Category talk:Unidentified aircraft

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Civilian aircraft identification guide for General Aviation aircraft and Airliners


  • Is the type named in the title or description. Sometimes seemingly cryptic titles will have the aircraft id embedded in it, e.g Airbus aircraft have names of the form A3xy (where x is a number from 0 to 8 and y usually is a 0, but can be another number). Recent Boeing aircraft have numbers in the form 7x7 (where x is a number from 0 to 8).
  • Does the file itself hold clues to the identity of the aircraft, e.g in the form of a watermark, or as titles on the aircraft itself.
  • Check usage, identification is easy if the picture is used in an article and the caption tells you what it is.
  • If you can see the N number of the aircraft in question you can try and use the FAA N number search
  • Check the uploaders uploads, is the file of the unidentified aircraft one of a sequence, do any of the other files hold clues as to the aircraft's identity, do any of the other files have categories to which will also be applicable to the unidentified one.
  • For Flickr uploads follow the links back to the original Flickr page, check tags and description. If part of a sequence check on images before and after the upload to see if additional information is available.
  • For airliners check the livery, this will give you an idea of the operator and era of the aircraft, check the Wikipedia article for the fleets for that operator, this will reduce the number of possible aircraft that it might be.
  • Sometimes information is included as to where a picture is taken, together with operator information, this should help reduce the number of possibilities of what an aircraft will be. Airlines will tend to fly their long legged aircraft on their longest routes, and shorter ranged aircraft on short legs.
  • Check for distinctive features e.g.
    • Wings-High, mid or low winged?
    • Engines-Number of engines and location, Jet or propeller?
    • Size-Aircraft of different makes and models will often appear very similar. The most popular configurations being twin jets with either two underslung nacelles or rear fuselage mounted engines, or four engined jets with four underslung nacelles. One way to differentiate between similar looking aircraft is by size. Whatever the size of the aircraft, certain features are scaled around the size of a human being. Cabin windows and doors will be roughly the same size whatever the size of the aircraft. Taking a door to have dimensions of roughly one metre wide by two and a half metres high one can make a quick estimate as to the size of an aircraft, and from published dimensions have a ball park idea of what the aircraft can and cannot be.

When all else fails[edit]

  • Trawl through the cats of aircraft with similar features and compare details, count port holes, check door positions, under carriage details (number of wheels and how they are arranged), cockpit glazing, wing shapes etc.
  • Google the title, or description. Usually leads back to the same image but sometimes throws up a related image, from which an id can be made.
  • For aircraft in museums and collections try and find that museums official page, some museum pages will have captioned images of their exhibits.
  • Ask the uploader

Military aircraft[edit]

Deciphering descriptions[edit]

The same techniques used to identify commercial aircraft can be used to identify military aircraft. However most images tagged as unidentified on Commons are in fact identified either in the title or in the description. However sometimes these identities may be cryptic to those who are not really interested in planes.

The letters F , B , A , T and C are especialy important in identifying modern American military aircraft standing as they do for Fighter, Bomber, Attack, Trainer and Cargo respectively. If these letters appear in the title or description followed by a number, e.g. F-16, B-52, A-4, T-38, C-130 than it is possible this is the identity of the aircraft. Clone and paste the alphanumeric sequence in the search box to see if it leads to images of aircraft similar to the one you are looking at.

You may also find aircraft with older designations for which the same techniques can be used e.g. P , PB , L standing for Pursuit, Patrol-Bomber and Liaison.

Russian/Soviet designations[edit]

The same method can be applied to the aircraft of Russia/Soviet Union, in this case the letters to look out for are those of the design bureau. Some common one are MiG , Su , Tu , Yak , Il , An , Ka and Mil . Some less common ones include LaGG , La , Be and M .