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Aviation Alphabet

What is the aviation alphabet?

In aviation, pilots and air traffic controllers have their own language for communication known as the Aviation Alphabet. This unique alphabet uses the same 26 letters we learned in kindergarten, but each letter corresponds to a specific word used to identify aircraft, commonly known as the tail number, and taxiways, which are similar to the roads we drive on.

A – Alpha
B – Bravo
C – Charlie
D – Delta
E – Echo
F – Foxtrot

G – Golf
H – Hotel
I – India
J – Juliet
K – Kilo
L – Lima

M – Mike
N – November
O – Oscar
P – Papa
Q – Quebec
R – Romeo
S – Sierra

T – Tango
U – Uniform
V – Victor
W – Whiskey
X – X-ray
Y – Yankee
Z – Zulu

Example


Pilot:

“Tower, ASKAir 3710 Echo Romeo ready for takeoff.”

Air Traffic Control Tower:
“ASKAir 3710 Echo Romeo taxi via taxiway Juliet and hold short Runway 92 Right.”

Pilot: 
“Roger Tower. Taxiing via Juliet and holding short of Runway 92 Right.”

What is the origin of the aviation alphabet?

Radio codes emerged with the evolution of radio communications. During the Second World War, the armed forces of Australia, the U.S. and the U.K. needed to communicate during joint operations. Leaders modified the U.S. military’s Joint Army-Navy alphabet for the three countries. They called it the US-UK spelling alphabet. British, American, and Australian troops used it successfully.

However, after World War II, various organizations and linguists worked on other challenges of radio communications. In 1956, NATO modified the code words used by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). This became the international standard when ICAO and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) accepted it. The words were chosen to be accessible to French, Spanish, and English speakers.

Other Names for the Aviation Alphabet

Other names for this alpha code include International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet (IRSA) and the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) phonetic alphabet, ITU (International Telecommunication Union) phonetic alphabet, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Phonetic Alphabet or International Phonetic Alphabet. What a mouthful!

Morse Code

Another alpha code is Morse code, which consists of dots and dashes in place of letters. Although originally used in radio communications, Morse code is still widely used in aviation. The FAA requires pilots to understand Morse code and to identify aircraft call signs since NDBs and VORs still send their identifying letters via Morse code. Many people have learned this using a song.

Can you decipher this bit of morse code? (hint: it’s what you do with ASK!)

. -..- .–. .-.. — .-. . / .- . .-. — … .–. .- -.-. . / .– .. – …. / .- .. .-. .– .- -.– / … -.-. .. . -. -.-. .

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