Aircraft Designations, Germany


Luftwaffe (1933-1945)

After 1933 German aircraft were basically designated by manufacturer and model number, a system very different from that used during World War I but which was relatively simple and straightforward. The manufacturer was designated usually as a two-letter abbreviation with the second letter in lowercase (DFS was the only major manufacturer which used three letters and all upper-case). A unique model number followed after a space, this number was sequential and never repeated by another manufacturer. On occasion, this unique number was exchanged between manufacturers or used twice if assigned initially for an unsuccessful design but this was very rare. Thus, the Messerschmitt Me 262 indicated the 262nd aircraft model designed for the Luftwaffe after 1933. Unique numbers were commonly assigned in batches to manufacturers, therefore this number should not be taken as an entirely chronological reflection of German designs; for example the He 162 jet was designed and produced after the Me 262, while the Ta 152 was actually the last variant of the Fw 190 which first flew over five years earlier. The Luftwaffe also had a tendency to use variations of this number to apply to aircraft which were very closely related and built by the same manufacturer. These usually followed sequences in steps of 100, for example, the Bf 110 had a successor which was designated the Me 210 (note that Messerschmitt was originally known as Bayerische Flugzeugwerke hence the Bf used in early designs). This aircraft, in turn, was replaced by the Me 410. This practice was also applied to aircraft whose number was less than 100. So, we have follow-ups to the Ju 88 known as the Ju 188 and Ju 388. Contrary to what is occasionally published, German designations never used a dash to separate manufacturer and model number, only a space.


Major aircraft variants or changes in function were designated by upper-case letters following the model number. These were usually assigned alphabetically with the initial production variant known as A. For example, major versions of the Bf 109 are easily distinguished by their sequential letters, starting with the Bf 109A and ending with the Bf 109G. Confusion may arise in the fact that a chronological order was not always applied since this letter also indicated different functions. Thus, the Ju 87B was actually followed by a longer-ranged variant which was designated Ju 87R (Reichweite). In many other cases, letters were often skipped for reasons unknown, such as the Fw 190D series of high-altitude fighters was followed by the Fw 190F fighter-bombers. The use of a functional suffix was rarely applied across different aircraft. For example, the Ju 88R was a night fighter and the He 111R was a high-altitude bomber (project) rather than a long-ranged version like the Ju 87R. One universally used functional suffix was the the letter V (Versuchs) for prototypes. This was followed by the prototype number so that the Me 262V3 designation was applied to the third prototype of the Me 262.

Subvariants of an aircraft were designated by a dashed number following the variant letter, an example would be the Fw 190A-8. These variations were always minor and did not change the function of the aircraft. Pre-production aircraft frequently used the number 0. When this was not enough, a lower-case letter was added to the number, this can be seen in the Me 262A-1a. Finally, smaller variations were indicated by a slash followed by one of three possible suffixes. These were U (Umrüstbausatz or factory conversion kits), R (Rüstsatz or field add-ons) or Trop (Tropen) for tropical environment modifications. This meant that the Bf 109F-4/Trop included dust filters and the Ju 87B-1/U4 had a ski undercarriage in place of the wheeled one. Occasionally, subvariants of similar aircraft would be copied, as was the case of the Fw 190F-8 being the fighter-bomber version of the A-8. However, this was not a consistent practice, as evidenced by the fact that earlier subvariants did not match (the F-3 was based on the A-5).


German aircraft generally were not named except for a small number of designs very late in the war, such as the He 177 Greif and the Ar 234 Blitz. Many others were given nicknames that became their unofficial names, such as the Ju 87 Stuka (which was a shortening of Sturzkampfflugzeug or dive bomber) and Me 262 Schwalbe. Birds were a common theme of both official names and nicknames. Aircraft were also frequently nicknamed by their variant and sub-variant phonetic alphabet, for example, the Fw 190D-9 was popularly known as the Langnasen Dora ('long-nose Dora'), the Bf 109E the Emil, and the Bf 109G the Gustav.

Al Albatros
Ao Aktiengesellschaft Otto
Ar Arado
As Argus
Ba Bachem
Bf Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (changed to Messerschmitt in 1938)
Bo Bölkow
Bv Blohm und Voss
DFS Deutsche Forschungsanstalt für Segelflug
Do Dornier
Fa Focke, Acheglis & Co.
Fg Flugtechnische Fertigungsgemeinschaft Prag
Fh Flugzeugbau Halle (changed to Siebel in 1936)
Fi Fieseler
Fk Flugzeugbau Kiel
Fl Flettner
Fw Focke-Wulf
Go Gotha
Ha Hamburger (changed to Blohm und Voss in 1937)
He Heinkel
Ho Horten
Hs Henschel
Ju Junkers
Ka Kalkert (designer at Gotha)
Kl Klemm
Li Lippisch (designer at DFS and Messerschmitt)
Me Messerschmitt
NR Nagler-Rolz
Si Siebel
So Sombold
Sk Skoda
Ta Tank (designer at Focke-Wulf)
We Weser
ZMe Zeppelin/Messerschmitt
ZSo Zeppelin/SNCASO


Luftwaffe / Marineflieger (post-1945)

The German designation system has remained largely unchanged in the post-war period, although it should be noted that most German aircraft have been foreign designs. In Luftwaffe or Bundesmarine service, these have retained their original designations and names (such as the F-4F Phantom). Aircraft designed in colaboration utilize their company designations and names although the case of the EF-2000 is peculiar: the Germans (like the Italians) have rejected the name Typhoon, preferring to refer to it as simply the Eurofighter. This is likely due to the name originating from the former RAF fighter-bomber used during World War II. Another notable exception is the use of the acronym PAH (Panzerabwehrhubschrauber) to refer to its attack helicopters with anti-tank capability, the Bo 105 (PAH-1) and the Tiger (PAH-2), although both company and functional designations are used in practice. This is the only example of a functional code used in a major German-designed aircraft or helicopter.

Last modified: 20 January 2023