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Speaking in Code

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When is November not a month? When is Sierra not a dessert? Tango not a dance? Golf not a game?


When it’s the aviation alphabet, the method pilots and air traffic controllers communicate with each other.


Each letter of the alphabet corresponds to a word, and is used to designate individual aircraft (using the letters and numbers on the tail), as well as taxiways.


Entire words are used to eliminate the confusion of single letters that sound similar, such as T, D, E, and B. It’s clearer to say Tango, Delta, Echo, and Bravo. 


“Oshkosh tower, this is Eight-One-Echo-Tango, ready for take-off.”


“Eight-One-Echo-Tango continue to Taxiway Papa and hold short on Runway Two-Seven Right.”


“Roger Oshkosh Tower. Taxiing via Papa and holding short of Runway Two-Seven Right.”

When the alphabet was first developed, these were the criteria for each word:

  1. Be a live word in each of the three working languages (see #4).

  2. Be easily pronounced and recognized by airman of all languages.

  3. Have good radio transmission and readability characteristics.

  4. Have a similar spelling in at least English, French, and Spanish, and the initial letter must be the letter the word identifies.

  5. Be free from any association with objectionable meanings.

A   =   ALPHA

B   =   BRAVO


D   =   DELTA

E   =   ECHO


G   =   GOLF

H   =   HOTEL

I   =   INDIA

J   =   JULIET

K   =   KILO

L   =   LIMA

M   =   MIKE


O   =   OSCAR

P   =   PAPA

Q   =   QUEBEC

R   =   ROMEO

S   =   SIERRA

T   =   TANGO


V   =   VICTOR


X   =   X-RAY

Y   =   YANKEE

Z   =   ZULU

In America, the numeral Nine has been pronounced “Niner” since 1959. As of 2008, the preferred pronunciations of Three, Four, and Five, are “Tree,” “Fow-er,” and “Fife,” according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).


Hover over the pilot to see what we mean...

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