Airplanes Online Home Page Tail code lettering system used by the United States Air Force

U. S. Air Force Tail Codes

A variety of Air Force tail codes
USAF jet fighter Tail Codes

Tail Codes are markings usually on the vertical stabilizer of U.S. military aircraft that help to identify the aircraft's unit and/or base assignment and other information.

A tail code is not the same as the Air Force Serial Number, Navy Bureau Number, aircraft registration number, or Buzz Number.

Since 1993, all Air Force units, including Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, utilize this system.

Tail Code Numbering System

Two large letters identify the unit (wing/group/organization) that the aircraft is assigned to, or the home base of the unit. In some instances, the letters indicate an historic legacy; for example, tail code "FF" has been used to indicate "1st Fighter Wing".

The Air Force aircraft Serial Number is also usually marked on the tail, in smaller numbers. Below the abbreviation "AF" is placed the first two digits of the serial number, indicating the fiscal year in which the aircraft was ordered. To the right are the last 3-digits of the serial number. See graphic below.

Different units located at the same air base can use different 2-letter codes.

Tail Code LF (Luke AFB), 56th Fighter Wing, on McDonnell-Douglas F-4D Phantom II, ordered in 1966, Serial Number 66-8812
United States Air Force aircraft tail code numbering scheme


Air National Guard units usually use the two-letter state abbreviation (AL, AZ, DE, NM, PA, etc) as a tail code. But variations in identification can vary from state to state, and unit to unit.

Air Mobility Command (AMC) aircraft do not use the two-letter identification number. Instead, they have the name of the base written on the tail along with the serial number.

Explained in this video are the naming and numbering schemes used by the Air Force on the tail structures of its aircraft.

This video features some easy listening music, so turn up the volume, and enjoy! Like all YouTube videos, you can mute the music, and also play full-screen if you desire.