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Join us in Wonderopolis today as we learn about a special type of alphabet!

Have you ever wondered…

  • Can you speak in code?

  • Why were spelling alphabets developed?

  • When was the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet finalized?

Did you know?

We hope you think today’s Wonder of the Day is Golf — Romeo — Echo — Alfa — Tango! Can you decipher our code? If you can, you’re already doing G — R — E — A — T!

When airplanes started to fly in the skies, pilots and military officials quickly realized that a special code was needed. This would ensure that radio communications would be clearly understood. As a result, they developed spelling alphabets.

For example, some letters — such as “n” and “m” and “b” and “d” — sound similar. When communicating via radio, static and interference can make it easy to confuse these letters. So instead of saying these letters, pilots would use specific words that begin with those letters — such as “November” and “Mike” and “Bravo” and “Delta” — to make their communications clear.

After World War II, various spelling alphabets in use at the time were combined. It made it easier for all the countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance to use one standard spelling alphabet.

On March 1, 1956, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) finalized the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet (also known as the NATO spelling alphabet). The letters and their corresponding code words are:

A – Alfa

B – Bravo

C – Charlie

D – Delta

E – Echo

F – Foxtrot

G – Golf

H – Hotel

I – India

J – Juliett

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

Sometimes, variations are made to this standard spelling alphabet. For example, “Delta” is often replaced with a different word, such as “Data,” “Dixie” or “David,” at airports in the United States where there are many Delta Air Lines flights.

“Lima” is usually replaced by “London” in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. In several languages spoken in those countries, “lima” means “five.” This could definitely lead to confusion in radio transmissions!

Try it out!

Think you can memorize the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet? Study the code outlined in today’s Wonder and then put yourself to the test by taking this online quiz.

When you’re finished, try to come up with your own unique version of a secret spelling alphabet. For example, instead of starting with Alfa, Bravo and Charlie, you might come up with an animal-inspired spelling alphabet that starts with Anteater, Badger and Chimpanzee!

Care to share? Post your unique spelling alphabet on Facebook, so all your Wonder Friends can see what you come up with. We can’t wait to see how creative you are!

Wonder words to know and use:

  • international

  • radiotelephony

  • alphabet

  • decipher

  • communication

  • static

  • interference

  • treaty

  • alliance

  • consolidated

Still wondering?

In National Geographic Xpeditions’ Crack the Code activity, children use a map to plot geographic coordinates given on a list.

Wonder what’s next?

Tomorrow’s Wonderopolis weather forecast looks cloudy. Better bring an umbrella!

Article posted March 12, 2012 at 08:53 AM • comment • Reads 73 • see all articles

About the Blogger

Hi my name is Ellen. I love poetry.

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