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Echelon of "Y" coded Training  Aircraft based at Williams Field, AZ

Official USAAF Photo from Collection of W.T. Larkins



I have attempted to structure the fuselage code letters used on USAAF WWII training aircraft into a meaningful format.  As of  this writing I feel that the code data for basic and advanced flying training aircraft is fairly complete. The data for fighter and multi-engine bomber trainers continues to be collected. I welcome all information as there are no doubt omissions and revisions to be made. Is this list correct, complete and without fault?  Hardly, it's a messy subject!  Contact the webmaster with your input…Please!

Researching this information and organizing it into a meaningful format has been a most daunting task.  Actually, I have spent years collecting this information.  I’ve obtained my information from books, magazines, Internet, libraries, photographs, e-mails and interviews with some very helpful people. Any complete list formally documented by the USAAF has certainly been lost to time. The only formal USAAF documentation ever found on the subject was a letter written 20 May 1942 which specified the fuselage code letters for 15 AAF's within the Southeast AAF Training Center centered at Hq. Maxwell Field, AL.  The Southeast AAF Training Center was later reorganized into the Eastern Flying Training Command (EFTC).



Primary Training Aircraft


Convention was that primary training aircraft would not display a fuselage letter code and carry only numerics on the fuselage body. Typically, this numeric (1-999) was to be positioned on the fuselage aft of the rear cockpit. The addition or sole use of the aircraft serial number on the fuselage was not uncommon.  Further, the US insignia was to be displayed only on wing positions.  To date I have documented two AAF's and one primary school that did indeed display a fuselage letter code on their aircraft as follows: Mather Field (CA) displayed the letter "I" on PT-22's and Randolph Field PT-19's were marked with the letter "H". The Spartan Aircraft Co., Tulsa, OK (a contract primary school) had at least one PT-19 with the fuselage letter code of "R". Interestingly, the seven British Flying Training Schools (BFTS) located in the U.S. did fly primary aircraft with fuselage letter codes and these are documented in that section of this document.  Both PT-17 and PT-19 aircraft were utilized and supporting photographs are included in that subsection.      



 Basic and Advanced Training Aircraft


The US insignia was to be displayed on the wing with optional display on the fuselage. The fuselage would display the s/n or a sequential number assigned by the base (1-999) and in most cases an alpha character identifying the assigned base in one of the following formats: Prefix, Suffix or Infix. These alpha characters represented a specific base and were known as Field Codes and are NOT to be confused with the post WWII expression of Buzz Codes.


Prefix:  An alpha letter such as "R" or sometimes a double letter such as "SP" was applied to the aft fuselage along with a locally assigned sequential numeric (e.g. 201, 201,...299). So in the case of "R" which was the field code for Lemoore AAF the letter was followed the assigned numeric (e.g. R 201, R 202,... etc). In the case of "SP" for Spence Field AAF the format would be same  (e.g. SP 324, SP 325,...etc). 
Suffix: This system of letter and numbers was simply reversed from the Prefix method above. The sequential number would be followed by the field code (e.g. 234 N) as used by Blackland AAF on their AT-17 aircraft.

Infix: This system placed the field code 'sandwiched' between two numerics. An example would be "4S12" with the "S" representing South Plains AAF with the "4" representing a training group and the "12" indicating the numbered aircraft within that training group. Infix's were not commonly used.
Other: There was yet another system of multiple alpha character letters sequenced together without numerics. For example "AA, AB, AC,...AZ" and a triple letter system (e.g. KAB, KNR, KDA, HAB, etc.) which has yet to be deciphered. Aircraft displaying these two and three alpha characters field codes were RAF flying training bases in Florida, Oklahoma and Texas.

The physical size of the letter codes and associated number as well as location on the fuselage was defined in T.O. 07-1-1, "General Aircraft Markings, Insignia and Camouflage".  As the supporting photographs in the following sub-sections are reviewed it will be noted that some of the aircraft display a variety of sizes and locations for the subject letter codes and associated numbering that are not necessarily compliant to the requirements of the technical order.


Starting in mid-1943 the Vultee BT-13 began its phase-out as a basic trainer and was slowly being replaced by the AT-6 for that phase of flying training. This decision was based on the results of the British Flight Training School # 5 at Clewiston, FL who saw no purpose of the BT-13 aircraft in the training program. The British felt  that the aircraft was unchallenging because of the ease in which it could be flown. Much to the chagrin of the USAAF the RAF elected to phase their cadets directly from the PT-17 to the AT-6  and was so successful that both the USAAF and the USN withdrew the Valiant from their flight training programs. Hence in the basic training portion of the website it will be noted that the AT-6 is occasionally mentioned as a basic trainer.



Fuselage  Letter Generation


Interestingly, the alpha code(s) assigned was not a “tops-down” edict by USAAF Hq. but apparently done on a local or possibly training command directive. There does seem to be a 'common thread' methodology for the EFTC and the WFTC Commands as follows:

Eastern Flying Training Command (EFTC):  There was a tendency to choose a letter prefix that represents the first letter(s) of the AAF (e.g. "SP"  for Spence Field, "J" for  Jackson AAF). The secondary scheme would be to use the first letter of the nearest city (e.g "A" for, Augusta GA for Bush Field). All flying training bases in the EFTC had an assigned letter code.

Western Flying Training Command (WFTC): There was a similar system to above utilizing the AAF name...but not necessarily the first letter. For example Mather Field used the "T", Stockton used the "K", Merced used the "E", Lemoore used the "R", Roswell  used the "W". The secondary method for the WFTC was to use a letter chosen from the name of a nearby city but then again not necessarily the first letter. For example Kirtland Field used "Q" which was derived from the name of the community of Albuquerque, Luke Field used "X" which was  the last letter of Phoenix. Nearby Williams Field  used a "Y" which is the last letter in the name of the adjacent town of Higley The use of "Z" for Las Vegas AAF remains a mystery.   All flying training bases in the WFTC had an assigned letter code.   

Central Flying Training Command (CFTC): Fuselage letter code usage was not that common within this command. Consequently, in the tables that follow the expression of 'NLA', meaning No Letter Assigned, is fairly common. In the instances when a letter was used (as either a prefix or suffix) it appears that it was a locally chosen character with no apparent meaning (e.g. 3A, 2H, etc.).    

British Flying Training Schools (BFTS): A wide variety of aircraft fuselage codes were used throughout the seven locations in the USA most of which do not make sense. This mis-mash of letters is probably a result of excess aircraft passed on to them by the USAAF. However, there is one common thread as such that did reveal itself in some schools, that is the letter "B" presumably for British.  Lancaster (CA) used letters "BL" for British Lancaster, Falcon Field (AZ) used  "BP" for British Phoenix, Ponca City (OK) used a "B" as did some aircraft at Miami, OK. The balance was an 'alphabet soup' of letters ( i.e. H, W, S, V etc). Further there was a double letter system used without numerics (i.e. AA thru at least AJ, BA thru B[x], etc.) and finally a three letter system without numerics (HAB, KN[x], etc).    


Transition Specialized Training 

Transition Training was the last phase following advanced where pilots were introduced to higher performance fighters or multi-engine bombers and transports for the first time. The fighter aircraft utilized were P-39, P-40, P-47, et.al. and the fuselage codes assigned were single letters such as A, B, C, D, V, etc. with frequent redundancy among the bases. How these code letters were chosen and allocated is unknown but I have documented what I have found for historical purposes. 

Twin engine bomber trainers typically were B-25, B-26 or A-20 aircraft all displaying quite a variety of letter and number code formats. Generally speaking the majority of these aircraft carried the letter code on the nose and sometimes repeated on the tail. Again a variety of other nose codes have been noted (e.g. a four digit numeric only, a single letter followed by one or more numerics,etc.).


Four engine bomber trainers also displayed a variety of letter code formats sometimes making logical sense (e.g. 'A' for Avon Park, 'D' for Drew Field). Other times there was no logical geographical association (e.g. 'BM' for Moses Lake). Sometimes the code letter was carried on the fuselage other times on the vertical tail only and occasionally in both positions.



All-Through Schools (A-TS)


Typically, when a cadet completed a specific phase of flying training (e.g. primary) he would be transferred to another base for basic and still another base for advanced.  There were instances, although rare, where all three levels of flying training were completed on the same base. Known instances of the A-TS bases are as follows:

  • British Flying Training Schools (BFTS) @ six locations.
  • Prior to the US entry into the WWII all USAAC cadets were sent to Randolph Field (TX) where they completed the three levels of flying training.
  • Tuskegee AAF, AL : Primary thru Transition (S-E & 2-E).                                                                        

There were other instances where two phases of flying training were combined (e.g. basic and advanced) but then not necessarily for all classes at a given base. Some examples of combined basic-advance are listed below:

  • Lemoore AAF (CA): Cadets completing basic could move onto 2-E adv using AT-17/UC-78 or AT-20. This training took place at the Helm auxiliary field (Re: Class 44B).
  • Lemoore AAF (CA): Experimental classes were modeled by transitioning newly arrived cadets to take their entire basic training in 2-E trainers. 
  • Minter Field (CA): Cadets completing basic could move onto 2-E adv using AT-17/UC-78 at the Coalinga auxiliary field. 
  • Maxwell Field (AL): At least one class was a  basic -advanced class (BT-13 & AT-6).
  • Mather  Field (CA): The pilot Central Instructor School (CIS) operated from 1940 thru '43 with PT-22 thru AT-9 aircraft types. This program then transferred to Randolph Field. 





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Rev: 05/18/2020 by JDV