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Commercial Aircraft Identification

Updated on September 20, 2016

LabKitty Presents...

Imagine the following: You're sitting in Circle Pines International Airport waiting for your flight. Suddenly, a uniformed crew member - a pilot or flight attendant - plops down in the seat next to you. Opportunity! Endear yourself and you might score a free upgrade to first class or a tour around the cockpit.

However, if you simply blurt out I like airplanes!, the conversation is sure to go nowhere.

What to do?

Try opening with something like: Say, our CRJ sure is a handsome bird. Or: Say, isn't it odd that they are phasing out the MD-80 while producing the 717 which is basically the same plane? Bam! Instant connection. Sure, your uniformed crew member may point out that the regional carriers who fly the CRJs treat their pilots like dirt or that the 717 only has half the seats of an MD-80 and stop talking to me, but like all professionals they will appreciate you having done your homework.

It's like all those after-school specials promised: first you get the knowledge, then you get the power, then you get the fame.

However, fame costs. Here is where you start paying.


Commercial Aircraft Identification

You can't have sparkling conversations about aircraft if you can't identify them. Pilots assure me there exists no greater insult than having spent every waking hour of the last decade learning the ins and outs of your aircraft only to have the doofuses back in steerage not know what they're flying on. Sure, they'll probably overlook your confusing an Embraer 190 and a 170, or maybe even confusing the 170 with the 145. But beyond that? Let's just say you're in for some chop. And don't you dare confuse a Boeing with an Airbus (or vice versa) and get caught up in that blood feud. Not since MDs and Ph.Ds have two households both alike in dignity gone at it like cats and dogs.

In the world of flight, not being able to identify aircraft types would be like not understanding nouns and verbs, limiting your career options to athletics or the hip-hop.

Well, LabKitty is here to help. Behold LabKitty's patented guide to Commercial Aircraft Identification! A handy flowchart and supplemental notes to help you identify aircraft you will likely encounter in your vacation and business travel. We're sticking with the major types here - I'm not claiming my guide is comprehensive. Specifically, we'll ignore the smaller business jets, charters, and prop planes. No helicopters, gliders, or ultralights, either. Also: no Tupolevs or Ilyushins (sorry, Aeroflot).

Additionally, we're mostly gloss over subtypes. So, for example, I'll point out how to identify the Embraer 145, but won't get into the differences between the 135 and the 145, not to mention the 135ER, 135LR, 140ER, 140LR, 145STD, 145EU, 145EP, 145LR, 145LU, 145MK, and the 145XR, or the whole Legacy 600 thing, primarily because I can't tell the difference. If you are a pilot, mechanic, or some freakozoid who can distinguish these simply by listening to one fly overhead, well, my fur is off to you. This is intro to plane spotting, and we're just trying to get in the ballpark. You can feel free to chastise me in the comments for oversights and errors.

LabKitty gives you: Commercial Aircraft Identification.

Position and hold!


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Nerd Uniform Mug | Source

LabKitty on Zazzle

Our tale is long, yes. But it is long in a Lord of the Rings kind of way, not in a Critique of Pure Reason kind of way. That is to say, an adventure with many scenic overlooks and roadside attractions rather than a painful slog though a vast poisonous bog where the faces of submerged undead call you to forever slumber. Still, you may wish to purchase a fine LabKitty beverage product to slurf before proceeding.


Aircraft Terminology - Parts is Parts


To begin, let's cover some terminology. Knowing proper part names helps build your flight cred - you're not getting a complimentary meal coupon by calling the engines "spinny blow things." More to the point, these terms are necessary to point out features used for type identification.

I refer you to the labeled aircraft silhouettes above.

The stuff that the plane lands on is properly called "gear" and it comes in two varieties: main gear and nose gear. Nose gear is the one located at the front of the aircraft. The main gear is situated around midpoint. You need at least two of them (one on either side) so that the plane doesn't fall over. Some larger aircraft have additional main gear for improved weight distribution (the 747 has four, for example). The part of the gear that comprises the tires and wheels is properly called the undercarriage.

Also up front is the windscreen or what might colloquially be called a windshield. The windscreen is made up of individual window panels, the number and shape of which is handy for distinguishing between Boeing, Airbus, and the smaller regional jet types. More on windscreens later.

You know what wings are, and you probably also know that the little vertical additions on the end of the wings are called winglets (technically they're called "wingtip devices"). These reduce drag and in so doing reduce fuel consumption. As such, you might guess all aircraft would have winglets. Not so. Winglets are a relatively recent development (within the last decade or two) which meant retrofitting aircraft already in service. It doesn't make economic sense to add winglets to an aircraft - or an aircraft type - that is nearing the end of its service life. As such, the presence/absence of winglets can assist identification. For example, MD-80s don't have winglets, we are told, because these aircraft are nearing retirement.

Additionally, the shape of the winglet can assist in identification. You will often see a two-part winglet on Airbus types that extend both above and below the wing (called a wingtip fence). On Boeing aircraft, the devices are typically one-piece and extend only above the wing.

Bolted either underneath the wings and/or on the tail are the engines. Engine is a perfectly-acceptable term, but there is one case where we will need to refer specifically to the engine housing - i.e., the outside covering of the engine - which is properly called the nacelle. Specifically, that special case is the Boeing 737, because many 737 models have odd-shaped engine nacelles. More later.

Incidentally, there are a number of different aircraft engine manufacturers - General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, and Rolls-Royce, just to name the big three. Their engines look different from one another, and serious aircraft nerdz can identify them on sight. However, except in one or two cases, engine type is not a good indicator of aircraft type for the simple reason that engines are interchangeable, at least to some extent.

Finally, at the tail of the aircraft, you find the tail of the aircraft (properly called the empennage). Here you will find the horizontal and vertical stabilizers. The shape of these is one of your primary identification tools. More soon.

How to Do It - Flowchart!


Devotees of the Gestalt theory of psychology will posit that aircraft identification, like any complex visual task, is internalized as a parallel matching algorithm. In lay terms, pros just look at the thing, shrug, and say something like: it's a 767. Whattayawantfromme?

But if you're just getting started, it's helpful to have a roadmap with points of interest that guide you to your destination. To this end, I have grouped the types we will consider into about a half-dozen categories and applied a flowchart to the whole mess (see above). A quick summary of the identification process goes as follows: (1) Does it have propellers? (2) If not, is it a T-tail? If not, does it have (3) four, (4) three, or (5) two engines? Finally, If it has two engines is it an (5a) Embraer, (5b) Boeing, or (5c) Airbus?

We'll visit each of these steps in the sections below and fill-in some details. The major divisions like "propeller vs jet" are pretty obvious, but eventually the types get harder to tell apart. For these, I'll point out the most obvious features we know that help nail down the type, rather than just admonishing you to gawk and memorize the shape like you're some kind of secret agent. Although, alas, I'll admit up-front that we sort of throw up my hands when it comes to the baby Airbuses. (Why would a company make so many different types that look exactly alike?)

Follow along on the handy identification flowchart above (please see the Image Credits section at the bottom of the page for image credits). Print it out and take on vacation. Consult while en route or on the beach!

1) Does it have propellers? - Begin your tour here.


Just like there was a time when all ice cream was vanilla, there was a time when all planes were propeller planes (aka "prop" planes; often aka "turboprops," although not all prop planes are turboprops. The distinction won't concern us here). But these days, the major carriers mostly use jet aircraft, as they are faster and have a higher cruising altitude, ostensibly for the smoother air there. On our last flight, someone forgot to inform the air of that.

However, a few prop planes persist, usually servicing short regional hops. If your plane has propellers, chances are it's either a Dash-8 or a Saab (yes, the car company). They're easy to tell apart.

Wings mounted on top of the fuselage? Big dopey rectangular engines that the gear comes out of? Dash-8 (more properly known as a Bombardier Dash 8 or Q Series, previously known as the de Havilland Canada Dash 8 or DHC-8). Otherwise: probably a Saab. The big Saab is a Saab 2000 and the little Saab is a Saab 340. They look very different from the Dash-8 and from each other.

One more: I should probably also mention the ATR-72 (shown at lower left), built by the French-Italian firm Aerei da Trasporto Regionale. It looks like a Dash-8, except the gear extends from the fuselage rather than the engine nacelles. It's mostly used by non-U.S. carriers.

Easy peasy.

2) Is it a T-Tail? - Ode to Empennage


You have reached this step because your plane does not have propellers. The next major division is between t-tails and not-t-tails. As the name implies, the t-tail has a tail shaped like the letter "t" (more properly: the horizontal stabilizer is mounted on top of the vertical stabilizer rather than on the fuselage). The t-tails we will consider are also easily identifiable in that the engines are mounted at the rear of the aircraft rather than under the wings. A picture says it all (see above).

If you are identifying a commercial t-tail, you basically have four options: the MD-80 (which I'm going to aka as an MD-81, MD-82, MD-83, MD-87, and MD-88, as well as the MD-90 which might upset purists) and all the rest, where "all the rest" are much smaller than the MadDog.*

* I am told you earn cred in certain circles if you refer to the MD-80 (or any McDonnell Douglas product) as a "MadDog" (because: McDonnell Douglas). It's unclear whether this is a term of endearment or a term of derision (like calling a Dash-8 a "Crash-8" or an Airbus a "Scarebus"). Your mileage may vary.

Back to the task at hand...

Count the number of windows in the windscreen. More than four? It's an MD-80 (the MD-80 also has two little windows above the main windscreen called "eyebrows"). Otherwise, you either have (1) an Embraer 135/145 or (2) a Bombardier CRJ (Canadair Regional Jet). We won't attempt to distinguish the EMB135 from the 145 or the -200, -700, and -900 CRJ subtypes. The Embraer 145 has a long nose; the CRJ's have a stubby nose (see pics). Also, the two aircraft use different engines - Rolls-Royce on the Embraer and Pratt & Whitney on the CRJ - which are easily distinguishable. There is also a slight difference in the shape of the vertical stabilizer. Lastly, for reasons I don't understand, I have yet to see a EMB-145 with winglets.

Corrigendum: Apparently the CRJ has GE CF34 and not Pratt and Whitney engines (but they still have a different appearance than the engines used on the Embraer). See Ozzman's Aug 7th comment. Thanks Ozzman!

Oops. Fly in the ointment. A few years back, Boeing started producing something called the 717 to compete in the regional jet market. You can distinguish it from the Embraer 145 and the CRJ's by the shape of the nose. In fact, the 717 looks just like a baby MD-80. Seriously. It's like an MD-80 got preggers and pooped it out.

Oops, Another fly in the ointment. A popular t-tail outside of the U.S. is/was the Fokker 100. They don't make them anymore, and American carriers don't fly them as far as I know. It looks identical to the 717 except it has an Airbus windscreen rather than a Boeing windscreen (more below on windscreens) and the two emergency exit doors over the wings are right next to each other rather than separated by a row. Think of the Fokker 100 as a baby mutant MD-80.

UPDATE: As Joe-e's Sept 3rd comment points out, I should have included the DC-9 as another aka for the MD-80. Thanks Joe-e!

UPDATE: As phexlink points out in the comments, the Bae146 we list in the 4-engine category has a t-tail, so it should technically go here. However, the engines are mounted on the wings rather than the fuselage like a classic t-tail (and we ran out of room on the t-tail picture) so I stuck it in the 4-engine category.

3) Four Engines? - Two under each wing


If you have reached this step, it is because (1) your plane does not have propellers and (2) your plane is not a t-tail. Also, there are engines under the wings. If there are four engines (two on each side), identification is pretty straightforward. Unless you're in a third-world country, it's either a 747 or one of the big Airbuses. These are easy to tell apart. If you're in a third-world country (or it's 1970) you might be looking at a 707. We shall not consider this possibility.

747 - The classic jumbo, with characteristic fuselage featuring upper-deck bulge (housing first-class passengers). The Boeing 747 is probably the most-recognizable aircraft in the world.

A380 - Airbus' recently-released ginormous design. Note the double rows of windows and overall ginormous size. Big forehead. Also: ginormous. You can often spot a A380 by the accompanying gaggle of airplane nerds taking pictures of it.

A340 - By process of elimination, if it's not a 747 or an A380, it's probably an A340. Note comically-stretched fuselage.

Bonus! The Bae 146 is used in by several European carriers as a regional jet. It's much smaller than the other four-engine types we consider here (in fact, you might not expect such a small aircraft to have four engines) and is easily recognizable. A later improved version of the Bae 146 was built called the Avro RJ.


4) Three Engines?

If there's an engine under each wing and a third one in the tail (more properly: mounted in the vertical stabilizer) you probably have yourself an MD-11/DC-10. In the U.S., they are primarily if not exclusively used by freight carriers such as FedEx.

Spotting Tip: Jelle informs us (see June 8 comment) that the MD-11 has winglets whereas the DC-10 does not. Thanks Jelle!

The DC-10 gets my vote for the best lookin' civilian aircraft ever produced. It has a perfect sense of proportion, and there's something majestic about the trijet design. Alas, the trijet design contributed to the DC-10's somewhat spotty safety record, as LabKitty almost got to experience first-hand when one tried to kill me a few years back (you can read all about that harrowing tale in my Ode to Flight).

Two other three-engine types are/were the Boeing 727 and the Lockheed L1011 (not shown). Most were retired decades ago. In fact, I only mention them to have an excuse to bring this up: In the first episode of The West Wing, Toby tells a stewardess that they're flying into Dulles on an L1011, which is highly unlikely unless they're flying on one equipped with a time machine. Perhaps in the future, Aaron Sorkin might consult LabKitty for proper rapid-fire aircraft dialog.


Wait, MD DC, what?

DC = Douglas Corporation, which merged with McDonnell Aircraft in 1967 to become McDonnell-Douglas, at which time their type specifiers changed from DC to MD. An MD-11 is more-or-less the same plane as a DC-10, although it's larger and has improved avionics and whatnot. McDonnell-Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997, which is why you don't see new MD types.

5a) Two-engine Embraer?

Our final category (two engines) is where things get confusing, because this is a common configuration and there's so many possibilities to choose from. Big picture: it's either an Embraer 170/175/190, an Airbus 300 series, or a Boeing 7x7 (where x = 3, 5, 6 or 7).

Let's see if we can't sort this out.

Windscreen = four windows or six?

The easiest way to identify a two-engine jet as an Embraer is to count the number of windows in the windscreen. Four windows = Embraer. Six or more windows = Airbus or Boeing. And if its an Embraer, its either a 170, 175 or a 190 (recall we met the Embraer 145 earlier in the section on t-tails). Each of these get a little larger as the numbers go up, but to be honest I can't tell them apart on sight. Sometimes the type is written on the nose.

If the windscreen has six windows, it's either a Boeing* or an Airbus. Eventually, you'll figure out that a Boeing "looks like a Boeing" and an Airbus "looks like an Airbus." But that doesn't help the novice spotter. One helpful trick is to again look at the windscreen. Number the separate windows one through six. On a Boeing, windows #1 and #6 are parallelograms**, with the leading edge larger than the trailing edge. On an airbus, windows #1 and #6 are rectangular but the rear upper corner is clipped off. Please refer to Know Your Windscreens, below.

* the new 787 has four, but you're not going to confuse a Dreamliner with an Embraer.

** yeah, technically it's not a parallelogram, but you get the gist.


Know Your Windscreens - Boeing or Airbus or Something Else?


UPDATE: Have a look at Chris' Oct 14 comment for help on differentiating Boeing and Airbus based on fuselage shape. Thanks, Chris!

UPDATE II: See also crslinyc's Dec 08 comment for using wingtip strobe lights to help differentiate Boeing and Airbus.

5b) Two-engine Boeing?


If you've identified your two-engine aircraft as a Boeing, it's then a question of whether it's a 737, 757, 767, or 777. The four types increase in size, but its usually easier to look for their characteristic features. Please refer to the examples shown above.

737 - Sits low to ground. Two-wheeled undercarriages. If you can see the gear, you can stop now. Also, the main gear does not retract inside the 737, so you may be able to see the tires tucked underneath one flying overhead. Typically sort of stubby looking, although the newer "stretch" models have a more-pleasing shape. Also: two-part vertical stabilizer. One final unique characteristic of the 737 are the flattened engine nacelles appearing on many (but, alas, not all) models. See pic below. Apparently these are called "hamster pouches," although it's possible the youngsters have been hacking Wikipedia again.

757/767 - The 757 and 767 look very similar, although the 767 is indeed larger (in a side-by-side comparison, a 757 sort of looks like an anorexic 767). Both types have four-wheeled main undercarriages, distinguishing them from the smaller 737 and the larger 777. On the 757, the rear door is under the vertical stabilizer and the nose gear is directly under the main cabin door. On the 767, the rear door is ahead of the vertical stabilizer and the nose gear is ahead of the main cabin door. Also, the 767 is unique in that it is the only aircraft in which the gear hangs forward when extended (see inset at lower right).

UPDATE: Scouse23 provides another tip for telling the 757 and 767 apart down in the GuestBook. Thanks Scouse23!

777 - Six-wheeled main undercarriages. If you can see the gear, you can stop now. Also: knifey tail instead of the cone-shaped tail used on the 757 and 767. Also: huge engines - we dare say comically huge - but this doesn't necessarily jump out at you. Engineer-types also go on about how the 777 fuselage cross-section is circular instead of whatever it is on other planes, but without actually cutting one in half, this is not much help.

Hamster Pouch

Hamster Pouch
Hamster Pouch

Wait - 753? 739? What?

You will occasionally see a Boeing type other than a 7-something-7. These are simply a combination of the variant with the primary designator. Thus, for example, a 753 is just shorthand for a 757-300.

5c) Two-engine Airbus?


You have arrived here because you have exhausted all other possibilities in our flowchart. You probably have yourself one of the baby Airbuses.

An A330 is decidedly larger than the other two-engine Airbus 3xx series - it looks and feels more like a cousin of the (four-engined) A340. Note four-wheeled undercarriages.

As for the rest of the 300 series - one word: Yikes. Can someone explain how to tell the difference between the A310, A318, A319, A320, and A321? They all have the same nose and tail shapes. They have identical windscreens. Except for the A310, they all have two-wheeled undercarriages (the A310 has four-wheeled main undercarriages). Sure, they're different sizes, but without counting seats or a tape measure, I'm at a loss.

As such, we're going to treat "Baby Airbus" as an acceptable answer if you have exhausted all other possibilities.

UPDATE: Hey, everybody! Go down and read David's Oct 21 and Salvatore's Sept 27th Guestbook comments for how to ID the Airbuses. Thanks, guys!

UPDATE: StMcC points out that A310 (and, to our eye, the A330) has a more pointy nose than the other baby Airbuses. Bonus tip!

UPDATE: As FlyerJohn informs us in the comments: Airbus 319 - One door over wing. Airbus 320 - Two doors over wing. Airbus 321 - One door forward of wing, one door rearward of wing. Thanks!

Bonus fact! The aircraft that got clobbered by a bunch of geese and ditched on the Hudson w/o loss of life back in February 2008 was an A320. Go Captain Sully!

Airbus A320

Airbus A320
Airbus A320
Click to see bigger version
Click to see bigger version

Dreamliner

Boeing 787

Now that the Dreamliner is coming on line (apparently they finally got that battery problem licked), I should prolly show one. See image at right. Note that it screws the windscreen identification tip pooch provided above, in that Boeing decided to go with a four-panel windscreen on the 787. But you're hardly going to mistake the super ginormous Dreamliner with a regional jet. Additionally, note the toothed trailing edge of the engine nacelles. This gismology ostensively reduces noise, no doubt discovered using some wicked-hard Navier-Stokes non-linear airflow computational simulation. But it also makes identification of a 787 easy. So: win-win. Enjoy!

UPDATE: The toothed nacelle design is pretty hard to make out in the image provided above. Here's a link to engine section on the Dreamliner Wikipedia page that shows the feature more clearly.


Commercial aircraft identification quiz! - Two- and four-engine types

Here's some great video of roll-outs at Manchester airport from Simon Lowe, complete with sweet sweet turbofan music. Test your knowledge of two- and four-engine types! (see Anonymous Sept 21 Guestbook comment for answers).

Image Credits

Most images have been cropped or otherwise modified from their original versions.

PROP PLANES

Image of Flybe Dash-8 by Adrian Pingstone and released into the public domain. Saab 340 by Tmaull and appears under terms of the GNU Free Documentation License. Darwin Airlines Saab 2000 by Juergen Lehle appears under the GNU Free Documentation license. Aer Arran ATR-72 by Arpingstone and released into the public domain.

T-TAIL

Spanair MD-80 by Barcex and appears under terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license. Aeromexico EMB135/45 by Cubbie N. Vegas via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Delta Connection CRJ by Mark Wagner appears via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license (image has been horizontally reversed). Airtran 717 by mamageek and appears via the GNU Free Documentation License. Montegegro Fokker 100 by Dmitry A. Mottl and appears under terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

FOUR ENGINE TYPES

A380 by P. Loos and released into the public domain. British Air 747 by Arpingstone and released into the public domain. Cathay Pacific A340 by Arpingstone and released into the public domain. Buzz BAE 146 by Oliver Pritzkow and appears under terms of the GNU Free Documentation license.

THREE ENGINE TYPES

FedEX MD-11 by Arcturus and appears under terms of the GNU Free Documentation license.

EMBRAER TWO ENGINE

Canada Air EMB175 by BriYYZ and appears via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

BOEING TWO ENGINE

SAS 737 by Bastiaan appears under the terms of Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Delta 757 by Makaristos released into the public domain. Delta 767 by BriYYZ appears via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Air Canada 767 by Altair78 appears under the terms of Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. UAL 767 and JAL 777 by Arpingstone and released into the public domain.

AIRBUS TWO ENGINE

USAir A319 by Cubbie N. Vegas and appears under terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Emirates A310 by Juergen Lehle and appears under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license. Images of Air France A320, British Air A321, and USAir A330 by Arpingstone and released into the public domain.

Additional Image Credits

Image of 737 nacelle (hamster pouch) by Anonymous Powered via the GNU Free Documentation license. Image of USAir Flight 1549 by Greg L. via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Boeing 787 image digitally altered by Altair78 from the original provided by Spaceaero2 and appears under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Image of FAA signage is in the public domain because it was created by a government employee as part of his or her normal job duties.

Bonus! - My favorite flight-themed vid at the moment...

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    • sidther lm profile image

      sidther lm 5 years ago

      I am scared of commercial planes :( But I do love military planes! Great job teaching how to identify them- now I will know what I am running for cover from!

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 5 years ago

      Oh, I have always been one to check out undercarriage. Very informative. Fondly, Rose

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 5 years ago

      Came back to google +1 this gem . . hope it helps!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      My answer to Quiz: B757, A320, B737-200, A319, A330-200, A330-200, A330-300, B777-200, B737-400, B747-400, B767, B747-200F,B777-300ER,

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
      Author

      LabKittyDesign 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Holy cow! You can identify the subtypes? How can you identify the subtypes? You should teach us how to identify the subtypes!

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
      Author

      LabKittyDesign 5 years ago

      @sousababy: Thanks sous!

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
      Author

      LabKittyDesign 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Holy cow, you're right! How did we not notice this before? Thanks much!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @LabKittyDesign: Anything for a kitty.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Some A319s have 2 over wing exits.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
      Author

      LabKittyDesign 5 years ago

      @anonymous: STOP CONFUSING US WITH FACTS!! :-)

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 5 years ago

      Gorgeous darlings, I just read a great lens by David Dove you might enjoy: https://hubpages.com/politics/raf-brize-norton

      Also, I am letting him know about this beaut of yours.

      Fondly,

      Sous

    • David Dove profile image

      David Dove 5 years ago

      Hi Guys, BIg thanks to Sousababy for the intro. Sorry to say I am a (very) lifelong aircraft nerd, particularly identification. I am better on military types and here are two ident clues that may help you with those. If it has pretty little twinkling lights along the leading edge of the wing - it's hostile. If large lumps appear to fall of it as it approaches you - it's hostile. Generally speaking, unless you can ident the pilot clearly as a close personal friend - it's hostile. Great lens guys, thanks a lot. David.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
      Author

      LabKittyDesign 5 years ago

      @David Dove: Heh heh. Alas, "big lumps" occasionally fall off of commercial planes too...

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Good find! I use that tip too now, telling the difference used to be SUCH a pain! Thanks.

    • tricomanagement profile image

      tricomanagement 5 years ago

      Great lens - good info - worried about DavidDove (isn't dove supposed to mean PEACE) being so hostile...

    • Ram Ramakrishnan profile image

      Ram Ramakrishnan 5 years ago

      Know this, O worthy and diligent lensmaster;

      With accomplishment youâve earned a tryster.

      As a token of immense appreciation expressed,

      A squid angel leaves this lens heartily blessed.

      On a rendering that is sparkling in its own right,

      Propagating an appealing thought well and quite;

      If you were to notice a slender shimmering crust;

      From the angelâs wand, it is a spill of stardust.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
      Author

      LabKittyDesign 5 years ago

      @Ram Ramakrishnan: Aw, shucks. Thanks!

    • efriedman profile image

      efriedman 5 years ago

      Interesting lens, cleverly written, just as you would expect from the fabulous Labkitty. I will link this lens to my wave glider ocean robot lens because your lens is, scientifically speaking, cool.

    • gamrslist profile image

      gamrslist 5 years ago

      cool lens ill be back for more thank you

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      2-engined boeings - 757... the point of the nose is only a third of the way up the vertical axis where it is central on the others! (slightly appropriate my "security word" below is "meganose"! lol)

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
      Author

      LabKittyDesign 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Good catch! We added this to the 757/767 section. Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      cheers man! awesome info! detailed yet light- easy to digest! hope to read ur book on the same , soon!

    • profile image

      bdc123 5 years ago

      Awesome lens! One tip is if you see a blue&red plane, it's a Southwest plane, which most likely means it's a 737. Before its merger with Airtran, Southwest only flew 737's.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
      Author

      LabKittyDesign 5 years ago

      @bdc123: Good catch! Wonder if we'll start seeing 717s in the Southwest purple/red/orange livery...

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Got 10 out of 12,well got an a320 for aer lingus when it was an a319 but hey. Admit that I looked at each airlines fleet but Monarch having a 757 in service confused me with the first recognition quiz answer. I'm a scared flyer but I'm trying to demystify my fear by learning about the planes too.

    • GreatGazoo profile image

      GreatGazoo 4 years ago

      This helps. I hope you keep it updated with new aircraft :)

    • profile image

      acregmed 4 years ago

      Nice lens!

    • EcoLogik profile image

      EcoLogik 4 years ago

      Lots of information, nice lens!

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 4 years ago

      Great information and nicely presented. Featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen 2012-2 and also on Aircraft and Aviation in Motion, Hugs

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @norma-holt: Thanks skies! Much appreciated.

    • profile image

      DMVAgent 4 years ago

      Enjoyed the information although it's not that relevant to my course. :))

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I am one of those "freakazoids" who can identify an airplane flying over by the sound it makes from inside my house even. One mistake I caught though: The CRJ does not use Pratt and Whitney Engines, they have General Electric CF34 engines. ;) Doesn't make a difference when it comes to ID but thought I'd just point it out.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks for the catch - we fixed in the text. And we meant "freakazoid" in a good way! Perhaps you may someday teach us this skill. :-)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      The nose of a 737 (particularly the 737-800s) reminds me of a penquin for some weird reasonð§

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 4 years ago

      I've heard of train watching, now I can do some plane watch (easy for me I'm right under a flight path, apparently). Cool Lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      You didn't mention DC-9s in your T-tail section. Are they all retired?

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @anonymous: The DC-9 became the MD-80 when Douglas Aircraft merged with McDonnell back in 1967. Although we're calling them the same aircraft here, no doubt there's still bona fide DC-9's flying somewhere.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      When you said a dash-8 is a crash-8 and airbus is scarebus... You forgot that

      DC-9 is Death Capsule 9 and DC-10 is Death Capsule 10 :P

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thanks for this! Great read and brilliantly written!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Airbus 319 has one exit door above the wing. 320 has two exit doors above the wing. 321 has 4 exit doors from nose to tail if you count them. The information you provided here was excellent. All the best, Salvatore.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks for the tip! We've added it to the Airbus section.

    • FreakyV profile image

      FreakyV 4 years ago from Canada

      This lens was really interesting, love the graphics!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Kudos to the one who uploaded this post ! I have been studying Aerospace Engineering all these years without even knowing how to identify aircraft. This is a big wake up call ! I would give it a A-star and recommend it to my friends. Please Keep uploading !

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Nice job! My Planespotter laminated card is way out of date so this really helps. My trick for telling Boeings and Airbusses apart is the way the rear end of the fuselage comes to a point (well, point-ish). If the top of the fuselage is straight all the way to the end, it's an Airbus; if the top drops down to meet the bottom coming up, it's a Boeing (yes, yes, the 737 is an exception). This is easier than windscreen shape if the plane is far away.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Hadn't noticed the fuselage difference before. We added your tip to the windscreen section. Thanks!

    • rawwwwwws lm profile image

      rawwwwwws lm 4 years ago

      Thanks for sharing!

    • AeroBaseGroup profile image

      AeroBaseGroup 4 years ago from Melbourne, Florida

      Great Information.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I saw an odd jet landing yesterday. It was medium capacity 80 passenger or so with twin wing mounted engines. The oddity was that there was an auxiliary power unit ( presumably ) mounted high on the fuselage ( right side ) just behind the cabin. It looked like a mini third jet engine. What was that mystery jet. There were no airline markings on it.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @anonymous: We are stumped. Did you get a pic?

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @LabKittyDesign: No, I was driving and passed under it. I did get a glimpse of the left side and there was no "mini-engine" on that side. The asymmetry made it seem even odder. It had a row of windows, so it wasn't a cargo plane but there was no indication of what the airline was. It seemed much larger than your typical corporate jet.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      This piece is so much fun to read and full of great tips.

      Would you mention my product, the Plane Spotter? It is a fold-out, laminated quick reference Airliner id guide. www.planespotter.com

      Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: We update the Plane Spotter annually. Thanks!

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @anonymous: We added a link to your site in with the guides available from Amazon. Hope it helps!

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 4 years ago

      A new blessing on this lovely lens and may you have a wonderful, successful and happy 2013. Hugs

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      aquarian_insight 4 years ago

      My dad worked for an airline for 42 years (he retired in August) in Engineering, so your lens is more or less what I've heard from him all my life. He saved the newspaper for the day I was born, not because his first born child arrived in the world, but because that was the day Concorde took its first commercial flights. This is an amazingly detailed lens - great work! *blessed*

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      You ask how to tell the difference between the A310, A318, A319..... Well I'm not much use in terms of telling the A320 family apart but the A310 has a much sharper nose. The A318 - A321 have much a much rounder nose than any other twin engine aircraft.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: I have searched to the ends of the internet and can find no mention of an APU in this location. As I read technical design issues it seemed increasing improbable that someone would locate an APU in this location. However, I did find a number of research aircraft that mounted special / custom sensors here and some resembled APUs. That in addition to the fact that the jet carried no commercial markings leads me to believe I saw some time of research aircraft with a large sensor on the fuselage. Otherwise I am stumped and defeated.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @anonymous: We searched around airliners.net to try to find a pic of something like you describe but no joy. It is a puzzle...

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Good catch - we had not noticed that. We added your tip to the Airbus section. Thanks!

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @norma-holt: Thanks!

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @aquarian_insight: Well, it was the Concorde, after all... :D

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      787s are pretty easy to recognize. They are the large planes that do not leave the ground.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @anonymous: HI-YOOO! :-)

    • free-sms profile image

      free-sms 4 years ago

      You are a great writer !

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @free-sms: Thanks!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      a trick i use is this: if a jet has the characteristic orange and blue coloration of Southwest, then i know it's a Boeing 737, because their fleet consists exclusively of that model. as of now, at least.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Southwest loves them some 737s!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @LabKittyDesign: I've done that test too and I've got all correct except the A319 - mistaken for A320. Dammit. Anyway, this page helped a great lot and working 30 meters from a landing strip helps too :P.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      You don't mention an important difference between the DC-10 and MD-11: the DC-10 doesn't have wingtips, the MD-11 does.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Did not know that! We added your tip to the trijet section. Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      When I published the Spanair MD-80 picture in Wikimedia Commons back in 2005 under a Creative Commons license I never thought that 8 years later I would benefit myself from while reading your post. Thank you for your great post and for properly honoring the terms of the license.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks so much, Barcex! And thank you for making your work available on-line. Our identification guide would be impossible if we didn't have airplane pics to show...

    • roby01 profile image

      roby01 3 years ago

      Interesting lens on classification of commercial aircraft

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 3 years ago

      @roby01: Thanks!

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      anonymous 3 years ago

      @anonymous: Honeywell owns a modified 757 for use as a flying test bed. They mount their bizjet engines on the third nacelle to do performance testing. I'd include a link, but the spam filter won't let me. A Google Image search on "Honeywell 757 flying test bed" brings up plenty of photos. White airplane with a red stripe and what looks like a tumor.

    • profile image

      mathew31 3 years ago

      What an interesting idea for a lens, very informative!

    • robertred24 profile image

      robertred24 3 years ago

      This is a very informative lens!

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 3 years ago

      @mathew31: Hope it was helpful!

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 3 years ago

      @robertred24: Thanks for stopping by!

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      anonymous 3 years ago

      Wow! Thanks so much! This is super helful! I've been looking for a realiable website on plane typee forever. :) My fav is the 747 for sure

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 3 years ago

      @anonymous: 747 - Queen of the Skies!

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      phexlink 3 years ago

      Hello, just wondering why the BAE-146 is listed in the section "3) Four Engines?". Yeah, it has 4 engines, but it also has a t-tail. And that distinction came first. Or as the roadmap says at "3) Four Engines?": "If you have reached this step, it is because (1) your plane does not have propellers and (2) your plane is not a t-tail."

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 3 years ago

      @phexlink: Excellent question! The Bae was kind of an afterthought (note it doesn't appear in the main flowchart) and there wasn't any more room on the t-tail figure. So it got thrown in with the 4-engine types (also note the other t-tails all have rear-mounted engines and the Bae does not). But you're right: it is a bit confusing. We added a comment in the t-tail section pointing this out. Thanks!

    • profile image

      ulysses-lee-90 3 years ago

      Author: u can group A300, A310, A330 & A340 into one group.

      Becoz these 4 type are based on A300's fuselage, extend(A300>A330/340) or shorten (A300>A310)

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 3 years ago

      @ulysses-lee-90: Ah, so THAT'S why they all look alike! Thanks for the info.

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      crslinyc 3 years ago

      A good way to differentiate between Boeing and Airbus planes is to look at the white strobe lights at the wingtips. This is particularly helpful at night or from a distance. The Boeing strobe lights flash once and then pause, whereas the Airbus lights flash twice. Also, for the Dreamliner, the white strobe light stays on noticeably longer whereas for other Boeing planes it's a quick flash.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 3 years ago

      @crslinyc: Did not know that! Cool tip!

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 3 years ago

      @LabKittyDesign: PS: Added your tip to the Boeing/Airbus windscreen section.

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      FlyerJohn 3 years ago

      Airbus 319 - One door over wing. Airbus 320 - Two doors over wing. Airbus 321 - One door forward of wing, one door rearward of wing.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
      Author

      LabKittyDesign 3 years ago

      @FlyerJohn: Ah, more help on identifying baby Airbuses. Added to the baby Airbus section. Thanks!

    • Seasons Greetings profile image

      Laura Brown 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This was a great thing to write about. I hope your lens gets good traffic. I never really thought about the differences about how planes look in the air but nice to see it and maybe I will even remember some of it next time I see one going overhead. :) Boosting your lens because it is pretty awesome!

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 2 years ago

      @Seasons Greetings: Thanks!

    • profile image

      rigarunner 2 years ago

      I live directly under the flight path to Dulles airport (KIAD) and I am looking for a source of silhouette images of airliners as they appear from directly below. Obviously identification is more difficult when you have only a dark outline against a bright sky...from below and the gear is not extended.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image
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      LabKittyDesign 2 years ago

      @rigarunner: The only type I know that's easy to identify from below is the 737 (because the gear doesn't retract inside the aircraft). Beyond that, Jane's might be helpful...

    • profile image

      anon 2 years ago

      Awesome writeup. Definitely saving this :)

    • profile image

      Great article 2 years ago

      Excellent information, now I should have no excuse for not telling an Airbus from a Boeing. Good sense of humour too!

    • profile image

      Andrew 2 years ago

      The 727s are not entirely retired. They still fly cargo, fly charters, and fly for some governments. I guess you shall include a bit of that. =)

    • profile image

      Andrew 2 years ago

      I sometimes can also identify sub-types. For example, the B732's engines are mounted under the wing, instead of in front of the wing, like on later models. The 747s. The 742's upper deck is way smaller than the 744 and 748. The 748's upper deck looks incredibly long. The 753 is very long compared to it's wingspan. That's how I know it is a -300 and not -200.

      Hope it helps!

    • Dawn Fifer profile image

      Dawn Fifer 13 months ago from USA

      excellent article

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      3 months ago

      I keep seeing some unusual aircraft flyover and I'm trying to find a chart that shows silhouettes from below of commercial and non commercial aircraft. Does anyone here have any ideas? And to show how well I read the article, the aircraft I saw today had swept back wings close to the tail and bulky engine blobs sandwiched in between and was a bit smaller than a normal plane :)

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