Aviation Alphabet – NATO Phonetic Alphabet

ICAO phonetic aviation alphabet or commonly known as NATO alphabet.

Aviation Alphabet
Aviation Alphabet

Let’s look to the brief history

During World War II many nations used their own spelling alphabets. For example  United States  adopted the Army and Navy radiotelephony alphabet during 1941. The aim was to standardize systems among all branches of its armed forces. In this alphabet the letter A was for ABLE and B was for BAKER and the alphabet was known as “ABLE BAKER”.

United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force adopted another one similar to ABLE BAKER during the war as well. Other British forces used another similar alphabet named RAF radio alphabet. It was similar to the phonetic alphabet used by Royal Navy during World War I.

United Kingdom, United States and Australia developed “Combined Communications Board (CCB)” in 1943 to enable the communication during joint operations of each other.

During World War II, U.S conducted significant research and development. F.D. Hand (Director of Communications in The Army Air Force and member of committee on CCB) with the help of Harvard University’s Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory made a report after his research.

The results showed that many of the words in the military lists had a low level of intelligibility. But that most of the deficiencies could be remedied by the judicious selection of words from the commercial codes and those tested by the laboratory. In a few instances where none of the 250 words could be regarded as especially satisfactory, it was believed possible to discover suitable replacements. Other words were tested and the most intelligible ones were compared with the more desirable lists. A final NDRC list was assembled and recommended to the CCB.

After World War II

After World War II many aviation staff (pilots, ground personnel) were using ABLE BAKER alphabet and this alphabet was officially used for international aviation. There was also a “ANA BRAZIL” alphabet in Latin America at the same time because many sounds were unique to English in ABLE BAKER alphabet.

IATA (International Air Transportation Association) recognized the need of a universal alphabet. They studied on a draft alphabet consisting common sounds from both English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. IATA presented this draft alphabet to ICAO (International Civil Aviation Authority) in 1947.

Jean Paul Vinay (Professor of Linguistics at the Montreal University) studied closely with ICAO during 1948 – 1949 to search and develop the spelling of the alphabet. After all revisions and further studies the revised alphabet was published on 1 November 1951. Some critics received from users like confusing words. “Delta” and “Extra” are criticized for the similarity between ABLE BAKER alphabet.

Later in 1952 ICAO decided to revise the alphabet and started further research. By early 1956 ICAO published the results of the research. NATO was in the process and by 1 March 1956 the new alphabet was published with just one revised word November (By NATO’s request depending on U.S. Air Force research).

The final version of the alphabet published on 1 March 1956 after all.

aviation - nato alphabet
Aviation Alphabet Examples

Training and Familiarity

To ensure effective utilization of the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, aviation professionals undergo training and must demonstrate proficiency in its application. Flight crew members, air traffic controllers, and ground personnel are educated on the alphabet’s correct pronunciation and encouraged to practice its use in simulated scenarios. Familiarity with the phonetic alphabet enhances communication skills and promotes efficient exchanges of information within the aviation community.


  1. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO): https://www.icao.int
  2. “NATO Phonetic Alphabet” – Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NATO_phonetic_alphabet
  3. “The Development of the NATO Phonetic Alphabet” – Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: https://airandspace.si.edu/stories/editorial/development-nato-phonetic-alphabet
  4. “The NATO Phonetic Alphabet: A Brief History” – Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): https://www.faa.gov/about/history/brief_history/nato_phonetic_alphabet/
  5. ICAO Radiotelephony Phonetic Alphabet – Annex 10 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation: https://www.icao.int/APAC/Meetings/2012_APANPIRG/10ANPIRG21/10ANPIRG21_IP19(2).pdf

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