Alternate NATO alphabet

I was at the airport the other day, and there was a tram to take passengers from one terminal to the next. At each spot, a recorded voice would say “Next stop A gates, A as in Alpha”. And so on, with “B as in Bravo”, “C as in Charlie”, “D as in David”, “E as in Echo”, and “F as in Foxtrot” (and there the train ended).

Wait… David? But when I thought about it, it made sense: If they had used the standard “Delta”, it would have caused confusion with Delta Airlines.

But then it occurred to me, that this sort of situation probably isn’t unprecedented: It probably happens other times, that one of the words of the NATO radio alphabet might also mean something relevant for some specific situation. Maybe there’s an Italian town somewhere named Romeo that needs to be defended. Maybe you’re prepping for an operation that will take place in November. Maybe you’re doing joint operations with an African force, from the Zulu tribe. The logical choice, it seems to me, would be to have an alternate word for each letter, like “David” instead of “Delta”, to swap in in case of any such ambiguity.

So, is there? And if so, what are the words used for it?


I fly bizjets, and I’m always reminded of this at Hartsfield in Atlanta. You refer to the D taxiway as “Dixie” there rather than the normal “Delta” to avoid confusion since its that airline’s hub. There are signs about this on the taxiway, I believe.

There’s an alternate phonetic alphabet for amateur radio, too.

Huh, that’s the same airport that prompted the question. Either the trams aren’t consistent with the other usages, or they’ve changed it since last you flew.

In direct answer to the narrow version of the OP’s question, I’m not aware of any official DoD or ICAO list of approved alternate alphabet words.

Expanding to the more general question …

The Hartsfield taxiway D is definitely pronounced “Dixie”, although nobody but pilots or ATC will ever encounter that deviation from the ICAO/NATO alphabet; passengers won’t hear it. I can’t say anything about the voiceover on the Hartsfield terminal underground train; we now park at the T gates and walk to/from security & bag claim, avoiding the need to use the train. I’ve not ridden it in years.

I’m not aware of any other examples in aviation (passenger side or air ops side) of local alternate phonetic alphabet codewords.

Turning to non-aviation …

I grew up near Disneyland back in the 1960s/70s and visited many times. Their vast parking lot was served by a network of open-air multi-trailer trams towed by small tractors driven by crewmembers who kept up a patter as we all rode to and from our fake wood-sided station wagons and sedans with big fins. All with neither seatbelts, crumple zones, nor air conditioning. It was a simpler, more innocent (and much more hazardous) time.

The parking lot sections were marked with letters of the alphabet on large signs on each light stanchion. During the patter the driver would announce each section of the lot. Repeated over and over in hopes the customers would remember their lot location 10 exhausting hours later. So far, so typical. Here’s where it gets interesting … All of which had codewords that were Disneyfied. C was Cinderella, D was Dumbo, F was Fantasyland, G was Goofy, etc.

I’m not recalling all of the letters, but I have the impression they had a complete or nearly complete alphabet. Or is that a Disneybet® :slight_smile:

Related question: When did the “new” NATO alphabet come into being? I know it was after Cheech & Chong’s first album, because “Foxtrot” would have ruined the joke.

Yeah, I was aware of Disney’s version (which I think is complete; dunno what they do for X), as well as the older “Able Baker” one. But it sounds like replacing the letters isn’t a standardized thing, and ATL’s use of “David” or “Dixie” in place of “Delta” is just ad-hoc (especially if the same airport uses two different words in different contexts).

@silenus: Per

this came about in 1956 and had been under deliberate development and sorta organic convergence for about a decade before.

@Stranger_On_A_Train’s wiki cite says the same but from the police POV. Per that cite various US police forces used the Able Baker, etc., alphabet for decades afterwards and most apparently still do so today.

Good to know. C & C were basing their joke off of the 1947 ICAO alphabet.

“Able Baker Charlie to Roger Fox Dog.”

“Oh, wow. Somebody’s talking bad about Roger.”

I’ve been watching old Adam-12 episodes recently and noticed some of their phonetic letters were different. I didn’t know the LAPD had their own, which explains the difference. I had just assumed the words had changed over the years.

I go with a modified version for less confusion. Aisle, Bdellium, Cthulu, Djinn, Eye, …

Older English language phonetic alphabets:

The WWII Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, Fox came about from the Combined Communications Board making a standardized phonetic alphabet for use by all US and British services when communicating with each other, the full list as well as a myriad of older US and British branch specific lists going back to 1904 are listed there.

I’ll just say I’ve often had difficulty discerning Kilo from Zero through radio static, particularly when working with allied navies that might pronounce Kilo differently than a native English speaker. However, one way one can distinguish between closely related words, phonetic alphabet characters, or numbers is to consider the context. Very rarely does one read off a purely random string of numbers/letters. More often, at least in my experience, was to read off unit call signs or signals from a book that tended to specify a particular alphanumeric pattern. So if, for instance, someone called out on the radio for what sounded like Zero Six Delta, I would assume I heard it wrong, and they really said Kilo Six Delta, because the first and last character in a call sign like that is always a letter, and the middle character is always a number.

Still… I wish they’d change the word for K to make it more distinct from 0.

This thread reminds me of this one I started just over 19 years ago.

One of the other gotchas is the letter Q which is properly pronounced “KAY-beck”. Which sounds nothing like “KEE-loh” for K, but the “KAY” = “K” similarity invites not mishearing exactly but mistaken recognition leading to mis-transcription. There are certain contexts in the military where folks are indeed rattling off long strings of actually random letters from a cypher that the other end needs to copy verbatim. It was a semi-official standard = near universal technique in USAF to pronounce Q as “CUE-beck” in those circumstances.

Best post of the day, right there.

I did something similar for scambaiting.
R-Ritz (Young Frankenstein)

Since we’re past the point of factually answering the question…

I vaguely recall some long-ago conversations involving creating (very) short stories from the NATO phonetic alphabet. I think I remember:
Charlie Juliet Foxtrot Whiskey Tango Hotel November Papa.

Also: Yankee Uniform Sierra Delta Zulu Victor Bravo.

As long as you use “ghoti” for G I’ll go along. :slight_smile: