM Martin Gorgon IV PTV-N-2
KUW Willys-Overland Loon LTV-N-2

2.4 Joint Navy/Army/Air Force System of 1947

In 1947, the services agreed on a joint designation system for guided missiles, including research and test vehicles. The system was originally established by the Army Air Forces and the Navy in May 1947 (the Navy officially redesignated existing vehicles on 30 September 1947). The system was formally approved with small changes (the introduction of the "service letter" in the designation, see below) for use by all three services on 25 February 1948. Joint use of the system was officially discontinued on 12 July 1951.

Each missile would be designated by a letter/number combination as follows:

Example: X S A M - N - 2 a
(5) (1) (2) (3) (4) (6)

The letters (1) and (2) show the launch and target environment:

Letter (3) is the developing service:

If a missile was developed by more than one service, multiple service letters would be used (e.g. XSSM-AGN-1), but I don't know any actual designation using more than one service letter.

(4) is a number, assigned consecutively, starting from 1. Originally, it was planned that the Navy would use even numbers, and the Army (and presumably, after separation, the Air Force too) would use odd numbers (as in aircraft engine designations), but see note below. The Navy followed this scheme initially (see section 2.4.1), while the Air Force used consecutive numbers for each missile category (see section 2.4.3) and the Army used a single numerical sequence for all types of missiles, including test vehicles (see section 2.4.2). Because the numbers assigned in 1947 by the Army Air Forces were considered Air Force projects, the Army numbering restarted from 1 in 1948.

Note to (3) and (4): In the original May 1947 version of the system there was no service letter used in the designations. Instead, the Army Air Forces would use only odd numbers, while the Navy would assign even numbers to its missiles. Therefore, some early designations - those originally assigned in 1947 - are sometimes quoted without the service letter (e.g. SAM-2, LTV-1 instead of SAM-N-2, LTV-A-1). In the listings below, all designations are given with the service letter, even if this was not originally part of the designation.

(5) is an optional prefix:

(6) is an optional lower case suffix, denoting a modification of the missile. The first version would use no suffix, the second version would be "a", etc.

The research and test vehicles were designated like:

Example: R TV - N - 10 b
(1) (3) (4) (6)

Letter (1) is the purpose of the test vehicle:

For (3), (4) and (6), see missile designations above.

2.4.1 Navy, 1947 - 1963

The Navy continued to use the 1947 system until the introduction of today's joint system in 1963. After the joint use had been discontinued, a few minor changes were made:

Designation List:

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks) Later Designations
(AAM-N-1) Not assigned
AAM-N-2 Sperry Sparrow I AIM-7A
AAM-N-3 Douglas Sparrow II (originally AAM-N-2a) AIM-7B
AAM-N-4 Martin Oriole RV-N-16
AAM-N-5 MIT/Bell Meteor  
AAM-N-6 Raytheon Sparrow III AIM-7C/D/E
AAM-N-7 NWC/Philco Sidewinder AIM-9A/B/C/D
(AAM-N-8) (No information)
AAM-N-9 Raytheon Sparrow X (nuclear-armed Sparrow)  
AAM-N-10 Bendix Eagle  
AAM-N-11 Hughes Phoenix AIM-54A
(ASM-N-1/3) Not assigned
ASM-N-2 Bureau of Standards Bat  
ASM-N-4 Eastman Kodak Dove  
ASM-N-5 Martin Gorgon V  
ASM-N-6 Eastman Kodak Omar  
ASM-N-7 Martin Bullpup AGM-12A/B/C
ASM-N-8 Temco Corvus  
(ASM-N-9) (see note 1)
ASM-N-10 Texas Instruments Shrike AGM-45A
ASM-N-11 Rockwell Condor AGM-53A
(AUM-N-1/3/5) Not assigned
AUM-N-2 Fairchild Petrel (ex Kingfisher C) AQM-41A
AUM-N-4 Bureau of Standards Diver (ex Kingfisher D)  
AUM-N-6 Bureau of Standards/McDonnell Puffin (ex Kingfisher F)  
(SAM-N-1/3/5) Not assigned
SAM-N-2 Fairchild Lark CTV-N-9
SAM-N-4 Convair Lark CTV-N-10
SAM-N-6 Bendix Talos RIM-8A/.../F
SAM-N-7 Convair Terrier RIM-2A/.../E
SAM-N-8 (see note 2) Naval Ordnance Lab Zeus (gun-launched guided projectile)  
SAM-N-8 Bendix Typhon LR RIM-50A
SAM-N-9 Bendix Typhon MR RIM-55A
(SSM-N-1/3/5/7) Not assigned
SSM-N-2 Applied Physics Lab Triton  
SSM-N-4 North American Taurus (unmanned XAJ-1)  
SSM-N-6 Grumman Rigel  
SSM-N-8 Vought Regulus RGM-6A/B
SSM-N-9 (see note 2) Applied Physics Lab Lacrosse SSM-A-12, MGM-18A
SSM-N-9 Vought Regulus II RGM-15A
(SUM-N-1) Not assigned
SUM-N-2 Bureau of Standards/Goodyear Grebe (ex Kingfisher E)  
(CTV-N-1/3/5/7) Not assigned
CTV-N-2 NAMU Gorgon IIC  
CTV-N-4 NAMU Gorgon IIA  
CTV-N-6 NAMU Gorgon IIIA  
CTV-N-8 Applied Physics Lab Bumblebee STV (Supersonic Test Vehicle)  
CTV-N-9 Fairchild Lark  
CTV-N-10 Convair Lark  
(LTV-N-1/3) Not assigned
LTV-N-2 Willys-Overland Loon  
LTV-N-4 NOTS (solid-propellant booster rocket)  
(PTV-N-1/3) Not assigned
PTV-N-2 Martin Gorgon IV  
PTV-N-4 Applied Physics Lab Bumblebee BTV (Burner Test Vehicle)  
(RTV-N-1/3/5/7/9/11) Not assigned
RTV-N-2 McDonnell Gargoyle  
RTV-N-4 NAMU Gorgon IIIC  
RTV-N-6 Applied Physics Lab Bumblebee XPM (Experimental Prototype Missile)  
RTV-N-8 Aerojet Aerobee (XASR-1)  
RTV-N-10 Aerojet Aerobee (XASR-2)  
RTV-N-12 Martin Viking  
RTV-N-13 Aerojet Aerobee 150 RV-N-13
(RTV-N-14) (No information)
RTV-N-15 NADC Pollux (Gorgon version)  
RV-N-16 Martin Oriole  


1. The Raven project has been reported to have received the ASM-N-9 designation. However, source [14] says explicitly, that Raven was assigned ASM-N-8 and the number transferred to Corvus when Raven was abandoned early in the design phase. Another possible candidate for the ASM-N-9 designation is the NOTS Hopi nuclear air-to-ground missile project, which was studied in the same time frame as Raven and Corvus.

2. The SAM-N-8 and SSM-N-9 designations were only briefly assigned to the Zeus and Lacrosse. Probably because of this, the numbers were reused.

The following Navy missiles did not receive xxM-N-n designations:

2.4.2 Army, 1948 - 1955

The Army continued to use the 1947 system until 1955, with the following changes after joint use had been discontinued:

Existing missiles in 1951 were redesignated in the modified system. This also included already completed projects, which were nevertheless formally redesignated.

Designation List:

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks) Later Designations
RTV-G-1 JPL WAC Corporal RV-A-1
RTV-G-2 JPL Corporal E RV-A-2
RTV-G-3 General Electric Hermes II RV-A-3
RTV-G-4 General Electric Bumper (A4 + WAC Corporal) RV-A-4
CTV-G-5 General Electric Hermes A-1 RV-A-5
RTV-G-6 General Electric Hermes B-1 RV-A-6
SAM-G-7 Western Electric Nike Ajax SAM-A-7, M1, MIM-3A
SSM-G-8 General Electric Hermes A-3A RTV-G-8, RV-A-8
SSM-G-9 General Electric Hermes B-2 SSM-A-9
RTV-G-10 (see note 1) General Electric (test vehicle for Hermes A-2) RV-A-10
(?-G-11) (No information)
SSM-G-12 (see note 1) Martin Lacrosse SSM-A-12, M4, MGM-18A
SSM-G-13 (see note 1) General Electric Hermes A-2 SSM-A-13
SSM-G-14 Chrysler Redstone SSM-A-14, M8, PGM-11A
SSM-G-15 (see note 1) General Electric Hermes A-1 SSM-A-15
SSM-G-16 (see note 1) General Electric Hermes A-3B SSM-A-16
SSM-G-17 JPL/Firestone Corporal SSM-A-17, M2, MGM-5A/B
SAM-A-18 Raytheon Hawk M3, MIM-23A
SAM-A-19 Sylvania Electric Plato (missile defense project)  
(?-A-20) (No information)
(?-A-21) (No information)
RV-A-22 Martin/Convair Lark (test vehicle for SSM-A-12)  
SSM-A-23 Aerophysics Development Corp Dart  
(?-A-24) (No information, see note 2)
SAM-A-25 Western Electric Nike Hercules M6, MIM-14A/B
(?-A-26) (No information, see note 2)
SSM-A-27 (see note 3) Sperry/JPL Sergeant M15, MGM-29A


1. I have no direct evidence that missile numbers 10/12/13/15/16 ever used the service letter "G". Numbers 14 and 17, however, definitely used "G" initially. Assuming the numbers were assigned in proper sequence, all missile designations up to number 17 (at least) had the "G" service letter initially.

2. It is almost certain, that either the number 24 or 26 was allocated to the Western Electric Nike II, resulting in a SAM-A-24 or SAM-A-26 designation. Nike II was later renamed as Nike Zeus.

3. Source [1] quotes SSM-A-26 for the Sergeant. However, it is referred to as XSSM-A-27 in some Army documents listed in the Sergeant monograph found in [7].

2.4.3 Air Force, 1947 - 1951

The Air Force used the 1947 system until 1951.

Designation List:

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks) Later Designations
AAM-A-1 Ryan Firebird (MX-799)  
AAM-A-2 Hughes Falcon F-98, GAR-1, AIM-4/4A
ASM-A-1 Bell Tarzon  
ASM-A-2 Bell Rascal B-63, GAM-63
SAM-A-1 Boeing GAPA (MX-606)  
SSM-A-1 Martin Matador B-61, TM-61, MGM-1C
SSM-A-2 North American Navaho (Model NA-704)  
SSM-A-3 Northrop Snark B-62, SM-62
SSM-A-4 North American Navaho II (Model G-26) B-64, SM-64
SSM-A-5 Northrop Boojum  
SSM-A-6 North American Navaho III (Model G-38) B-64A, SM-64A
LTV-A-1 Willys-Overland Buzz Bomb  
PTV-A-1 Lockheed (MX-883 ramjet test vehicle) X-7
RTV-A-1 Aerojet Aerobee X-8
RTV-A-2 Convair HIROC (MX-774)  
RTV-A-3 North American NATIV  
RTV-A-4 Bell Shrike (test vehicle for GAM-63) X-9
RTV-A-5 North American (test vehicle for SM-64) X-10

2.5 Air Force, 1951 - 1955

In its early years, the Air Force regarded missiles as "pilotless aircraft". Therefore, in May 1951, the Air Force assigned aircraft designations to all its missiles:

Existing missiles were redesignated in the new system.

Designation List:

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks) Later Designations
B-61 Martin Matador TM-61, MGM-1C
B-62 Northrop Snark SM-62
B-63 Bell Rascal GAM-63
B-64 North American Navaho SM-64
B-65 Convair Atlas SM-65, CGM/HGM-16D/E/F
B-67 Radioplane Crossbow GAM-67
F-98 Hughes Falcon GAR-1, AIM-4/4A
F-99 Boeing Bomarc IM-69, IM-99, CIM-10A/B
F-104 (see note 1) Hughes Falcon F-98A
X-7 Lockheed (MX-883 ramjet test vehicle)  
X-8 Aerojet Aerobee  
X-9 Bell Shrike (test vehicle for GAM-63)  
X-10 North American (test vehicle for SM-64)  
X-11 (see note 2) Convair Atlas (test vehicle for SM-65; not built)  
X-12 (see note 2) Convair Atlas (test vehicle for SM-65; not built)  
X-17 Lockheed (test vehicle for re-entry shapes)  


1. A variant of the Falcon missile was briefly designated XF-104 before it became the XF-98A. The F-104 designation was later reused for the well-known Lockheed Starfighter aircraft.

2. There used to be some uncertainty regarding which configuration or model of the Atlas actually received the X-11/X-12 designations. Some older sources say that X-11 and X-12 were assigned to the Atlas A and Atlas B, respectively (later redesignated XB-65A, XSM-65A and XB-65B, XSM-65B). Actually, however, the X-11/X-12 designations were assigned earlier in the Atlas program, when the Atlas ICBM was planned as a five-engine missile (the Atlas was later downsized, when smaller nuclear warheads became available). The X-11 would have been a single-engine test vehicle, the X-12 a three-engine test vehicle and the XB-65 the five-engine ICBM prototype.

2.6 Army, 1955 - 1963

In June 1955, the Army stopped using the 1947/1951 system. Until the introduction of the joint system in 1963, Army missiles were designated (like any other Army equipment) with "Ordnance Numbers" only. These numbers are usually assigned as soon as a new equipment enters the Army inventory. I will only give a brief synopsis of this designation system here. For details, look at the description of the current Army Nomenclature System.

Example: X M 3 E1
(2) (1) (3)

Number (1) is an arbitrary number. Usually, numbers are unique within a certain category of equipment (like missiles, tanks, guns, etc.).
(2) In the test and development phase, the designation is prefixed with an "X".
(3) is an optional letter/number suffix used to denote modifications.

Note: Ordnance numbers are sometimes written with a dash between the M and the number, but this is incorrect.

Designation List:

Designation Manufacturer Name Later Designations
M1 Western Electric Nike Ajax MIM-3A
M2 JPL/Firestone Corporal MGM-5A/B
M3 Raytheon Hawk MIM-23A
M4 Martin Lacrosse MGM-18A
(M5) (No information)
M6 Western Electric Nike Hercules MIM-14A/B
(M7) (No information)
M8 Chrysler Redstone PGM-11A
M9 Chrysler Redstone (training missile) PTM-11B
(M10 ... M12) (No information)
M13 Ford Shillelagh MGM-51A
M14 Martin Pershing MGM-31A
M15 Sperry/JPL Sergeant MGM-29A
M16 Raytheon Hawk (training missile) MTM-23B
(M17) (No information)
M18 Raytheon Hawk (training missile) MTM-23C
M19 Martin Pershing (training missile) MTM-31B

The following missiles were also developed and/or deployed by the Army in the 1955 - 1963 time period. They may also have received ordnance numbers.

Drones and unguided rockets also received M numbers, but in different numerical sequences. A list of known rocket M numbers can be found here. The list is also referenced below the description of the Army Nomenclature System.

2.7 Air Force, 1955 - 1963

On 15 August 1955, the Air Force dropped the aircraft designations for missiles and introduced a new system. The designations remained similar to aircraft designations, but new type letters were introduced.

Example: X SM - 65 B
(4) (1) (2) (3)

The letters (1) denote the type of the missile:

Former B-type missiles were redesignated as SM, TM or GAM. F-type missiles became IM or GAR. Existing research missiles, however, were not redesignated.

(2) is a sequence number. The SM-, TM-, IM-, GAM- and RM-types used a single numerical sequence (continued from 67, the last B-number originally assigned to a missile). For the GARs, a new sequence was started at 1.

(3) is an optional suffix letter, denoting a modification of the missile. The first version would use no suffix, the second version would be "A", etc.

(4) is an optional status prefix:

Designation List:

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks) Later Designations
TM-61 Martin Matador MGM-1C
SM-62 Northrop Snark  
GAM-63 Bell Rascal  
SM-64 North American Navaho  
SM-65 Convair Atlas CGM/HGM-16D/E/F, CTM-16D/E
GAM-67 Radioplane Crossbow  
SM-68 Martin Titan HGM-25A, HTM-25B, LGM-25C
IM-69 (see note 1) Boeing Bomarc IM-99, CIM-10A/B
IM-70 Bendix Talos  
GAM-71 Convair Buck Duck (air-launched decoy for B-36)  
GAM-72 McDonnell Quail ADM-20A/B/C
SM-73 Fairchild Bull Goose  
SM-74 Convair (see note 2)  
SM-75 Douglas Thor PGM-17A, PTM-17A
TM-76 Martin Mace MGM-13A/B, CGM-13C
GAM-77 North American Hound Dog AGM-28A/B
SM-78 Chrysler Jupiter PGM-19A
GAM-79 Martin White Lance (see note 3)  
SM-80 Boeing Minuteman LGM-30A/B/F
RM-81 Lockheed Agena  
RM-82 JPL Loki-Dart (see note 4) PWN-1A
GAM-83 Martin Bullpup AGM-12A/B/D, ATM-12
RM-84 Aerojet General Aerobee-Hi (see note 5) PWN-2A
RM-85 University of Michigan/NACA Nike-Cajun PWN-3A
RM-86 University of Michigan Exos PWN-4A
GAM-87 Douglas Skybolt AGM-48A
RM-88 Cooper Development Rocksonde 200 PWN-5A
RM-89 Ford Aeronutronics Blue Scout I  
RM-90 Ford Aeronutronics Blue Scout II  
RM-91 Ford Aeronutronics Blue Scout Junior SLV-1
RM-92 Ford Aeronutronics Air Force Scout  
(M-93 ... M-98) (Not assigned)
IM-99 Boeing Bomarc CIM-10A/B
AIM-101 (see note 6) Raytheon Sparrow AIM-7D
GAR-1 Hughes Falcon AIM-4/4A
GAR-2 Hughes Falcon AIM-4B/C/D
GAR-3 Hughes Falcon AIM-4E/F
GAR-4 Hughes Falcon AIM-4G
GAR-5 Hughes Falcon (cancelled nuclear version; see note 7)  
GAR-6 Hughes Falcon (cancelled nuclear version; see note 7)  
(GAR-7) (No information)
GAR-8 Philco Sidewinder AIM-9B
GAR-9 Hughes Falcon AIM-47A
(GAR-10) (No information)
GAR-11 Hughes Nuclear Falcon AIM-26A/B


1. The designation IM-69 was originally assigned to the former F-99 Bomarc in 1955, presumably to bring its number in line with those of the other missiles. However, the designation was very soon replaced by IM-99, possibly at Boeing's request to keep the number "99" for the Bomarc.

2. The designation XSM-74 was set aside for Convair's cancelled MX-2223 project, but never actually assigned.

3. The White Lance was a project which ultimately led to the development of the Air Force version of the GAM-83 Bullpup.

4. The XRM-82 was a Loki-Dart type sounding rocket, using one of the original Loki motors by JPL.

5. The designation XRM-84 applied only to a specific variant of the Aerobee-Hi (powered by an AJ11-21 sustainer).

6. The AIM-101 designation looks out-of-place in the listing. The Sparrow should have received a GAR designation, just like the other AAMs. Even if we interpret "AIM" as an "IM" (Interceptor Missile) designator modified by an "A" (Air-launched) status prefix, the "101" is completely out of sequence - unless, of course, the numbers 93 through 100 were assigned to missiles unknown to me. However, it is quite possible that the designation falls within a short-lived system devised by the Air Force in 1961 (see note in final paragraph in this section, and section 5 for details about the system).

7. The designations XGAR-5 and XGAR-6 were assigned in 1956 to projected nuclear armed derivatives of the Falcon missile. These missiles would have been significantly larger than the original Falcon, and were intended for use against high-speed/high-altitude threats. The two models were identical, except for the guidance method (GAR-5: Radar; GAR-6: IR).

Many popular reference sources indicate that the missiles shared the number sequence with the manned bombers, but this is not true. Instead, both bomber and missile numbers were continued with 68, the next available number after the introduction of the new missile designations. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that numbers 68, 69 and 70 were used for both bombers and missiles.

Missile projects, which were cancelled in the design or early testing phase, have never received a designation. Among those are:

There were also a few test vehicles, which didn't receive a designation:

Additionally, the Air Force launched numerous research missiles and sounding rockets. These include, but are not limited to:

New System in 1961

In late 1961, a new designation system for missiles, rockets, and spacecraft was devised by the U.S. Air Force. However, none of the existing missiles were redesignated, and because the introduction of the Joint Designation System of 1963 was imminent, the 1955 system was - to all intents and purposes - used until 1963. For details and notes about the 1961 system, see section 5.

3 Drones

3.1 Navy, 1942 - 1946

In 1942, the Navy introduced the TD designation for target drones into its aircraft designation system.

Designation List:

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks) Later Designations
TDC Culver Cadet (as USAAF PQ-8)  
TD2C Culver (as USAAF PQ-14)  
TD3C Culver (as USAAF PQ-15)  
TD4C Culver   UC-1K
TDD Radioplane (as USAAF OQ-2/3/14)  
TD2D McDonnell Katydid KDD, KDH
TD3D Frankfort (as USAAF OQ-16)  
TD4D Radioplane Quail (as USAAF OQ-17) KDR
TDL Bell Airacobra F2L-1K
TDR Interstate (assault drone; as USAAF BQ-4)  
TD2R Interstate (assault drone; as USAAF BQ-5; cancelled)  
TD3R Interstate (assault drone; as USAAF BQ-6)  

3.2 Navy, 1946 - 1963

In March 1946, the Navy included missiles and drones in its aircraft designation scheme and introduced the K class with the type designation KD for drones. Most existing TD drones were redesignated. Drone conversions of manned aircraft received normal aircraft designations with a K suffix. The latter designations are not listed below. A single TD drone was redesignated in the short-lived U (for "Unmanned") category.

Designation List:

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks) Later Designations
KDA Ryan Firebee (USAF Q-2) AQM-34B/C
KDB Beech Cardinal (Model 1001) MQM-39A
KD2B Beech (Model 1019; USAF Q-12) AQM-37A
KDC Curtiss    
KD2C Curtiss Skeet  
KD3C Curtiss Skeet  
KDD McDonnell Katydid KDH
KDG Globe Snipe  
KD2G Globe Firefly  
KD3G Globe Snipe  
KD4G Globe Quail  
KD5G Globe    
KD6G Globe Firefly XQM-40A
KDH McDonnell Katydid  
KDM Martin Plover  
KDN NAMU Gorgon  
KD2N NAMU Gorgon  
KDR Radioplane Quail  
KD2R Radioplane/Northrop Quail/Shelduck MQM-36A
(KD3R) (No information)
KD4R Radioplane (Model RP-70)  
KDT Temco Teal  
KDU Vought Regulus BQM-6C
KD2U Vought Regulus II MQM-15A
UC Culver    

3.3 Army Air Force, 1940 - 1947

In 1940, the Army Air Force introduced an "A for Aerial Targets" category in its aircraft designation scheme. This evidently duplicated the "A for Attack" category and was replaced in June 1941 by the following categories, with existing "A" models being redesignated:

When the Air Force became a separate organization, the OQ and PQ categories were discontinued and replaced by the Q category.

Designation List:

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks) Later Designations
A-1 Fleetwings    
A-2 Radioplane (Model RP-5) OQ-2
A-3 Curtiss (conversion of Navy N2C-2)  
A-4 Douglas (conversion of BT-2B and -2BI; a.k.a. BT-2BR and -2BG)  
A-5 Boeing (reserved for conversion of P-12E; cancelled)  
A-6 Douglas (reserved for conversion of O-38; cancelled)  
A-7 Bell (reserved for conversion of P-39; cancelled)  
A-8 Culver Cadet PQ-8, Q-8
(OQ-1) Not assigned (see note 1)
OQ-2 Radioplane (small 12ft. target; as Navy TDD-1; Model RP-5)  
OQ-3 Radioplane (improved OQ-3; as Navy TDD-2)  
OQ-4 Brunswick-Balke-Collender (small 12ft. target)  
OQ-5 ? (small 12ft. target)  
OQ-6 Radioplane (high speed target)  
OQ-7 Radioplane (modified OQ-3)  
(OQ-8 ... OQ-10) Not assigned
OQ-11 Simmonds Aerocessories (small 12ft. target)  
OQ-12 Radioplane (small 12ft. target)  
OQ-13 Radioplane (OQ-3 modified for over-water use)  
OQ-14 Radioplane (improved OQ-3; as Navy TDD-3; Model RP-8)  
OQ-15 ? (small 12ft. target)  
OQ-16 Frankfort (small 12ft. target; as Navy TD3D)  
OQ-17 Radioplane (small 12ft. target; as Navy TD4D/KDR; Model RP-18)  
OQ-18 ? (larger 15ft. target)  
OQ-19 Radioplane/Northrop (as Navy KD2R; Model RP-19) MQM-33A/B
(PQ-1 ... PQ-7) Not assigned
PQ-8 Culver Cadet  
PQ-9 Culver (Model NR-B; cancelled)  
PQ-10 Culver (Model MR; cancelled)  
PQ-11 Fletcher    
PQ-12 Fleetwings    
PQ-13 Erco (Model Ercoupe 415C)  
PQ-14 Culver   Q-14
PQ-15 Culver    


1. Some sources attribute the OQ-1 designation to the Radioplane RP-4 drone. However, OQ-1 is not listed in the Army's 1946 designation listing (source [11]).

3.4 Air Force, 1947 - 1963

The Air Force introduced the Q category for drones in 1947. Existing PQ models were redesignated. While no new OQ-numbers were assigned, existing OQ drones retained their designations.

Designation List:

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks) Later Designations
Q-1 (see note 1) Radioplane (jet-powered target similar to GAM-67)  
Q-2 Ryan Firebee BQM-34A
Q-3 (see note 2) Radioplane    
Q-4 Radioplane/Bendix   AQM-35A/B
Q-5 Lockheed Kingfisher (modified X-7) AQM-60A
Q-6 - (medium performance target drone project; cancelled)  
(Q-7) Not assigned (Q-7A/B/C designations requested, but not approved)
(Q-8) (see note 3) Not assigned (Q-8A/B/C designations requested, but not approved)
Q-9 - (low-cost short duration target drone project; cancelled)  
Q-10 Radioplane (OQ-19 derivative)  
(Q-11) Not assigned (XQ-11 designation requested, but not approved)
Q-12 Beech (Model 1019; Navy KD2B) AQM-37A
(Q-13) Not assigned
Q-14 Culver    


1. Before the final designation Q-1 was assigned, this drone was tentatively designated as Q-20. It was apparently considered to continue the Q-series from OQ-19, the highest number assigned in the old PQ- and OQ-series. This would have been equivalent to the T-for-Trainer series, which started at -28, continuing after the highest number assigned in the old AT-, BT- and PT-series (PT-27). However, for unknown reasons it was decided to restart the Q-series from 1 and leaving the OQ-designations unchanged.

2. Source [1] says, the OQ models were redesignated Q on paper (but designations not actually used). However, OQ types were not actually redesignated in the Q-series (see also preceding note), and therefore the Q-3 is not the same as the OQ-3. In fact, sources [5] and [14] describe the Q-3 as a Q-1 version, which can be assumed to be true.

3. It is possible (but not confirmed) that a few PQ-8 Cadet drones were still in the inventory in 1948 and were redesignated as Q-8. Even if this Q-8 designation existed at all, Q-8 became open for use in the regular Q-series, when the last Cadet was discarded.

4 Other Vehicles

4.1 Rockets

Prior to 1963, there was no formal designation system for unguided rockets. The rockets were usually designated like other ordnance. Rockets of the 1947-1963 time frame include:

Designation Manufacturer Name (Remarks) Later Designations
M6   Bazooka (Army)  
M28   Super Bazooka (Army)  
M31/M50 Douglas Honest John (Army) MGR-1A/B/C
M47/M51 Emerson Electric Little John (Army) MGR-3A
M55   (chemical warfare rocket; Army)  
M72   LAW (Army)  
MB-1 Douglas Genie (Air Force) AIR-2A
  NOTS Weapon Alpha (Navy) RUR-4A
  NOTS RAT (Navy)  
R.A.T. MK 2 Honeywell ASROC (Navy) RUR-5A
  Bendix Loki (Army)  
30.5" Rocket MK 1 NOTS BOAR (Navy)  
2.75" FFAR NOTS Mighty Mouse  
5" HVAR NOTS Holy Moses  
5" FFAR NOTS Zuni (Navy)  

A list of known Army rocket model numbers assigned under the Army Nomenclature System can be found here.

4.2 Space Launch Vehicles

From 1962 to the late 1970's / early 1980's (I don't know the exact time frame), the Air Force assigned SLV ("Standard Launch Vehicle") designations to its launch rockets.

Designation Manufacturer Name Later Designations
SLV-1 L.T.V./Ford Aeronutronics Scout  
SLV-2 Douglas Thor  
SLV-3 Convair Atlas (see note 1)
SLV-4 Martin Marietta Titan II (see note 1)
SLV-5 Martin Marietta Titan III (see note 1)


1. When the Joint Designation System was extended to include boosters, the following designations were assigned to Atlas and Titan launch vehicles:
SB-1A Atlas E
SB-2A/B Atlas II
SB-4A Titan II
SB-5A/B Titan IV
SB-6A Titan 34D.

5 Interim USAF System for Missiles, Rockets, and Spacecraft, 1961

According to source [15], the U.S. Air Force revised and extended its missile designation system in late 1961. The new system was to include all kinds of unmanned aerospace vehicles, including satellites and spacecraft. The following designation letters are listed:

Vehicle Type:

Missile Launching Method:


The author does not mention, in which sequence the letters were supposed to be used (although Launch Method-Mission-Vehicle Type seems reasonable), or what numbering scheme was intended (e.g. one global sequence, or one per vehicle type). The system combines elements from the 1955 USAF System and the forthcoming Joint Designation System of 1963. It is interesting to note, that this system already included designators for space vehicles of all kind, something which wasn't included in today's system until 1990.

Because this designation system was effective only for a very short period of time, it has remained essentially unknown. I don't know any designations which were definitely issued under this system, but I have a few designators, which just might make some sense with the 1961 system in mind:

6 Sources

In no particular order:

[1] John M. Andrade: "U.S. Military Aircraft Designations and Serials 1909-1979", Midland, 1979
[2] Bill Gunston: "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rockets and Missiles", Salamander Books Ltd, 1979
[3] Jacob Neufeld: "Ballistic Missiles in the United States Air Force, 1945-1960", Office of Air Force History, 1990
[4] James C. Fahey: "The Ships and Aircraft of the US Fleet", 6th, 7th and 8th ed., U.S. Naval Institute, 1955, 1958, 1965
[5] James C. Fahey: "United States Air Force and United States Army Aircraft 1947-1956"
[6] Jay Miller: "The X-Planes X-1 to X-45", Midland Publishing, 2001
[7] Monographs about Army missile programs
[8] Mark Wade: "Encyclopedia Astronautica"
[9] Roy A. Grossnick: "United States Naval Aviation 1910-1995", Naval Historical Center, 1997
[10] Kenneth P.Werrell: "The Evolution of the Cruise Missile", Air University Press, 1985
[11] US Army Air Forces: "Army Aircraft Model Designations", 1946
[12] US Navy: "Model Designations of Naval Aircraft", 1947 and 1950
[13] Norman Friedman: "US Naval Weapons", Conway Maritime Press, 1983
[14] Norman J. Bowman: "The Handbook of Rockets and Guided Missiles", Perastadion Press, 1963
[15] BuAer Instruction 05030.4A: "Model Designation of Naval Aircraft, KD Targets, and BuAer Guided Missiles", Dept. of the Navy, 1958
[16] Department of Defense Missile Nomenclature Records

Comments and corrections to: Andreas Parsch

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Last Updated: 29 April 2024