Tail Code History

Tail Code HistoryThe two-letter codes prominently displayed on the tails of U.S. Air Force aircraft today represent the owning wing. Dating back to 1968, the Pacific Air Forces randomly assigned a single letter to each of its 24 wings. The 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing received the letter "A", the 388th Tactical fighter Wing got the "J", and the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing was given the "Z". A second letter was later added to designate a particular flying squadron. The squadrons of the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing each received their own distinctive second letter. The 12th Tactical Fighter Squadron received the "A", the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron got the "Z", the 44th was given the "L", and the 67th the "G".

In June 1972, the Air Force tried to bring some semblance of order to this chaotic system. Two-letter codes were assigned directly to wings. Early designations showed a relationship between the code and the location of the wing. The 18th waited until 1975 to receive their new tail codes. The Tactical Air Command deputy commander for operations responded to a request from the Pacific Air Forces Commander-in-Chief and assigned the wing's units with the distinctive "ZZ" tail marking. The code of "ZZ" was chosen due to the fact that the code "KA" had already been used by the 457th Tactical Airlift Wing stationed at Cam Rahn Bay in Vietnam, and the fact that the wing was already using the letter "Z" as the first letter of their old tail code. Wing leaders saw the "ZZ" code as a mark of distinction.