As any avgeek will tell you, the easiest way to identify an aircraft is its official FAA registration, or its “tail number.” In absence of an official name, it’s the second most unique identifier for any bird, other than serial number assigned to it by the manufacturer.
The numbers may look small and sometimes hard to read, but the foot-tall letters and numbers can be found on the back of every aircraft just below where the vertical stabilizer joins the fuselage. While we can use certain visual cues, such as red “canoes” (flap track fairings) designating our Next Generation 737s, or the two overwing exits on the -800s, the tail number matches the aircraft with its history.
Most of the 690 aircraft within our combined fleet follow a pretty standard numbering system. Currently, we are taking deliveries of new -800 series aircraft from Boeing. They all start with the letter “N,” as do all civilian aircraft registered in the United States, followed by the number 8. Then, the next number tells a little more of the story. Aircraft starting with N86 are our standard -800 series 737s, and N83s are part of our ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operations) subfleet, which are certified to fly further out over the ocean when all FAA-mandated conditions are met. So, if you take a look at Warrior One, N8301J, you can tell that it is an ETOPS-capable 737-800.
There are a few other special birds in our fleet that over the years have been given a special registry in honor of several important People in our history. The two most recognizable ones are N711HK and N714CB, which are also members of a very exclusive club still sporting a desert gold livery. By taking a look at the last two letters in the registration, we can see they are in honor of Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett.
Several other im
portant figures in our past have also had their initials incorporated into a registration, such as N739GB recognizing Gary Barron, former Executive Vice President & Chief Operations Officer, and N761RR paying homage to Executive Vice President Ron Ricks, Chief Legal & Regulatory Officer.
Within the 717 fleet, the 50th airframe delivered to AirTran was registered as N717JL, dedicated to former CEO Joe Leonard.
Although never an Employee of Southwest Airlines, N289CT pays tribute to Charles Taylor, the “Father of Aircraft Maintenance” who lent his expertise to the Wright Brothers by building the engine powering their 1903 Flyer. A ceremony was held on May 2, 2008 in Dallas to commemorate Taylor’s contributions to the aircraft maintenance field and also honored our own Aviation Maintenance Technicians who received the prestigious Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award from the FAA.
When waiting inside the terminal, take a look out the window at the aircraft awaiting you on your next trip. Can you tell which LUV jet you are about to board? More importantly, what’s its story?