The British aircraft designation system is similar to that used by the US except that the plane's official name is used within the designation system. The full designation consists of the name, a letter or set of letters indicating the role, and a mark number. In a few cases, the mark number is followed by a letter indicating a modification.
For example, the full designation for a variant of the Tornado IDS bomber is written as "Tornado GR.1A". Furthermore, a designation is sometimes written in the form "Tornado GR Mk 1A". Both cases describe a modification to the Tornado GR.1, a ground attack/reconnaissance version of the Tornado. The GR.1A is a specialized variant in which one of the two guns is replaced by reconnaissance gear.
For export models, the role letters are usually left out, and the mark numbers are restarted from a high number, usually 50. An example is the Sea Harrier operated by the Indian Navy and designated as Sea Harrier Mk 51.
The following table lists the role letters that have been used by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy since these codes were first adopted. Those codes marked in italics are obsolete and no longer in use today.
AEW = Airborne early warning AH = Army helicopter AL = Army liaison AS = Anti-submarine B = Bomber B(I) = Bomber/interdictor B(K) = Bomber/tanker B(PR) = Bomber/photo-reconnaissance C = Cargo transport CC = Communications (also used for VIP transports) E = Electronic warfare F = Fighter FA = Fighter/attack FAW = All-weather fighter FB = Fighter/bomber FG = Fighter/ground attack FGA = Fighter/ground attack FGR = Fighter/ground attack/reconnaissance FR = Fighter/reconnaissance FRS = Fighter/reconnaissance/strike GA = Ground attack GR = Ground attack/reconnaissance HAR = Search and rescue helicopter HAS = Anti-submarine helicopter HC = Cargo helicopter HCC = Communications helicopter (also used for VIP transports) HT = Training helicopter HU = Utility helicopter K = Tanker KC = Tanker/transport Met = Weather reconnaissance MR = Maritime reconnaissance NF = Night fighter PR = Photographic reconnaissance R = Reconnaissance S = Strike SR = Strategic reconnaissance T = Trainer TF = Torpedo fighter TT = Target tug U = Unmanned drone W = Weather reconnaissanceThe British aircraft system has remained largely unchanged since it was first introduced prior to World War I. However, the system has been somewhat simplified over the years. Before World War II, mark numbers were used alone without the role letters. The mark number was also written in Roman numerals. The role letters were added during the war, and conventional numerals were also introduced for mark numbers greater than 20. The Roman numerals were finally dropped altogether after the war to create the system that exists today.
Canada uses a designation scheme that is essentially identical to that used by the US, though it is simplified. The designation consists of the letter "C" for Canada, a letter to indicate the aircraft's role, a dash, and a number. The number is also sometimes followed by a letter to indicate a modification. Common letters include "A" for a modified version and "D" for a dual-control trainer.
Canada often bases a plane's designation on that used by the country of origin. For example, the Lockheed transport known as the C-130 Hercules in US service is referred to as the CC-130 in Canada. Subvariants include the CC-130E (C-130E) and CC-130H (C-130H) transports as well as the CC-130HT (KC-130H) tanker.
Role letters used by Canada are identical to those used by the US and include the following:
C = Cargo transport E = Electronics F = Fighter H = Helicopter P = Maritime patrol T = TrainerOne difference from the American system concerns the method by which a plane's number is assigned. In the US, each role letter is considered a separate sequence in which new planes are numbered sequentially. Canada, on the other hand, numbers all aircraft in a single sequence regardless of its role. The numbers in use today are always greater than 100. Examples of various types in Canadian service include:
CH-113 Labrador = Boeing CH-46 Sea Knight CT-114 Tutor = Canadair CL-41 Tutor CC-115 Buffalo = De Havilland Canada DHC-5 Buffalo CF-116 ("CF-5") = Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter CH-118 Iroquois = Bell UH-1 Iroquois CH-124 Sea King = Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King CC-130 Hercules = Lockheed C-130 Hercules CT-133 Silver Star = Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star CT-134 Musketeer = Beech Musketeer CH-135 = Bell 212 CH-136 Kiowa = Bell OH-58 Kiowa CC-137 = Boeing 707 CC-138 Twin Otter = De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter CH-139 Jetranger = Bell 206 Jetranger CP-140 Aurora/Arcturus = Lockheed P-3 Orion derivatives CC-142/CT-142 = De Havilland Canada DHC-8 Dash 8 CC-144/CE-144 Challenger = Canadair CL-601 Challenger CC-145 King Air = Beech King Air 200 CH-146 Griffon = Bell 412 CC-150 Polaris = Airbus A310 CF-188 ("CF-18") Hornet = McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 HornetNote that these two methods of designating planes have resulted in several cases where the same plane can have two different numbers. For example, the American designations for the F-5 Freedom Fighter and F-18 Hornet have been unofficially adopted in Canada as the CF-5 and CF-18. However, the actual official designations for these two aircraft are the CF-116 and CF-188, respectively.
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