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List of Military Aircraft of the United States
Types of military aircraft used by the United States
This list of military aircraft of the United States includes prototype, pre-production, and operational types. For aircraft in service, see the list of active United States military aircraft. Prototypes are normally prefixed with "X" and are often unnamed (note that these are not the same as the experimental X-planes, which are not generally expected to go into production), while pre-production models are usually prefixed with "Y".
The United States military employs a designation and naming system to provide identifications to all aircraft types. Until 1962, the United States Army, United States Air Force (formerly Army Air Force), and United States Navy all maintained separate systems. In September 1962, these were unified into a single system heavily reflecting the Air Force method. For more complete information on the workings of this system, refer to United States Department of Defense Aerospace Vehicle Designations.
Prior to 1919, all planes flown by the Army Air Service and the Navy were referred to by the designation given to them by their manufacturer. A variety of both domestic and foreign types were operated, with the latter being the primary front-line types during the First World War.
Army Air Service, 1919-1924
In September 1919, the Army Air Service decided that it needed an organized designation sequence, and adopted fifteen classifications, designated by Roman numerals. Several other unnumbered designations were added later. Each designation was assigned an abbreviation, and each design a number within that abbreviation. Variants were designated by alphabetically appending letters to the design number.
Until 1926, the Army Air Service had three sequences for bombers. Light bombers were indicated by the LB- prefix, medium bombers by the B- prefix, and heavy bombers by the HB- prefix. In 1926, the three-category system was scrapped and all bombers subsequently built were placed in the B- sequence.
Beginning with #69, the "M-" (missile) and "B-" (bomber) series diverged. The missiles designated M-69 to M-92, some of which are incorrectly labeled as "formerly designated B-xx" in some sources, never used a "B-" series designation.
Bomber, long range, 1935-1936
A short-lived designation used from 1935-1936 to refer to three long-range bomber projects commissioned by the Army Air Corps. Most of the bombers were night bombers.
In 1941, the category letter R- was allotted for "rotary wing" aircraft, and this designation was used until the founding of the United States Air Force in 1947, at which point the category letter was changed to H-, for "helicopter". However, the original numbering sequence was retained.
In 1956, the U.S. Army adopted a new, and relatively simple, designation system for its aviation assets. Aircraft were divided into three different types - 'A' for fixed-wing aircraft, 'H' for helicopters, or 'V' for V/STOL aircraft, and then were given a mission modifier, which, unlike the USAF system, came after the type code: 'C' for transports, 'O' for observation and reconnaissance aircraft, 'U' for utility types, and 'Z' for experimental aircraft. Aircraft types designated in this system were numbered sequentially.
KC-767 - Boeing KC-767 (Out of sequence designation selected by the U.S. Air Force (USAF) initially to replace older KC-135Es. In December 2003, the contract was frozen and later canceled due to corruption allegations).
UC-880 - Convair (Out of sequence designation used for a single Convair 880 converted to a tanker to support trials from the NATC)
Note: Designations YF-110, YF-112 through YF-116, and YF-118 were captured foreign aircraft used for evaluation and aggressor training. They were given designations in sequence--based on chronology--with "black" project aircraft, continuing the pre-1962 F series.
Unlike most other categories of aircraft, the introduction of the tri-service designation system in 1962 did not result in a wholesale redesignation of helicopters. While six types received new designations in the unified, "re-started" sequence, the original "H-" series of designations that started in 1948 was also continued, and no further types of rotorcraft have been designated in the "post-1962" system.
The only designation in the "Spaceplane" series, the MS-1A shares a designation letter with the anti-submarine warfare category, and is perhaps unique among MDS identifiers as being assigned to a future, and currently not wholly defined, concept, as opposed to a specific project.
Despite the adoption of the unified Mission Designation System in 1962, only two aircraft were designated in the new series, both former Navy types. The old series continued in use until 1990, at which point a new series was started over at T-1, with the previous T-2 still being in use.
However, the old series has still seen new designations being assigned. The next designation available in the 'T' series is T-52 or T-7, depending on which series is continued.
In addition to aircraft intended to support military operations, the unified system includes experimental craft designed to push the boundaries of aeronautical and aerospace knowledge. These aircraft are designated in the "X-series", which led them to become known as "X-planes". Only those with military sponsors are listed here.