Speculative post-1962 non-Tri-Service Aircraft Designations

Fighter Aircraft

Click to enlarge
McDonnell Douglas F-110A Spectre

During the 1962 - 1964 time period, the various aircraft designation systems used by the American armed forces were unified into one common system known as the Tri-Service aircraft designation system. More details of this can be found elsewhere (see web links). In brief:

The following are speculative extrapolations of fighter aircraft designations, had the Tri-Service re-designation not occurred.

F = Fighter
Manufacturer Pre-1962 Post-1962
Post-1962 (Speculative)
North American FJ Fury F-1 Fury FJ Fury Note 1
McDonnell F2H Banshee F-2 Banshee F2H Banshee
McDonnell F3H Demon F-3 Demon F3H Demon
McDonnell F4H Phantom II (USN), F-110 Spectre (USAF) F-4 Phantom II F4H Phantom II (USN), F-110 Spectre (USAF)
General Dynamics (ex. Convair) F-111 F-111 F-111 (USAF), F3Y (USN) Note 2
Northrop N/A F-5 Freedom Fighter, Tiger II F-112 (USAF), F3T (USN) Note 3
Douglas F4D Skyray F-6 Skyray F4D Skyray
Convair F2Y Sea Dart F-7 Sea Dart Note 4 F2Y Sea Dart
Vought F8U Crusader F-8 Crusader F8U Crusader
Grumman F9F Panther, Cougar F-9 Panther, Cougar F9F Panther, Cougar
Douglas F3D Skyknight F-10 Skyknight F3D Skyknight
Grumman F11F Tiger F-11 Tiger F11F Tiger
Lockheed N/A F-12 F-113 Note 5
N/A N/A F-13 N/A Note 6
Grumman N/A F-14 Tomcat F13F Tomcat Note 7
McDonnell Douglas N/A F-15 Eagle F-114, F-115, F-116 or F-117 Eagle Note 8
Lockheed (General Dynamics) N/A F-16 Fighting Falcon F-115, F-116, F-117 or F-118 Fighting Falcon Note 8
Northrop N/A F-17 Cobra F-116, F-117, F-118 or F-119 Cobra Note 8
McDonnell Douglas / Northrop N/A F/A-18 Hornet F5H or F4T Hornet, or ??? Note 9
N/A N/A F-19 N/A Note 10
Northrop N/A F-20 Tigershark F-112G or F-117/F-118/F-119/F-120? Tigershark Note 11
Lockheed N/A F-117 ? Note 12
IAI N/A F-21 Kfir FI?, F1I Kfir?? Note 13
Lockheed N/A F-22 Raptor F-118/F-119/F-120/F-121 Lightning II Note 14
McDonnell Douglas N/A F-23 F-119/F-120/F-121/F-122
Manufacturer Pre-1962 Post-1962
Post-1962 (Speculative)

Click to enlarge
Northrop F-20 Tigershark.


  1. Most pre-1962 aircraft would have retained their original designations.
  2. The F-111 was designed and built during the transition period when the re-designation was occurring. The original specification was known as TFX, or Tactical Fighter, eXperimental. This received the correct, pre-1962 USAF designation of F-111. For some inexplicable reason, the USN interceptor version also received the same designation, and neither aircraft was subsequently re-designated under the Tri-Service system. Had the Tri-Service system not been implemented, the USAF variant would have retained the F-111 designation, and the USN version (if it even would have existed) would have most likely been designated "F3Y," or third Convair (GD) fighter (previous two Convair Navy fighters were the FY Pogo and F2Y Sea Dart, both experimental). Under the Tri-Service system, the F-111 should have been re-designated something like 'F-5,' 'F-6' or 'F-7.' The F-7 appellation would have made much more sense associated with the F-111, rather than the long-defunct F2Y experimental type. Actually, the F-111 wasn't even a fighter, and should have been assigned an A = Attack or B = Bomber type designation, but that is a whole other story (see note 12).
  3. The F-5 was the first fighter aircraft to carry a Tri-Service designator from the start, and did not have a pre-1962 designation. If the new system not been implemented, it would likely have had an Air Force designation of F-112, with the Navy variants designated F3T (third Northrop Navy fighter, first two being the pre-World War II XFT prototype, and several USAAF P-61 Black Widows used as USMC night fighter trainers designated F2T).
  4. It is unclear why the F2Y received a Tri-Service designator (1962), as it was cancelled around 1956.
  5. The YF-12 also did not have a pre-1962 designation, and most likely would have been known as the F-113.
  6. The Tri-Service fighter designation "F-13" is not known to have been assigned to any aircraft.
  7. Had the Tri-Service system not been implemented, the F-14 Tomcat would most likely have been designated F13F, or thirteenth Grumman fighter, following as it did the F11F Tiger and unbuilt F12F project.
  8. These designations are dependent on the designations given to the A-7, A-9 and A-10.
  9. The F/A-18 was jointly developed from the earlier YF-17 by Northrop and McDonnell Douglas. McAir was considered to be the prime contracter, thus it most likely would have been assigned the naval designation 'F5H,' for fifth McDonnell Navy fighter (previous was F4H Phantom II). It is remotely possible that some could have received the designation F4T, or fourth Northrop fighter (third being the speculative F3T, or F-5). Given that the Hornet has the non-standard F/A designator, it is also possible that a completely different designation could have been assigned, perhaps something like A2H or A3H (second or third McDonnell Navy attacker - note that the Attack series would affect the numbering).
  10. The 'F-19' designation was never known to be officially assigned to any aircraft. One alleged reason given is to avoid confusion with the Soviet MiG-19. This is somewhat weak, as 'F-15,' F-17,' 'F-21' and 'F-23' were all assigned to aircraft, and these would correspond to the MiG-15, MiG-17, MiG-21 and MiG-23. During the early 1980's, when the existence of a 'stealth fighter' was rumored, it was speculated that it was designated 'F-19.' This aircraft eventually was revealed to be the F-117. It is still speculated that 'F-19' was the actual designator for this aircraft, but was changed for various reasons. The truth may never be known.
  11. The F-20 Tigershark was a single-engined derivative of the earlier F-5 type, and was originally designated F-5G. Thus, it is possible that it could have received the non-Tri-Service designator of F-112G (or something similar), or received an entirely new numerical designator like F-117.
  12. Cause of much speculation as to the source of its designation, the non-standard F-117 is believed by some to have been originally designated F-19. Had it received a standard, non-Tri-Service designation, this would most likely have been of either the fighter or bomber type, possibly 'F-118' or 'B-??.' Note that during the period 1947 - 1962, the USAF dropped the A for Attack designator, with attack aircraft being given either a fighter or bomber designation. Several World War II types still in service were redesignated in this manner, for example, the Douglas A-24 (USN SBD Dauntless) was redesignated F-24, and the Douglas A-26 Invader was changed to B-26. Had the Tri-Service change not occurred, it is likely that this practice would have continued.
  13. During the 1980's, several Kfir fighters were leased from Israel and used by the USMC for Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT). A non-Tri-Service designation would be highly speculative for these aircraft. It is possible that the 'I' letter code would have been used to signify the manufacturer, Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI). However, it is equally possible that a completely different code could have been assigned, perhaps to avoid confusing 'I' and '1.' Given their role, it is also possible that a mission designator other than 'F' for fighter could have been assigned.
  14. "Lightning II" was widely assumed to be the official nickname for the F-22. While the author generally considers appending a "II" onto a previous name to be unoriginal, he rather likes Lightning better than Raptor, which brings to mind celluloid fantasies and basketball teams.

Click to enlarge
General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon.


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© 1998-2005, Robert Beechy
Originally posted 1999
Modified: 01/01/2005