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How to tell airplanes apart by comparing differencesSpotting Guides to help identify the differences between airliners with similar designs

How to Tell Airplanes Apart

With the wide variety of jet and turboprop commercial airliners serving the worldwide travel market today, identification of individual manufacturers and aircraft can be a bit tricky.

Included on this page is a quick and easy guide to identifying the differences between the commercial airliners of the day. We include airliners from Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, Bombardier and other manufacturers.

The key to telling airplanes apart is attention to the details, e.g., number of engines, windshield design, landing gear configurations, engine placement, shape of the nose and tail design.

Let's get started, first with identifying the number of engines on the plane ... then we can examine more details with our other spotting guides.

Does It Have Four Engines?

If the airliner has two engines under each wing, for a total of four, it could be a Boeing 747, Airbus A340 or Airbus A380.

Spotting guide: 4-engine jet airliners
Spotting Guide for 4-engine Jet Airliners

It Looks Like a Three Engine "Tri-Jet"

If the airliner has three engines, one in the tail, and one under each wing or two on the aft fuselage, it is an older aircraft, probably a Boeing 727 or maybe a McDonnell-Douglas MD-11. Few of these are in service today, and many of the ones that remain active are in the air cargo marketplace.

Spotting guide: 3-engine jet airliners
Spotting Guide for 3-engine Jet Airliners

This Airliner Only Has Two Engines ... What Is It?

Now for the hard part! Most jet airliners in service today have two engines, one under each wing. Most active airliners manufactured by Boeing, Airbus and other manufacturers have this configuration. It might be a Boeing 737, Airbus A320, Boeing 777, Airbus A350, but it could be a A321 A220 or 767. Our spotting guide to 2-engine jetliners should help!

Spotting guide: 2-engine jet airliners
Spotting Guide for 2-engine Jet Airliners

Propellers and Turboprops

Turboprops continue to play a significant role in air transportation. Airliners from companies such as Bombardier, ATR, Antonov and others can be spotted at airports worldwide.

Spotting guide: turboprop airliners
Spotting Guide for turboprop airliners