Since the United States Navy began to acquire aircraft before World War I it has maintained a variety of records relating to the aircraft in its inventory. From 1913 on it recorded information about individual aircraft added to the inventory from its being accepted until stricken from the list. Such records have had a number of official names --Aircraft Record, Aircraft History Card, etc --but are most commonly called "Aircraft History Cards." Originally the records were compiled by hand, but in 1950 the Navy converted its record-keeping system entirely to electronic methods.
Aircraft History Cards do not record the complete history and activity of an individual aircraft. They do not include information about missions or crews, nor do they record exact locations or manners of loss. Rather, they serve as a compilation of the locations and assigned units of the aircraft at set inventory times or as a record of transfers between locations or units. The type of information included and its presentation changes over time and falls into two main groups:
through December 1949
This period actually covers several different styles of record cards, but all are hand-written. The cards themselves are all preprinted and have various Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) form numbers and titles. The earliest, the "Aircraft Record," followed the aircraft through production to acceptance, then listed shipment information and trouble reports until the aircraft was stricken from the Navy list. Later, unnamed, forms continued this presentation until c.1939 when the Aircraft History Card (AHC) began to come into use (the transition is not uniform). The AHC recorded the location and unit assignment of the aircraft at the end-of-month inventory period and recorded dates of transfer in and out of the unit. Unfortunately, no inventory information was recorded for most aircraft for the late-1943 through mid-1944 period. Lend-lease aircraft purchased under Navy contract for delivery to allied powers were not recorded unless and until they returned to U.S. Navy custody. The AHC remained the standard record form until the end of 1949.
January 1950 and October 1986
Beginning in 1950, the Navy changed the format of the AHC and began to utilize electronic equipment to maintain its inventory records. From 1950 on AHCs were machine printed and recorded each transfer or change of status. Each such entry included location and unit assignment as before, but now also included aircraft status, flying time, number of landings, and age. In Fiscal Year 1966 1 (1 July 1965 to 30 June 1966) the Navy changed to a smaller (punch card sized) card listing only the activity for one aircraft during that fiscal year only. Beginning in FY1967, instead of printing the activity information on separate cards for each aircraft, the Navy printed out a single listing for all aircraft showing all the activity during the Fiscal Year, sorted by aircraft BuAer Number (BuNo.) and date. The printouts were in the same format as the machine-printed AHCs, but only contained the activity for a single year. In the mid 1980s the Navy did away with printouts entirely and printed the Fiscal Year activity directly to microfilm.
October 1986 and subsequent
According to the Naval Historical Center, the inventory records after the beginning of Fiscal Year 1987 (1 October 1986) are apparently available only in the Navy's on-line systems. As of this writing no hard-copy versions of these records are available.
1 Until 1976, the United States government fiscal year ran 1 July to 30 June. In 1976, the fiscal year was changed to run 1 October to 30 September. The three-month period between 30 June 1976 (end of FY76) and 1 October 1976 (start of FY77) was designated Fiscal Year 197T (for transitional).