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Thread: Application of aircraft code letters

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    Default Application of aircraft code letters

    Wondering if there were any regulations about when code letters had to be applied to an aircraft coming on strength with a unit. In particular, did they have to be applied as soon as an aircraft arrived or before it flew again? And who had the responsibility of assigning the individual code letters?

    TIA,

    Robert

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    Just a guess, but I imagine that the unit Engineer Officer would have the responsibility of ordering one of his "erks" (or more likely the NCO i/c of the aircraft finishing section, if such a sub-section existed) to paint on the aircraft's new identity. Such very minor details would be way below the commanding officer's pay scale. And if anyone has ever seen the "Ready Board" of an operational squadron, it is pretty obvious that a complete list of aircraft serial numbers and appropriate unit markings must have been held by the person responsible for chalking up the aircraft available at that precise time. I do not know of any actual regulation specifying exactly how quickly the unit identity should be painted on a replacement aircraft, but if there was, it would probably simply state "as soon as practical". In the RAF Equipment Manual there is a section dealing with marking up aircraft, but it was more concerned with the aircraft's (unique) serial number rather than unit markings.
    David D

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    Hi
    I recall reading somewhere that individual aircraft i/d letters, were divided up alphabetically by flights

    i.e. A flight had a/c letters starting with letter A
    B flight had a/c letters starting with letter I
    C flight had a/c letters ending with letter Z



    hopefully what i have typed makes sense


    i was told once that MU would put on the Sq code letters, if there was time before the a/c was despatched
    but i have been also told on forums this was not correct and only the Sq put i/d codes on

    cheers
    jerry

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    Hello Jerry,
    Happy Christmas.

    I would expect that the a/c on arrivals to a squadron would be checked over by the local mechanics and a lsquadron code appliede together with an a/c in squadron letter. The letter I propose would be the letter of the last a/c in squadron to have been lost or taken out of service. Thus the new arrival would then go to the flight that the earlier a/c had belonged to replace it.
    Also with local on field repairs an a/c being returned to service would also have either the original letter or a new letter to replace any loss or taken out of service a/c.
    Then again I could be completely wrong :)

    Alex

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    Thanks for the feedback, gents.

    I would assume that codes had to at least be applied before any operation.

    David: You mentioned serials coverage in the RAF Equipment Manual. Would be interested to know the gist of the requirements.

    Robert

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    Three comments:

    Aircraft could fly on operations without code letters - there is a photo showing an BoB Spitfire with terminal damage to the rear fuselage but no code.
    One Hawker test pilot (Lucas?) took the prototype Mk.II when visiting a frontline unit (such visits were encouraged) only to find the unit's codes being painted on when he set out to return.
    Aircraft with very low rates of production (Sunderlands and maybe others?) could have the codes painted on before delivery as their destination was known in advance.

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    Thanks, Graham.

    Robert

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    Robert
    It seems there was no strict rule. The BoB Spitfire case mentioned by Graham is not representative, as the aircraft was lost on operations within an hour after delivery, I believe. Nonetheless there are known cases of aircraft flying without any codes applied for quite a period. Eg. Spitfire IX EN186 of W/c Gleed and then S/L Wade seemingly never got any codes. In most cases codes were applied within few hours, however, usually an erk had to chalk the codes on and then paint them with a brush. I think use of spray guns was not very common, perhaps limited to the cases when all aircraft were exchanged.
    https://www.facebook.com/Franciszek-Grabowski-241360809684411/

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    Robert,
    The mention of application of serial numbers to aircraft (note, NOT unit code letters) was found in a prewar copy of the RAF Equipment Manual, which, from memory, simply stated that these numbers had to be painted on rear fuselage (and possibly also under wings and on rudder) of all RAF aircraft for identification purposes, and was the primary means of identifying such aircraft in service. Don't think RAF aircraft had any other primary identification carried in cockpit, for instance. May have included size of the serial number in various positions, but not certain. However unit ground-crew (or factory?) also used to repeat serial number on many aircraft on inside surface of various items such as engine cowls, fuselage to wing or fuselage to tail surface fairings, as these items were often tailored (hand-fitted) to the aircraft at time of manufacturer, so were not really interchangeable between aircraft of same type (as would be jig-manufactured items). Sorry I cannot easily locate my "primary references" at moment for direct quotations, as most are still stashed in boxes, etc., but other Board members may have copies of the relevant AP (AP 830 from memory) to hand, of various vintages. However these will not be particularly enlightening.
    David D

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    David, those not interchangeable parts were also made in jigs, but production standards of the period prevented desired accuracy, especially in a small scale production. This is a still valid problem.
    Anyway, the identification in the air relied on 'pilot's code' rather than aircraft number.
    https://www.facebook.com/Franciszek-Grabowski-241360809684411/

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