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U.S. Military Aviation Designation Systems

[Aircraft] [Missiles] [Engines] [Electronic Equipment] [Aeronautical and Support Equipment] [Nuclear Weapons] [Air Force Projects] [Code Names]
[Miscellaneous] [Discussion Group] [What's New?]

Copyright © 2000-2024 Andreas Parsch

This site is devoted to the various systems used by the U.S. military aviation to designate all types of equipment. I try to provide thorough explanations of the designation systems, while avoiding all the "red tape" included in the official standards documents, which tends to obscure the details relevant to the aviation enthusiast. For those who want to go all the way, I give references to the official DOD documentation wherever possible.

For most designation systems, I will also provide listings of assigned designations. These listings are intended to be as complete and accurate as possible, but there are still many gaps and (most probably) errors. I also list my main sources of information at the end of each individual article, but in general, a lot of my data is from uncountable websites. If possible, however, I have relied on printed publications and "first-hand" (i.e. DoD, USAF, etc.) websites.


This site includes several articles, which explain several aspects of the current U.S. Department of Defense aircraft designation system in great detail. However, I do not attempt to cover earlier U.S. military aircraft designation systems, nor do I host a complete listing of assigned designations. All this can already be found on the World Wide Web, most notably Wikipedia:

Current Designations of U.S. Military Aircraft
An annotated explanation of today's designation system for U.S. military aircraft as defined by official DOD documents.

Allocation of Official Aerospace Vehicle MDS Designations
An explanation of how an official DOD aerospace vehicle designation is allocated, mentioning the tasks and responsibilities of the involved organizations in detail.

Aircraft Redesignations in 1962
An annotated listing of all aircraft redesignations in 1962, when the current joint aircraft designation system was introduced. The listing is based on official DOD sources, and should be as complete as it can get.

"Missing" USAF/DOD Aircraft Designations
A listing of USAF and DOD basic aircraft designators which are not listed in standard reference sources on the subject.

Non-Standard DOD Aircraft Designations
A discussion of a selection of DOD aircraft designations, which look correct but which in one or more ways violate the rules defined by DOD's own designation system regulations.

Duplications in U.S. Military Aircraft Designation Series
A rundown of every basic aircraft type designation, which was used more than once in any of the U.S. military aicraft designation systems.

DOD 4120.15-L - Addendum
This file provides an annotated list of all MDS designators (aircraft and missiles) allocated between 19 August 1998, the deadline for the October 1998 release of DOD 4120.15-L (DOD's official list of aircraft and missile designations), and October 2018.

Cover Designations for Classified USAF Aircraft
A brief summary of known information about the designations used by some classified USAF aircraft.


Early (Pre-1963) Missiles And Drones

Current Unmanned Aerospace Vehicles

Aircraft And Missile Engines

Electronics And Communications Equipment

Aeronautical and Support Equipment
(including Non-Nuclear Aircraft Ordnance)

Nuclear Weapons

Air Force Projects

Code Names for U.S. Military Projects and Operations

Miscellaneous Designation Systems

Original Documents

Discussion Group & Mailing List

What's New?

For comments and suggestions, send e-mail to: Andreas Parsch

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