Alpha Codes

Alpha Codes Used by Pilots

Did you know there is an aviation alphabet? English is the official language for every aviator. Pilots from every airline speak English at every airport. This is why international flight students make learning the language a priority. For the purpose of safety, much of aviation is standardized, including communication. Pilots use the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Phonetic Alphabet to communicate. Pilots never pronounce letters when they are transmitting to Air Traffic Control, and vice-versa. Instead, each letter of the alphabet is assigned a code word to represent the letter. These are easy to memorize, and you will use these terms frequently as a pilot. Pilots often speak in shorthand, or with abbreviations. However, when using the alpha code, they say entire words to represent a single letter.

What does this have to do with flying? It’s all about clear communications. For example, there are even special ways to pronounce numbers.

What are the alpha codes?

A – Alfa
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

What is the origin of the alpha code?

Radio telephony 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 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) accepted it. The words were chosen to be accessible to French, Spanish, and English speakers.

Other names for this alpha code include International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet (IRSA) and the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) phonetic alphabet. Also, some call it ITU (International Telecommunication Union) phonetic alphabet. In other words, this alpha code can be referred as the ICAO/ITU/NATO Phonetic Alphabet or International Phonetic Alphabet.

Another alpha code is Morse code. Many people have learned this using a song. Although originally used in radio telegraphy, 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.

Alpha Morse Code Key

See? Wasn’t that Echo-Alpha-Sierra-Yankee to learn? You can download a print version to study.