RLM aircraft designation system

From Academic Kids

The RLM aircraft designation system was an attempt by the aviation bureaucracy of the Third Reich to standardize and produce a identifier for each aircraft type produced in Germany. It was in use from 1933 to 1945 though many pre-1933 aircraft were included and the system had changes over those years. A compiled list of the actual designations is here, the RLM-GL/C list. Mainly aircraft of the WW2 luftwaffe, but also civilian airliners, sport gliders, and some non-German aircraft.

The System

When the RLM (Reichsluftfahrtministerium "Reich Aviation Ministry") was given control of the country's aviation activities in 1933 it set out to catalogue both aircraft already in production by various manufacturers as well as new projects approved for development by the ministry.

The heart of the designation system was a (theoretically) unique number assigned by the RLM. In internal paperwork, this number was simply prefixed "8-" (or, in the case of sailplanes, subject to a separate numerical list, "108-"). Originally, these numbers were assigned sequentially, and wherever possible attempted to take into account manufacturers' own in-house design numbers for types already existing in 1933. This immediately produced some duplicates - for example, between the Dornier Do 11 and the WNF Wn 11. More duplicates were created when the RLM allocated "8-" series numbers to captured foreign aircraft, such as Czech Zlin XII aircraft referred to as "8-12" when this same number was already being used for the Dornier Do 12. More duplication resulted from the fact that when one manufacturer abandoned a project, the same number was occasionally re-allocated to another manufacturer. Finally, the RLM occasionally deliberately took advantage of the confusion as a disinformation strategy, for example by numbering the Messerschmitt Me 163 the same as a previous, cancelled Messerschmitt aircraft, the Messerschmitt Bf 163.

Late in the war, the numerical sequence was abandoned, and aircraft types were numbered in steps of 100 above the number of the basic model they were derived from. Thus, the Junkers Ju 88 formed the basis for the Ju 188, Ju 288, Ju 388, and Ju 488.

The upshot of all this is that there is no single "master list" of designations that holds true throughout 1933-1945, and that the sequence is particularly muddled at the beginning and end of the list.

In common use within the military, however, the RLM number was prefixed with a standard abbreviation derived from the manufacturer's (or, occasionally, designer's) name, as set out in the table below (note the compound versions applied to some cases where more than one manufacturer contributed to a project):

AlAlbatrosFiFieseler LiAlexander Lippisch (designer at DFS and Messerschmitt)
AoAGO FKFlugzeugbau Kiel MeMesserschmitt
ArAradoFlFlettner NRNagler-Rolz
AsArgus Motoren FwFocke-Wulf SiSiebel
BaBachem Go Gothaer Waggonfabrik SoHeinz Sombold
BfBayerische Flugzeugwerke, later Messerschmitt Ha Hamburger Flugzeugbau and Blohm + Voss SkSkoda-Kauba
Bücker HeHeinkel TaKurt Tank (designer at Focke-Wulf)
BVBlohm + Voss HoReimar und Walter Horten WeWeser
DFSDeutsche Forschungsanstalt für Segelflug HsHenschel WnWiener-Neustädter-Flugzeugwerke
DoDornier Hütter ZMeZeppelin/Messerschmitt
FAFocke-AchgelisJuJunkers ZSoZeppelin/SNCASO
FgFlugtechnische Fertigungsgemeinschaft Prag KaAlbert Kalkert (designer at Gothaer Waggonfabrik)   
FhFlugzeugbau Halle, later Siebel KlKlemm Flugzeugbau  

Thus, what the RLM internally referred to as type "8-262" would be more generally known as the "Me 262". See List of RLM aircraft for a full list of designations allocated by the RLM and the aircraft they correspond to.

Each individual prototype aircraft were suffixed with "V" (for Versuchs "prototype") and a unique identification number. So, for example, the Me 262 V3 was the third prototype of the Me 262 built.

Once accepted by Lufthansa or the Luftwaffe, major variants of the aircraft were suffixed alphabetically with a capital letter. For example, the major variants of the Me 262 were numbered Me 262A, Me 262B, and Me 262C.

More minor variants were then suffixed numerically, beginning with -0 for pre-production evaluation versions. Thus, the first batch of Me 262As supplied by Messerschmitt were designated Me 262A-0, followed by production versions Me 262A-1 through to (in the case of this particular aircraft) Me 262A-5.

More minor variants still were given a lower case alphabetical suffix. When the Me 262A-1a was to be equipped with different engines, it became the Me 262A-1b.

Finally, special conversions of basic types were given the suffix /U followed by a number when carried out by the manufacturer (Umrüstbausatz "conversion kit"), or /R followed by a number (Rüstsatz "add-on kit") when carried out in the field. For example, Me 262A-1a/U3 referred to a small number of the standard Me 262A-1a fighters that were modified by Messerschmitt as reconnaissance aircraft. The suffix Trop (for "tropical") was applied to aircraft modified to operate in the hot and dusty North African and Mediterranean theatres, for example, the Bf 109F-4 Trop.

To see the RLM-GL/C list in a numerical table, got to List of RLM aircraft
To see the RLM airplanes arranged by manufacturer, got to RLM aircraft by manufacturer

Related Content

See also: Common WW2 Weapons, List of aircraft of the Armée de l'Air, BMW 801, BMW 003, List of Sailplanes

External Links: [Virtual Aviation Museum (http://www.luftfahrtmuseum.com/htmi/general/i.htm)] [German Military Aircraft Designations (1933-1945) (http://www.designation-systems.net/non-us/germany.html)]


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