RAF phonetic alphabet

RAF phonetic alphabet

:"The RAF phonetic alphabet is not a phonetic alphabet in the sense in which that term is used in phonetics, i.e., it is not a system for transcribing speech sounds. See the phonetic alphabet disambiguation page, and also phonetic notation."

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 These have now all been superseded by the NATO phonetic alphabet.

They would be used in phrases to emphasize the aircraft identification, eg "H-Harry", "G for George". This letter was not the aircraft's serial number painted on the tail (two letters followed by three digits as in a motorcar license plate of the time) but was painted on the side of the aircraft in large letters following the two-letter squadron designation code and the RAF roundel. This worked because no squadron had more than 26 aircraft.

The first alphabet owes a lot to World War I Western Front "signalese" - the phoenetic spelling used by signallers. Only Ack, Gee Emma and Esses changed. Possibly these were lost because they were already in use in phrases such as Ack-Ack: AA, anti-aircraft (fire) and "ack emma", "pip emma" for AM and PM. The Royal Navy of World War I differed more from the later alphabet having Apples, Butter, Duff, Pudding, Queenie, Tommy, Vinegar, Willie, Xerxes and Yellow.


*1 The choice of Nuts following Monkey is probably from "monkey nuts" = peanuts.
*2 "Vic" subsequently entered the English language as the standard (Vee-shaped) flight pattern of three aircraft.


In 1956 the NATO phonetic alphabet was adopted.

ee also

*Cockney alphabet
*Toc H - example of signalese carry-over.

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