RAF phonetic alphabet
- 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 These have now all been superseded by the NATO phonetic alphabet.
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.
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- 1 The choice of Nuts following Monkey is probably from "monkey nuts" = peanuts; likewise Orange and Pip can be similarly paired.
- 2 "Vic" subsequently entered the English language as the standard (Vee-shaped) flight pattern of three aircraft.
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