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British Aircraft Numbering System
1912 to Present

By Steve Murray 




In 1912 the British Committee of Imperial Defence had formed a permanent body known as the Air Committee to deal with all matters relating to Military Aviation. In mid 1912 they had decided to adopt a standard marking and identification numbering system for all British Military Aeroplanes. In the early days Aircraft were usually only Identified by their manufacturers name,and the engine horsepower, or if it was a tractor or pusher type. The only serial numbers used were the manufacturers own construction numbers, and these were usually not consecutive, as aircraft were delivered to many individuals or governments.  



The Numbering Systems


The first system used was quite straightforward, just a simple numerical list, but the Army and Navy were allotted "Blocks" of numbers for each service, The navy being the senior service having the first allocation as follows: 

1 to 200
The Royal Navy

These numbers were applied retrospectively to Aircraft already in service from November 1912, the Naval wing having 16 aircraft on charge at that time. The number system was then applied in sequence to aircraft as and when ordered, but they were not necessarily delivered in sequence.

 201 to 800                          
Army Aircraft 

The Army used these numbers in blocks as follows: 

201 to 300             Aircraft taken on charge at Farnborough

301 to 400       Aircraft orders resulting from the 1912 Military trials (but eventually used for normal aircraft orders.

401 to 500            Aircraft taken on charge by the central flying school

501 to 600            Aircraft of French design taken on charge

601 to 800            originally for prototypes, but used later for normal orders


 801 to 1600            
Second Naval allocation

1 to 200 was used by mid 1914, so the Navy were given a second allocation. Impressed aircraft appeared in the list at 881 marking the start of WW1. Aircraft numbers from 1267 on are from orders placed in 1915.

 1601 to 3000
The second Army allocation authorised November 1914

 3001 to 4000
The third Naval allocation in 1915

 4001 to 8000
The Army's third Allocation

 8001 to 10000
The fourth Naval allocation in 1916. All these numbers had been used up by the end of the year, which gives some idea of the extent of orders placed for the intensifying conflict.



Prefixed Numbers


When the Numbering series reached 10000 in 1916, it was not considered practical to paint five figure numbers onto aircraft. So a new system was introduced with the number prefixed by a letter, and this was the start of the number sequence that is still basically being used today. To differentiate between aircraft ordered by the RNAS and the RFC , all army orders began with the Prefix "A" and the Navy orders prefix "N". (To make this guide easier and logical to understand, The Naval allocation will appear in alphabetical and not chronological order.)

A1 to A9999
RFC orders in 1916

B1 to B9999
Followed on from "A" series in late 1916

C1 to C9999
Followed on from "B" series into 1917. Included largest order to date for 850 RE8 Aircraft. All numbers taken up by August 1917.

D1 to D9999
The final RFC number allocations used for orders placed late 1917 early1918.

E1 to E9999
Used early to mid 1918. When the RFC and RNAS merged on the 1st April 1918, allocations were up to E1600.

F1 to F9999 
The first RAF allocation, late 1918 not all numbers appeared as they had been allocated for orders that were cancelled after the Armistice in November 1918.


 "G" "XG" "AB" "AG" Series 
(Captured Enemy Aircraft and Airframes)


"G" did not follow "F" for two reasons. Firstly it could be confused in the air with the letter "C" and the second reason is that it was used in a special series used from 1917 to number German aircraft captured on the western front. These were not usually painted on Captured aircraft but were normally used on documents for intelligence as a reference number appertaining to a captured airframe.

After the "G" series had started it was realised that enemy aircraft captured earlier in the war had not been recorded. These were then listed using an extra "G" prefix or as used "XG".

This series was used for German aircraft and wrecks forced down over the UK in the air raids of 1917.

Used for aircraft captured by the RFC in the Italian theatre, and listed German and Austro Hungarian types used in this area.  

G/HQ and G/ Bde
The "G" series was discontinued after March 1918. And replaced with numbers allocated by the RAF Brigades in the field or General headquarters.

H1 to H9999
Continued from "F", Consists largely of cancelled orders at the end of the war.

"I" not used as could be confused with the number "1"  

J1 to J6576
Started October 1918, only a few aircraft had "J" numbers most being cancelled.  The serial prefix "JR" was also seen the "R" denoting a rebuilt aircraft.

J6577 to J9999
The first peacetime orders For the RAF. This is reflected in the speed of allocations. J1 to J6848 were allocated to aircraft in a space of two months, the rest of the "J" series ran from 1919 to 1928, when J9999 was finally used.

K1000 to K9999
For the first time a series of numbers did not start at the number 1. And also for the first time an order for aircraft continued on from one series to another. (Atlases J9951 to J9999, and K1000 to K1037). This series was used for orders placed between August 1929 to July 1936.

L1000 to L9999
Continued from the "K" series.  After L7272  "Blackout blocks" were introduced for security reasons, these were blocks of numbers not used to brake up the numerical sequence. This series used over the time of the Munich crisis and the start of WW2.


"M" series

The letter "M" was not used as a prefix letter as it was already used as a suffix letter as a ground instructional airframe number.

When an aircraft was taken out of service to be used for instruction, for instance at a technical school, its number was cancelled and it was renumbered in the "M" series.

For example: 

K3100 was a Hawker Audax and was renumbered 748M, the number being repainted on the airframe. 

This series is still in use today, numbers in the 8000M series being used currently.


"N" Series Numbers 

The "N" series, is the only series that appeared out of alphabetical order, being allocated to the RNAS 1n 1916, at the same time as the "A" series was allocated to the RFC. The Navy did not use the numbers in sequence, but allocated them in blocks for different types of aircraft. The series continued after the formation of the RAF in 1918 and was used until 1930 for aircraft ordered for employment in Coastal or Fleet duties.  The blocks used are as follows: 

N1 to N999
Experimental aircraft. This block was then sub divided as follows:

N1 to N499
Experimental seaplanes. The system was not used after N255

N500 to N999
Only 47 numbers used. Then series discontinued.

N1000 to N2999
Production Seaplanes.

N3000 to N3999
French aircraft types. Not used after N3299.

N4000 to N4999
Large flying boats.

N5000 to N8999
Naval Aeroplanes (landplanes). After N8229 seaplanes began to be included.

N9000 to N9999
Second seaplane allocation.  After 1919 all production marine aircraft were placed in this sequence, the last allocation being in the mid 1920's N9450 was the first order after WW1 (Fairey 111F). This series ended in 1926.


(SECOND SERIES  N1000 to N9999)

This series was used again following on from the "L" series from 1937. It had blackout blocks incorporated from the Beginning. 

"O" not used as it could be confused with Zero. 

P1000 to P9999
Followed on from "N" series.

"Q" not used for same reasons as "O"

R1000 to R9999
Followed "P" The first WW2 orders appeared in this series.

S1000 to S1865

Followed on from the "N" series as at the time (1926) it was unlikely that R1000 would be reached for a long time, and "S" stood for 'Sea'.

T1000 to T9999
Followed "R"  as "S" was already (only up to S1865) used. 

"U" not used as it could be confused with "V" in written records.

V1000 to V9999
Used on orders late 1939 to early 1940. contained large blackout blocks. Last "V" serialled aircraft delivered in 1942.

W1000 to W9999
Used from April 1940. Series contained a large number of  civilian aircraft impressed into service.

X1 to X25
In 1917  it was only possible to construct an aircraft with an official licence, so preventing the use of strategic materials. So if an aircraft company wanted to construct a private venture aircraft i.e. one not given an official requirement, they could apply for an official licence. They  were numbered in this sequence.

X1000 to X9999
Followed on from "W" in 1940.

"Y" not used as it could possibly be confused with "V".  

Z1000 to Z9999
Followed on from "X"



New Series with Double Letters


When Z9999 was allocated in 1940 the Ministry of Aircraft production had two options, to start the series again at A1000 or to use a new system.  It was decided to use a system with two letters, and to keep the maximum of five figures in the serial, the numbers were allocated from 100 to 999. it started at "AA" but some letters were not used. These will be detailed as we go through the series:

AA100 to AE479
AC not used as could be confused with AG

Unlike WW1, captured aircraft did not use a special series, but were numbered in the normal sequence. The first captured aircraft appeared in this Range. 

AE485 to AP384
Used by the British purchasing mission in the USA. As the USA was Neutral at this time with a full German embassy operating, it was considered a waste of time to include blackout blocks as security could not be enforced. 

AI and AO were not used as they could be confused with Numbers.

AP387 to AZ999
Series contained apart from normal orders, Impressed Aircraft, and Aircraft that had 'escaped' from countries overrun by the Germans, captured aircraft and French and Belgian orders diverted to the RAF.

AQ, AU and AY letters not used.

BA100 to BZ999
Followed on from "AZ". Gliders appear on the allocation for the first time.

DA100 to DZ999
When lend lease began the direct purchase of aircraft from the USA was stopped.

DA100 to DD599 not used for this reason.

DH not used as it could be confused with De Havilland.

EB100 to EZ999
"EA" not used as could be confused with 'Enemy Aircraft'.

ET100 began large block for lend lease Aircraft

 FA100 to HD776
"FA" to "FZ" used solely for lend lease aircraft

GA100 toGZ999 not used

"HA" not used, confusion with 'Hostile Aircraft'

HD804 to JR999 
Used at the same time as the ET100 block, for UK  built aircraft.

IA100 to IZ999  not used.

JE JH AND JJ not used.

JS100 to KV300
Used on lend lease aircraft. KA100 to KB999 allocated for Canadian built Aircraft.

KV301 to PZ999
UK production. NZ not used as this system was used by the RNZAF for their aircraft.

This series was all used in February 1942!

RA100 to VN999
Continued from "PZ" series. SA to SK allocated to lend lease but not used. Series contains many 1945 captured aircraft.

Series deliveries continued into peacetime after 1945.

VP100 to present
Peacetime orders after WW2

Contains US aircraft supplied under MADP and Civilian aircraft allocated temporary serials for trooping flights. Latest serials noted are in the  ZJ series Used on the New Merlin Helicopters for the Royal Navy .


Text & Images Copyright 2000 by Steve Murray
Page Created 18 October, 2000
Last Updated 18 May, 2001

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