RAF phonetic alphabet

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The RAF phonetic alphabet is a spelling alphabet, not a phonetic alphabet in the sense in which that term is used in academic fields such as phonetics. See the phonetic alphabet disambiguation page.

Following the take-up of radio, the British Royal Air Force (RAF) used a succession of radiotelephony spelling alphabets to aid communication. These have now all been superseded by the NATO phonetic alphabet.

Polish Spitfire Mk Vb from the 303 Kościuszko Squadron flown by S/Ldr Zumbach and showing the RF 303 Squadron codes and the individual aircraft letter D - or, when spoken, D-Dog

These alphabets were used in phrases to emphasize or spell out an aircraft identification letter, e.g. "H-Harry", "G for George". In the RAF, each aircraft in a squadron was identified by a single letter. This single letter was not the multi-character aircraft serial number, which was painted on the tail. The serial number consisted initially of a single letter followed by four numbers, but as these variations ran out, the serial number consisted of two letters followed by three numbers, similar to motorcar licence plates of the time. The individual aircraft identification letter was painted on the side of the aircraft in large letters following the two-letter squadron designation code and the RAF roundel. This system uniquely identified an aircraft, because no squadron had more than 26 aircraft at the time.

The first spelling alphabet owes a lot to World War I Western Front "signalese" - the phonetic spelling used by signallers. Only "Ack", "Gee", "Emma", and "Esses" changed when the RAF radiotelephony spelling alphabet was adopted internationally. Possibly these were changed because the RAF radiotelephony spelling in phrases such as Ack-Ack: AA, anti-aircraft (fire), "ack emma" for AM, and "pip emma" for PM, had become common. New, unambiguous means of verbally communicating individual letters may have been sought. The original Royal Navy of World War I spelling alphabet differed more from the later NATO phonetic alphabet than the RAF radiotelephony spelling alphabet, with its use of the words "Apples" for "A", "Butter" for "B", "Duff" for "D", "Pudding" for "P", "Queenie" for "Q", "Tommy" for "T", "Vinegar" for "V", "Willie" for "W", "Xerxes" for "X", and "Yellow" for "Y.[1]

Notice to Airmen Number 107 of 1921 adopted the RAF radiotelephony spelling alphabet in use by the three armed services for civil aviation as well.[2]

Alphabets[edit]

< 1921 – 1942[2][3] 1942–1956[citation needed]
Ac (?)
Beer
Charlie
Don
Edward
Freddie
George
Harry
Ink
Johnnie
King
London
Monkey
Nuts 1
Orange
Pip
Queen
Robert
Sugar
Toc
Uncle
Vic 2
William
X-ray
Yorker
Zebra
Able
Baker
Charlie
Dog
Easy
Fox
George
How
Item
Jig
King
Love
Mike
Nan
Oboe
Peter
Queen
Roger
Sugar
Tare
Uncle
Victor
William
X-ray
Yoke
Zebra
  • 1 The choice of Nuts following Monkey is probably from "monkey nuts" = peanuts.
  • 2 "Vic" subsequently entered the English language as the standard (Vee-shaped) flight pattern of three aircraft.

1956–present[edit]

In 1956 the NATO phonetic alphabet was adopted due to the RAF's worldwide commitments with NATO and sharing of civil aviation facilities.[4]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Spelling alphabet
  2. ^ a b "Flight 1921". Flightglobal.com. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  3. ^ Keesing's Contemporary Archives, Volume 4, Part 2, 1942
  4. ^ "Alfa Bravo for R.A.F". Flightglobal.com. 1956-01-13. Retrieved 2014-08-11.