Aircraft Numbering System
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 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
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
The Army used these numbers in blocks as follows:
801 to 1600
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
3001 to 4000
4001 to 8000
8001 to 10000
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
B1 to B9999
C1 to C9999
D1 to D9999
E1 to E9999
F1 to F9999
"XG" "AB" "AG" Series
"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.
G/HQ and G/ Bde
H1 to H9999
"I" not used as could be confused with the number
J1 to J6576
J6577 to J9999
K1000 to K9999
L1000 to L9999
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.
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
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
N1 to N499
N500 to N999
N1000 to N2999
N3000 to N3999
N4000 to N4999
N5000 to N8999
N9000 to N9999
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
"Q" not used for same reasons as "O"
R1000 to R9999
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
T1000 to T9999
"U" not used as it could be confused with "V" in
V1000 to V9999
W1000 to W9999
X1 to X25
X1000 to X9999
"Y" not used as it could possibly be confused with
Z1000 to Z9999
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
Unlike WW1, captured aircraft did not use a special series, but were
numbered in the normal sequence. The first captured aircraft appeared in this
AE485 to AP384
AI and AO were not used as they could be confused with Numbers.
AP387 to AZ999
AQ, AU and AY letters not used.
BA100 to BZ999
DA100 to DZ999
DA100 to DD599 not used for this reason.
DH not used as it could be confused with De Havilland.
EB100 to EZ999
ET100 began large block for lend lease Aircraft
FA100 to HD776
GA100 toGZ999 not used
"HA" not used, confusion with 'Hostile Aircraft'
HD804 to JR999
IA100 to IZ999 not used.
JE JH AND JJ not used.
JS100 to KV300
KV301 to PZ999
This series was all used in February 1942!
RA100 to VN999
Series deliveries continued into peacetime after 1945.
VP100 to present
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