Pilot´s alphabet history explained by Captain Joe
- Published on Apr 17, 2016
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Back in the early days of aviation radio communication wasn´t as clear as it is today. Antennas picked up all sorts of static noises which made it difficult to understand the transmitter at the receiving end.
So in the 1950´s, the ICAO (The International Civil Aviation Organization) developed a so called „spelling alphabet“ or „phonetic alphabet“.
The whole idea of developing this alphabet was to reduce misunderstandings whilst communicating via radio and to standardize one spelling alphabet for the entire aviation industry at the time.
The final choice of code words for the letters of the alphabet was made after hundreds of thousands of comprehension tests involving many different nationalities to agree on 26 codewords for the 26 letters in the alphabet which are the most least similar to each other when being pronounced.
I´ll give you an example. When you transmit a message containing letters and numbers, you use the spelling alphabet to avoid confusions, because many letters sound very similar, for example the letter „M“ and „N“ or „B“ and „D“.
If you would have to read back this clearance, „proceed to beacon MIQ“ you could mistake M for the letter N, so therefore the air traffic controller will say, „proceed to beacon Mike-India-Quebec“ to minimize the chance of misunderstanding.
Similar solution with numbers.
For example, the air traffic controllers very often give you clearances like: „Speedbird-125-Hotel climb flight level two five zero, free speed“ you could mix up the „free“ with the english number three, so therefore the three is pronounced as „tree“ like the english word for tree. The same goes for the number „nine“, nine sounds like the german word „nein“, which means „no“, therefore you pronounce the number nine as „niner“.
Also important, numbers are always pronounced separately, for example, „climb flight level „tree-niner-zero“" instead of „climb flight level three hundred and ninety“.
Of course exceptions prove the rule, for example Flight level 100/200/300 are pronounced Flight level 100/200/300 and airline callsigns can be „EasyJet one-hundred Xray“ or „Lufthansa Triple-six two“.
I hope I was able to answer this aviation related question for you, and I´ve uploaded another video where you can practice the spelling alphabet with pictures relating to the coded letter. Make sure to check it out !
- Science & Technology