Names for various airplanes have always been interesting to me. After WWII, Beech came up with the hands-down best name ever for an airplane: Bonanza. It flies on 67 years later and is, and has always been, a survivor. That is probably because the airplane is as good as the name. My second choice in the name game is Gulfstream.
Most other Beech airplanes got names that stuck. Barons and King Airs are staples in the fleet as well as still being quite viable production airplanes.
Right after the war ended, Piper airplanes were usually called by their names, like Vagabond and Clipper and Pacer. Then, in what would probably not be politically correct today, they started naming them after Indian tribes. The first was the Apache, followed by Comanches and Aztecs and Navajos and Cheyennes, among others. Most everyone refers to Pipers by their names.
Today, Piper still does Senecas and Seminoles but most of their other airplanes got unrelated names like Malibu and Meridian.
Cessna used numbers, with the 120, 140, 195, 170 and 180 coming along after WWII, in almost, if not quite that order. When they made a trike out of a tailwheel the last digit became a “2” as in 172 and 182.
Names started coming to Cessnas with deluxe versions of the 172 and 182, the Skyhawk and Skylane. Some airplanes got names that were not as popular, like Centurion, Skywagon, Golden Eagle and Chancellor. Those airplanes were more often referred to as 210s, 206s, 421s and 414s. The Citation name stuck to their jets but was modified many times to reflect different capabilities and they did name a larger jet the Sovereign though I have also seen it called the Citation Sovereign. Maybe Citation, not Cessna, is the true brand name of their jets.
In any case, if you bought it or flew it you could always call it whatever pleased you. I have even heard a few airplanes referred to as turkeys.
The plot gets thicker with trivia when you get to the four letter identifier used for flight plan filing. There are never more than four digits but there can be fewer.
A while back the FAA fiddled with flight plan designations to better identify airplane climb and descent capabilities to controllers. I had some interesting conversations with controllers about this. (The FAA has a publication on this: Order JO 7340.2C, Contractions. This contains all contractions used by the FAA. If you want to peruse flight plan designations, they start on page 439.)
Originally, all 210s were filed as C210 but in its infinite wisdom the FAA decided that pressurized and turbocharged versions were different enough that they should become P210 and T210.
I dutifully started filing my airplane as a P210. Apparently little effort had been put into telling controllers about the change because when I was given as traffic something like this would follow: “It is a Pilatus or a Piper, I don’t know what it is, but it is out there so look out for it.” That went on for several years. More than one controller suggested that I should just file as a C210 to avoid confusion
It’s up to the pilot to know how to identify his airplane on a flight plan but there are some quirks that are not totally logical. Any Aerostar is an AEST. A Beech King Air F90 is a BE9T, presumably because it has a t-tail. Cheyennes used to be PAYE but because of the differences in performance they became PAY1, PAY2, PAY3 and PAY4. The Piper Aztec is a PA27 which was the original drawing number for that airplane. It is really a PA-23-250 and I would lay odds that most Aztec pilots file them as a PA23.
If you are filing for a hop in your U-2, just U2 will do on the flight plan. In your Collins Dipper (whatever that might be), DIPR will do. The most obscure airplanes all have a designation so it is easy to see why the FAA list of contractions is not a memory item for controllers.
The flight plan equipment suffix that comes after the slash takes many different forms, related to navigational capability. The owner pays for all the good things and surely the avionics shop tells him what suffix to use. I can remember, years ago, when the suffix came into being to identify airplanes with and without transponders.
The plot (and the amount of available trivia) really thickens when you consider official type designations.
These can be found on the FAA web site, www.faa.gov by clicking on Type Certificate Data Sheets (TCDS). Then you can look at them by the make of airplane and can open pdf files on the sheets which contain, among other things, the operating limitations of the airplanes.
There is a lot there. For example, I learned from the TCDS on my P210 that the windows, windshield and deice light lens have a life limit of 13,000 hours. That was well buried as a footnote and it took a while to find after I heard a rumor to that effect and wanted to verify it.
When CAA was running things, we had Civil Air Regulations. When the FAA took over in the 1950s, they became Federal Aviation Regulations. Where CAR Part 3 covered the certification of general aviation airplanes, FAR Part 23 took over. Even though that happened a long time ago, the airplanes that most of us fly today were certified under CAR 3. The FAA allowed the continued manufacture of these airplanes though they could put special conditions on the certificate with the result that the certification of many airplanes is a blend of CAR 3 and FAR 23. This is on the TCDS.
Years ago, the FAA allowed model changes by an amended certification. For example, the first Cessna 205 was added to the 210 certificate and became a 210-5. The Baron was added to the Model 95 Travel Air Certificate and became the 95-55. Even the first King Air was an addition to the Model 65 Queen Air and became the 65-90. Structurally the airplanes were similar but the resemblance ended there.
Does it matter whether an airplane is certified under CAR 3 or FAR 23? Not really. Some things were changed, but the basic parameters were similar and the structure of an old CAR 3 design is just as good an FAR 23 airplane. There was a change in the manner the onset of a vertical gust is considered in relation to limit loads and though this has been used to suggest that Part 23 airplanes are stronger than CAR 3 airplanes, there’s not much truth to that assertion.
Some Piper airplanes have interesting type designations. For example, a t-tail Turbo Arrow is a PA-28RT-201T. PA-28 is the basic Cherokee design. The “R” designates this one as a retractable. The letter “T” that follows identifies the t-tail version. The “201” is the horsepower with the 201 signifying that is has a 200 horsepower engine and tapered wings. Who knows why they added the wing change to the horsepower in the type designation? The final “T” is for the fact that it is turbocharged. Next time you see a t-tail Turbo Arrow, think PA-28RT-201T. Catchy name.
Trivia. Next a quiz. Who knows what a BA-42 is? Clue: it is certified under FAR Part 23.
Finally, I’d like to ask your opinion on the best and worst airplane names. Speak up.