Aircraft Identification from exterior

[Ref Internet,]

This is an article to help myself and share how can we distinguish different type of aircraft.

Actually, we can identify by the features in different part.

Firstly, we should know that there are two major aircraft manufacturers dominating the civil aviation industry, at least, you should have heard 1) Airbus and 2) Boeing.

The major difference of the two manufacturers are the lateral design of the cockpit windows and the shape of  cones. 

B777 – “flat” APU exhaust (some call that “blade-shaped” tail cone)

Boeing 777,737 “V-shape” at the bottom of the lateral cockpit windows

Airbus 320,330 “straight” at the bottom of the lateral cockpit windows, but there is a “missing corner” at top, some call that “notched”

Airbus 350 “raccoon” / “sun glass -like” cockpit windows

However, if you take a look on the photos below, you will find that sometimes it is quite difficult to identify the type only by observing the windows – at least B787 is “Alien” in Boeing family and the A350 is exceptional in Airbus family.

Below are various examples of Boeing family:

Below are various examples of Airbus family:

Some how, we may “zoom out” a little bit. The overall size of the aircraft, the number of engine and the contour are helpful in aircraft identification.

B777, A320, A330 each has 2 engines – they are twin-engine aircraft ;

A340, A380, B747 has 4  engines;

A380 is a true double-deck aircraft;

B747 is partial double-deck aircraft;

A340 has 4 engine, but it only has single-deck

Below are example:

Actually, there are far more exterior part can be used to distinguish different model and type:

A319, A320, A321

The about picture, from top to bottom is A319, A320, and A321. You can see that –

  • A319 has 3 emergency door (Forward PAX door, Rearward PAX door, middle “type D door/over-wing door”)
  • A320 has 4 emergency door (Forward, Rearward  and two middle “type D door/over-wing door”)
  • A321 has 4 emergency door – but there is no “type D door/over-wing door”

I am not quite sure, but I think the three aircraft has “CEO- current engine option” engine.

You can get the information from the wing-tip – all three are so-called “triangular wingtips fence

Below are an example of A321 neo, see?

The bottom of lateral cockpit windows is straight, with a missing top corner (notched),

The emergency door number is 5 (3 normal size and 2 over-wing)

The wingtip is a little bit different – this photo use the terms “aerodynamic wingtip” – some call the wingtip of A321 neo (new engine option) as “sharklets

A321 Neo


Next, let us take a look on B777 –

Both B777-200 and -300 has three sets landing gear wheels (observe from lateral)

Both has the V-shap cockpit windows (observe from lateral)

Both has the flat/blade shape tailcone


B777 -200 has 4 emergency doors

B777– 300 has 5 emergency doors





Now, I would like to tell few significant features of B737:

B737 still has the boeing typical V-shape lateral cockpit windows

B737 has the “dorsal fin

B737 has also relatively low ground clearance between the engine and the ground



Next, let’s also take a look on A350:

A350 family has a eye-ball catching “sun-glass” –  also known as “raccoon” around cockpit windshield area.

A350 -900, -1000 has 4 passenger doors


A350 – 900 has only two main-landing gear wheels (observe from lateral)

A350 – 1000 has only three main-landing gear wheels (observe from lateral)

A350 900 vs 1000

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