Intro: Learn how to identify military and civilian aircraft. Since the invention of the first flying machine now called airplanes, we have seen the evolution of propeller aircraft, jet aircraft, and even solar powered aircraft. Today, engineers are attempting to design a nuclear fusion powered aircraft for global transportation and outer-space exploration. Aircraft are built with wings to provide lift, engines to provide motive power, fuselage for carry passengers, weapons payload, and controls, and a tails for controlling the direction of flight.
Aircraft are really mechanical birds designed by the brilliant engineers for the benefit of humanity. Today’s aircraft differs in shape, size, number, position, and aviation capability. This article will assist readers in the identification of aircraft by using the power of WEFT. The WEFT is an acronym used by professional aircraft analysts for the identification of the unique features analysts observed on an aircraft. The W stands for wings, the E stands for engines, the F stands for fuselage, and the T stands for tail.
Sept 1: Study aircraft wings. Aircraft identification involves understanding the airplane’s wing type, wing position, wing slant, wing shape, and wing taper. The aircraft wing type can be fixed wings, variable geometry wings (moving wings), and rotary wings. For example, a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, a Boeing 707 transport aircraft, and an An-12 CUB transport aircraft are all fixed wing aircraft because the wings on the aircraft do not move. Variable geometry wing aircraft are usually observed on combat aircraft such as the B-1B Lancer bombers, Tu-160 BLACKJACK bombers, and Tu-22 BACKFIRE fighter-bomber because the wings on these aircraft move back and forth. Rotary wing aircraft are helicopters such as the CH-53 Sea Stallion, the CH-47 Chinook, and the AH-64 Apache.
An aircraft’s wing position can be high-mounted like an IL-76 CANDID transport aircraft, mid-mounted like a Yak-38 FORGER combat aircraft, and low-mounted like a Boeing 707 transport aircraft. The aircraft wing shapes can be straight like a light utility aircraft, swept-back like an F-14 fighter aircraft, delta like a Mirage III/V combat aircraft, and semi-delta like a Su-30 FLANKER combat aircraft. Many aircraft’s wing tapers vary from un-tapered, forward tapered, swept-back, backward tapered, diamond shaped, and swept-back and tapered. The wing tip shape of many aircraft vary square, blunt, rounded, cured, and pointed.
Sept 2: Learn about airplane engines. Identification of aircraft includes recognizing the various types of aircraft engines such as type, number, location, intakes, and exhausts. Understanding whether an aircraft is propeller driven or jet-powered requires experience. Aircraft that have engines, which drive propellers, are propeller-driven, while aircraft driven by re-action engines are jet-powered airplanes. The first aircraft engines were piston or turboprop engines located on the nose for single-engine aircraft and on the leading edges of the wings for most multi-engine aircraft. Today most combat aircraft are jet-powered, but in the future most combat aircraft will be fusion powered unmanned aerial vehicles.
Sept 3: Study all airplane fuselage designs. Aircraft identification involves understanding the aircraft’s fuselage, which involves its location, slant, number, and shape. Like other features, the aircraft’s fuselage comes in many shapes and sizes. Understand that there are three main sections of the fuselage, which are the nose, mid, and rear. Realize that the cockpit or cabin is part of the fuselage, along with other special fuselage features. Remember the midsection does not include the wings, nose, or tail section.
Understand that this is a good recognition and identification feature since it is generally the largest part of the aircraft. Notice that the cockpit or cabin of an aircraft is the compartment that accommodates the pilot and other personnel. This area is usually covered by a transparent canopy or glassed-in enclosure. Many times, the words cockpit, cabin, and canopy are used interchangeably. The rear of the fuselage where the tail assembly is attached is the rear section. Transport aircraft usually have a thick fuselage for carrying people and related things and combat aircraft usually have a narrow fuselage for aerodynamic purposes and to facilitate the transportation of electronic and weapon systems.
Sept 4: Learn about airplane tail designs. Aircraft identification requires an understanding of the aircraft tail structure, which consists of the horizontal and vertical stabilizers. Tail structures are classified according to the shape of stabilizers, number of stabilizers, and mounting of stabilizers. Remember the location of the horizontal stabilizer and the vertical stabilizer and how the stabilizers fit on the fuselage. Continually review the different shapes. Understand the number of vertical stabilizers on an aircraft helps to distinguish aircraft types such as fighter jets or transport propeller-driven aircraft. Realize this reduces the number of aircraft that must be sorted through to identify a specific aircraft.
Remember the tail section of an aircraft tends to stand out because of what you can see when viewing the aircraft from the perspective of the ground. Some aircraft have a T-tail, others have a reverse T-tail, some have a Y-tail, and others have a V-Tail. Remember to ask yourself questions such as is this a standard shape? Does it stick up relatively straight, or is it swept back enough? Some aircraft have tail sections that stick out like a sore thumb. For example, a large T-Tail makes a C-5 easy to recognize. The two tails on the back of an F-14 or MiG-29 are obvious details and, an engine mounted directly forward on the vertical stabilizer will tell you that is an L-1011, Tu-134 CRUSTY, or Tu-154 CARELESS aircraft. When you have to done some research on your own, you will be able to better recognize the varying aircraft.
Sept 5: Apply the WEFT system to identify most airplanes. The WEFT system is the best system you should use for identifying airplane features to determine the type, mission, and capability of civilian, military, and experimental aircraft. The WEFT methodology can enable you to analyze any type of aircraft before you classify them as fighters, bombers, transports, utility, or helicopters. Begin applying the WEFT to the large transport aircraft such as An-225 COSSACK, An-124 CONDOR, and the Boeing 747, before using the WEFT on combat aircraft such as F-16 Fighting Falcon or helicopters such as the AH-64 Apache because big airplanes are easy to identify. Therefore, before you begin any analysis of aircraft, you should study the WEFT systems to organize your mind around an aircraft’s wings, engines, fuselage, and tail.
Tips: Purchase a military and civilian aircraft encyclopedia and dictionary to facilitate your understanding of the WEFT identification technique.
Related Sources: Attack and Interceptor Jets by Michael Sharpe; Dictionary of Military Terms by Peter Collin Publishing; Dictionary of Aeronautical Terms Compiled by Dale Crane ; Jane’s World Aircraft Recognition Handbook by Derek Wood ; Jane’s AIRCRAFT Recognition Guide by David Rendall.