Thursday, December 13, 2012

Why Does NATO Have Its Own Alphabet?

If you've ever watched Police, Camera, Action in the UK or Cops in the U.S. then you know that registration/license plates are always read using the old phonetic alphabet: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc...
Alpha is also the first letter of the Greek alphabet.

This system is known as the NATO Phonetic Alphabet or its more complicated and dull name, the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet. If you've ever asked how to spell somebody's name over the phone it can become quite complicated. S and F are hard to distinguish as are B, C, D, E, G, P, T, V and Z (if you're American... zed doesn't sound anything like those letters).

The alphabet was needed for pilots and crews when saying letters in radio transmissions. The International Civil Aviation Authority needed such a system because when you're in charge of flying tonnes of metal, a high quality of information between the air and the ground is essential to prevent killing people.

NATO saw this and thought it wasn't too bad. They adopted it. Of course it's not imperative that you learn this, unless you're in any of the emergency services, aviation or the military. We've found that "S for Sugar" and "F for Freddy" tends to work just fine instead. However, we do imagine you probably wouldn't have time to work out which words to use for each letter if you're chasing down a perp who's making a break for the Mexican border...

S can also be for sugar.

For anyone in the UK, trying to explain your postcode over the phone begins to get tricky as the system uses a combination of numbers and letters, which allows for more combinations as well as opportunities to get it wrong. Online shopping probably took off because mail-order over the phone probably never arrived at the right address!

Here's the full NATO alphabet for your perusal... guess which one's our favourite!
Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliett Kilo Lima Mike November Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Uniform Victor Whiskey X-ray Yankee Zulu

Did you guess correctly?