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. 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 a 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 (also known as the Me 110) had a successor which was designated the Me 210. 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.

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, so that the Bf 109E was followed by the Bf 109F. 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, and the fighter-bomber version of the Fw 190A was the Fw 190F. Prototype variants of an aircraft used the letter V (Versuchs) followed by the prototype number so that the Me 262V3 designation was applied to the third prototype of the Me 262.

Sub-variants 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.

German aircraft generally were not named until various years after the war started. Aircraft names were usually arbitrary, with bird names being the most common. Aircraft were frequently nicknamed by their variant and sub-variant phonetic alphabet, for example, the Fw 190D-9 was popularly known as the "Dora Nine", 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: 2 February 2021