British military aircraft designations 1945 to date

The first list I have decided to display is of British military designation applied from 1945. The contents are developed from an appendix to my book Aircraft in British Military Service - 1946 to date.

Significant changes in type development - whether through new construction or conversion - usually merited a new mark number which through the war was written in Roman numerals to XIX and Arabic numerals from 20 upwards. From 1942 designatory prefix letters were used to indicate role. Then from 1947 Arabic figures became standard for all designations, although they had been in widespread but informal use as such for some time. Suffix letters were used to indicate minor changes, usually in equipment but sometimes in role. There have been cases where the military designations have coincided with civil series numbers (DH Comet and Heron for example), presumably to avoid confusion. Indeed, in the case of the Comet the military designations alternated between the civil ones.

Naval and Army variants often had designations starting at 10, 11, 20, 21 or 31 leaving earlier mark numbers available for RAF use. The Chipmunk started at Mark 10 to leave earlier designations free for Canadian use. In the unusual case of the Harrier odd numbers are for single-seat aircraft while even numbers are reserved for trainer variants. The Firely appears to have been unique in having two sets of designations applied, one in Roman numerals and a later series in Arabic numerals. There have also been situations where a significantly new aircraft has been developed but designated within the existing name and sequence, such as the Harrier GR Mk 5 (in US service the Harrier II). In other instances significant model changes have been made but with no change to the mark number, only to the role prefix (Sea Prince C Mk 1, T Mk 1).

Note - those designatory letters in italics appear to have been in informal use


Designation Role Example
A Airborne Forces Halifax A.9
ABR Amphibian Boat Reconnaissance Sea Otter ABR.1
AEW Airborne Early Warning Sentry AEW.1
AH Army Helicopter Gazelle AH.1
AL Army Liaison Beaver AL.1
AOP Air Observation Post Auster AOP.9
AS Anti-Submarine Avenger AS.4
ASR Air Sea Rescue Seagull ASR.1
B Bomber Washington B.1
B(I) Bomber (Interdictor) Canberra B(I).8
B(K) Bomber (Tanker) Valiant B(K.1
B(PR) Bomber (Photographic Reconnaissance) Valiant B(PR).1
B PR(K) Bomber Photographic Reconnaissance (Tanker) Valiant B(PR)K.1
B(SR) Bomber (Strategic Reconnaissance) Victor B(SR).2
B(TT) Bomber (Target tower) Canberra B(TT).2
C Transport Beverley C.1
CC Communications Islander CC.2
COD Carrier Onboard Delivery Gannet COD.4
C(PR) Transport (Photo Reconnaissance) Pembroke C(PR).1
D Drone Sea Vixen D.3
E Electronic Andover E.3
ECM Electronic Counter Measures Gannet ECM.4
F Fighter Sabre F.2
FA, F/A Fighter/Attack Sea Harrier FA.2
FAW, (F(AW) Fighter All-Weather Javelin F(AW).7
FB Fighter Bomber Venom FB.4
FB(T) Fighter Bomber (Trainer) Vampire FB(T).5
FG Fighter Ground (Attack) Phantom FG.1
FGA Fighter Ground Attack Sea Hawk FGA.6
FGR Fighter Ground-attack and Reconnaissance Phantom FGR.2
FR Fighter Reconnaissance Swift FR.5
FRS Fighter, Reconnaissance, Strike Sea Harrier FRS.1
GA Ground Attack Hunter GA.11
GR General Reconnaissance (to 1950) Sunderland GR.5
GR Ground attack, Reconnaissance Jaguar GR.1
GT Glider Tug Master GT.II
HAR Helicopter Air Rescue Whirlwind HAR.10
HAS Helicopter Anti-Submarine Sea King HAS.5
HC Helicopter Transport Belvedere HC.1
HCC Helicopter Communications Whirlwind HCC.12
HM Helicopter Maritime Merlin HM.1
HMA Helicopter Maritime Attack Lynx HMA.8
HR Helicopter Rescue Sycamore HR.12
HT Helicopter Trainer Skeeter HT.11
HU Helicopter Utility Wessex HU.5
ITF Interim Torpedo Fighter Beaufighter VI(ITF)
K Tanker VC.10 K.2
KC Tanker, Transport Tristar KC.1
Met Meteorology Brigand Met.3
MR Maritime Reconnaissance Shackleton MR.3
MRA Maritime Reconnaissance and Attack Nimrod MR.4
NF Night Fighter Venom NF.3
NF(T) Night Fighter (Trainer) Vampire NF(T).10
PR Photographic Reconnaissance Meteor PR.10
R Reconnaissance Sentinel R.1
S Strike Wyvern S.4
SR Strategic Reconnaissance Vulcan SR.2
ST Special Transport Albemarle ST.VI
T Trainer Chipmunk T.10
TF Torpedo Fighter Firebarnd TF.5
TR Torpedo Reconnaissance Mosquito TR.33
TT Target Tower Tempest TT.5
TX Trainer Glider Prefect TX.1
U Unmanned (to 1956) Lincoln U.5
U Utility Not used
W Weather Hercules W.2


A, B, C, D Used to denote a minor modification not meriting a fresh designation. The Lynx seems to suffer from endless semi-formal suffix additions to denote systems additions or changes. Some designations are joined as in GMS.

Designation Role Example
B(FE) Bomber (Far East) Lancaster B.1(FE)
(BS) Blue Shadow Canberra B.6(BS)
CTS Central Tactical System Lynx HMA.8CTS
GM Gulf Modification Lynx HAS.3GM
ICE Antarctic equipped Lynx HAS.3ICE
K Tanker Hercules C.1K
K2P Tanker two point VC-10
LR Long range Hercules C.1LR
(Mod) Modification Neptune MR.1Mod
MRR Maritime Radar Reconnaissance Vulcan B.2MRR
N Naval variant Harrier T.4N
P Probe Hercules C.3P
PR Photo Reconnaissance Andover C.1(PR)
R Retrofit (Victor) Victor B.2R
R Refuelling probe Javelin F(AW).9R
RC Radio Countermeasures Canberra B.6RC
S Secure speech radio Lynx HAS.3S
SAR Search and Rescue Sea King HU.5SAR
T Trainer (usually 'two-stick') Tornado GR.1(T)
W Re-winged Hawk T.1W
X Trials Sea King X