A brief note on Navy airplane designations


Jason’s lovely pics of an FG-1 reminded me I’ve long, long meant to post on the arcane methodology of Navy aircraft designations prior to 1962.

Very briefly, the alphanumeric system was based on the role of the aircraft and it’s manufacturer, and how many previous types that manufacturer had produced, followed by numbers for variants on a basic type, and often additional letters for minor changes or specific mission equipment.

In this case, the FG-1 (probably an FG-1D) the “F” is for Fighter. “G” is for Goodyear. The “-1” is for the first variant produced.

Smart observers recognize that the plane is a Corsair. Well, yes it is. The basic Corsair was built by Vought, and designated the F4U. “F” again for Fighter, “U” for Vought (the manufacturer’s designator letter didn’t always make a lot of sense). The “4” tells us this was the fourth fighter type for the Navy designed by Vought.

Because of the incredible increase in demand for airplanes during the war, and limited capacity of the primary builders, many types were ordered to be built by other firms, many of which hadn’t built whole airplanes before. Hence, Goodyear was tapped to build Corsairs. As noted, while they were virtually indistinguishable from a Corsair off the Vought lines, they received their own designation. Brewster Aircraft also received contracts to build Corsairs (under the designation F3A), though poor quality control meant none of these actually entered combat.

One of the most famous Navy planes of World War II was the Douglas Dauntless SBD. In this case, “S” meant Scout, “B” for bomber, and “D” for Douglas.  It was replaced by the SB2C Helldiver. Scout Bomber, Curtiss, second Scout Bomber built for the Navy by Curtiss (the SBC was also named Helldiver).

In 1961, my dad was flying the R4D-8. In 1962, he’d climb into the same plane, but now it was a C-117D.

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One response to “A brief note on Navy airplane designations

  1. Let’s not forget the unfortunate F3A Corsair, the Brewster built variant that was so poorly put together that the USN would not allow them to be sent out of the CONUS.

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