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In English, it's customary to italicize the names of vessels, aircraft, and spacecraft, e.g. USS Oklahoma, B-17 Ye Olde Pub, and space shuttle Discovery. Does that also apply to specific aircraft known only by their serial numbers or registration, like Cessna 172 N344RB vs N344RB or F-15 90-0240 vs 90-0240?

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  • Cessna is a brand name, not the name of a specific plane. Nov 27, 2023 at 5:24
  • I'm not talking about the brand name, I'm talking about the registration/serial number of a specific example Cessna.
    – user448501
    Nov 27, 2023 at 7:33
  • Perhaps only in American English? I was mildly surprised to find that Wikipedia does italicise the name of HMS Victory, but her own website doesn't. See also english.stackexchange.com/questions/320181/… Nov 27, 2023 at 9:08
  • There are no rules about this. It's up to the institution you write for.
    – Lambie
    Nov 27, 2023 at 14:23

2 Answers 2

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The FAA writing guide doesn't cover this but refers you to the U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual, which says not to italicize hull numbers; it appears likely the same applies to aircraft registration numbers or serial numbers.

In the 2016 GPO Style Manual it says "The names of aircraft, vessels, and manned spacecraft are italicized unless otherwise indicated." It then gives a list of examples. Those italicized include

  • USS Wisconsin
  • Apollo 13, Atlantis (U.S. spaceships)
  • Enola Gay

Those not italicized include

  • Air Force One (President’s plane)
  • B–50 (type of plane)
  • DD–882
  • LST–1155
  • MiG, MiG–35

Of those, DD–882 and LST–1155 are US Navy hull classification numbers. In view of how the same principles hold across ships, aircraft, and spacecraft, the same rules can be applied to aircraft. (The idea that italicization would depend on whether the plane has another name is a little bizarre.)

This is supported by the majority of websites, e.g. the style guide of 1000 Aircraft Photos.

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  • Correspondingly, Wikipedia has << BR Standard Class 8 71000 Duke of Gloucester >>. Either appositive (the non-italicised identification number / the italicised name) may be dropped. Nov 27, 2023 at 14:19
  • This is the standard practice, but one can't help wondering whether there is some rationale for it, or it is completely arbitrary. I suppose that what motivates the OP's question is that registration numbers, in many ways, perform the same function as names.
    – jsw29
    Nov 27, 2023 at 16:33
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I can't cite a definitive rule on this, but as someone who's read a lot about aircraft, I would say no.

Wikipedia does not italicize serial numbers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_surviving_North_American_P-51_Mustangs#United_States

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    Style manuals probably cover this.
    – Xanne
    Nov 27, 2023 at 11:06

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