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. Give it a try. Spell the words “bend” and “dumb” out loud. You’ll see how similar those letters sound.

When communicating via radio, static and interference can make it easy to confuse these letters. Can you imagine flying an airplane with lots of noise around you? It would be hard to concentrate on what’s coming over the radio in addition to paying attention to all the gauges on the airplane!

So instead of saying individual letters to communicate words, 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!

Of course, over time, airplane engines have gotten quieter and technology has helped scientists and inventors to improve communications tools greatly. Today, pilots can probably hear much more clearly than they could in the past. Even still, modern pilots continue to use the NATO spelling alphabet to communicate when they’re in the air.

137 Join the Discussion

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    • We’re so glad you liked today’s Wonder, Anne! Have FUN using this code with your sister…and THANKS for sharing Wonderopolis with her, too! :-)

    • It’s fun to learn new things every day in Wonderopolis, isn’t it, Hannah? We can’t wait to visit tomorrow’s Wonder, either! :-)

  1. HI WONDEROPOLIS! Loved todays Wonder, it goes right along with my Dad being a pilot, so now when I go flying with him and he talks in code, I’ll know what he’s talkin’ about! :)

    I-ndia

    L-ima
    O-scar
    V-ictor
    E-cho

    W-hiskey
    O-scar
    N-ovember
    D-elta
    E-cho
    R-omeo
    O-scar
    P-apa
    O-scar
    L-ima
    I-ndia
    S-ierra!!!!!!!!

    • Thanks so much for sharing your personal connection to today’s Wonder and also for sharing that GREAT message in code, Madalynn! How COOL that your dad is a pilot! We think he will be surprised when you tell him you understand what he’s saying when he’s communicating with others while flying! :-)

  2. Hey, wonderopolis, great video, but I didn’t understand all of it. Stephen commented yesterday and he is in my class, too. Your fortune cookie video was hilarious. P.S. Your website rocks!

    • We think YOU ROCK for visiting today’s Wonder and leaving us this SUPER comment, Ella! We hope you (and Stephen and EVERYONE in your class) have a GREAT day! :-)

  3. I love the new wonder of the day!!!!!!!!!!!!! It rocks!!!!!!!!! I soooooo want the wonder of the day be….
    …………. CAN DOGS SAVE LIVES???? Please I really want the next one to be that!!

    • It makes us happy that you liked today’s Wonder, Hailey, and we really appreciate your idea for a future Wonder about dogs saving lives! We get LOTS of ideas for Wonders every day from our AWESOME Wonder Friends like YOU! It takes a good bit of time to go from “Wonder idea” to “Wonder of the Day®.” There is a lot of WONDERing that happens behind the scenes to make each Wonder the best it can be! :-)

    • Happy Wednesday, Wonder Friend Bob! We’re sorry you didn’t care for today’s Wonder of the Day®. We hope you will give learning in Wonderopolis another try! We have over 500 different Wonders to choose from about ALL KINDS of AWESOME things, and there’s a brand new Wonder of the Day® ever day! :-)

  4. Hey, long time no see! That is soooo cool. I never knew that! My friend is into world war stuff, but I’m not a big fan. So that’s cool! I guess you really do learn something new every day!
    See you tomorrow maybe!

    • It’s GREAT to hear from you, Mak! We agree with you about learning something new every day! It sure is FUN and easy to do in Wonderopolis! :-)

  5. Hotel Alfa Papa Papa Yankee
    Whiskey Oscar November Delta Echo Romeo
    Whiskey Echo Delta November Echo Sierra Delta Alfay Yankee!

    We’ve had fun writing words using the code. Thank you for a WONDERful Wonder!

    • Happy Wonder Wednesday to each of you, as well, Mrs. Phillips’ WONDER Class! We really enjoyed reading your special coded message to us…it was VERY COOL! :-)

    • We think with a little practice, you would be GREAT at speaking in code, Zoe! We think you should give it a try! Here’s a message for you:

      Y – Yankee
      O – Oscar
      U – Uniform

      C – Charlie
      A – Alfa
      N – November

      D – Delta
      O – Oscar

      I – India
      T – Tango

      :-)

    • Hi, Rylan! Thanks so much for your comment today! LOTS of people speak in code as an important part of their job…airline pilots, submarine commanders, air traffic controllers…there are MANY people who get to speak in code every day! :-)

    • You’re right, Jordan! Here’s a special coded message just for you:

      H – Hotel
      I – India

      W – Whiskey
      O – Oscar
      N – November
      D – Delta
      E – Echo
      R – Romeo

      F – Foxtrot
      R – Romeo
      I – India
      E – Echo
      N – November
      D – Delta

      :-)

  6. Dear Wonderopolis,
    We love the wonder of the day. We had fun writing our names in code.
    Tango Hotel Alpha Noevmber Kilo Sierra!

    • We think that’s SO AWESOME, Mrs . Smith’s Grade 2,3 Class! Thank YOU for sharing your comment with us today and for exploring this Wonder together! :-)

    • We appreciate all of our Wonder “peeps,” Mac! We really enjoy receiving the AWESOME comments we get from them each day…THANK YOU for yours! :-)

  7. Dear Wonderopolis,
    At first I could not find it, but then I did, so thank you for putting the anwser on here for all of us to see!!
    H – Hotel
    I – India

    W – Whiskey
    O – Oscar
    N – November
    D – Delta
    E – Echo
    R – Romeo

    F – Foxtrot
    R – Romeo
    I – India
    E – Echo
    N – November
    D – Delta

    • Happy Wednesday, Wonder Friend La! Thank you for sharing your comment with us! We’re so glad you visited this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  8. I just love wonderopolis!!! It is the best thing to do in the whole world!!!!
    But, one more thing, is there a wolf or fox one please make one if there is not!! Anyway, I LOVE WONDEROPOLIS!!!!!

  9. Wonderopolis,
    I think that this is a very interesting wonder of the day. Do you think that you can do one on penguins, like why can`t penguins fly or something. I just love wonderopolis!
    :) :D It is awesome.

    • We’re super happy that you like today’s Wonder, Brandie! Thanks so much for leaving us this comment to let us know that! :-)

    • We’re sorry you were frightened by today’s Wonder, Cheyenne! We hope you will visit Wonderopolis again tomorrow…there will be another new, FUN Wonder of the Day® to explore! :-)

  10. Dear wonderopolis,
    That was a funny song because when I kept playing it. I almost got in trouble for singing it out loud. Alfo bravo delta echo. It was a funny sing-a-long song for people and little kids. I listed to it like five times, when I was suppose to listen to it like one time.

    Love, Kyra

    • It makes us super happy that you liked the video for today’s Wonder so much that you listened to it five times, Kyra! Wonder Friend, Cheyenne did, too! You guys are GREAT Wonder Friends! :-)

    • We’re super glad you liked it, Christian! Thanks so much for letting us know…and THANKS for visiting Wonderopolis! :-)

  11. H-otel
    I-ndia

    I-ndia

    T-ango
    H-otel
    I-ndia
    N-ovember
    K-ilo

    I-ndia
    T-ango
    S-ierra

    C-harlie
    O-scar
    O-scar
    L-ima

    Caelah

  12. I LOVE the wonder!!!!!!!!!
    You should do wonders like this more often.
    P.S. You should do a wonder about F22 fighter plane. :)

  13. HI I CAN DO SOME OF THE ALPHABET WITH DIFFERENT WORDS LIKE
    A-ASHLYN
    B-BRADLEY
    C-CAT
    D-DAVID
    E-EDWARD
    F-FISH OR FRADY OR FEAD OR FREAD
    G-GOOD
    H-HANNAH
    I-ILIZABEATH
    J-JAKIE
    K-KITE
    L-LILLY
    M-MILLY
    N-NIKE
    O-OLVER OR OLIVA
    P-POP
    Q-QAL`LEE
    R-RANY OR RAY
    S-STILLER OR SHINE OR STOLK
    T-TARNY OR TINY
    U-UNACORN
    V-VIKEY OR VACKUM
    W-WILLY OR WALLY
    X-X-RAY
    Y-YARN OR YACK
    Z-ZACK OR ZEVINN

  14. 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

    I got it! YAY!!!!! This is SO much fun!!! :D :)

    • You DID get it, Grace! Way to go…we’re proud of you! Thanks for visiting this Wonder and having fun with the alphabet! :-)

  15. Your wonders are so WEIRD!!! and……AWESOME!!! You should make a wonder about why eeiphants like peanuts or why dogs chase cats!

    • Those are both AWESOME ideas for future Wonders of the Day®, Sierra! We appreciate your comment and your opinion! :-)

    • Hello, Charlie! We think that’s AWESOME! Thanks so much for letting us know you might try speaking in code one day! :-)

  16. Hi Wonderopolis!
    This was a very cool wonder! I understood most of it because I know TONS of ASL.
    Yankee Oscar Uniform
    Alfa Romeo Echo
    Alfa Whiskey Echo Sierra Oscar Mike Echo!!!

    • We think YOU are AWESOME, too, Food Allergy Girl! Thanks so much for sharing this super nice comment with us! :-)

  17. Hi, wonderopolis. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about rain I think it starts with. I liked the part when I learned the secret code. Bye, wonderopolis.

    • We’re so glad to hear that you liked this Wonder, Emily! Thanks so much for sharing this GREAT comment with us today! :-)

  18. Hi wonderoplis! I love today’s wonder! I am in Mrs. Smith’s gr. 2,3 class! Hotel Alfa Victor Echo Alfa Golf Romeo Echo Alfa Tango Delta Alfa Yankee!!!!! From, Delta Yankee Lima Alfa November

  19. I loved today’s wonder. Can tomorrow’s wonder be a brainteaser, please? Well, I just wanted to say I love today’s wonder. :)

    • We’re so glad that you loved today’s Wonder, Cindy! We’ll all have to visit Wonderopolis tomorrow to see what the new Wonder of the Day® is…we can’t wait! :-)

    • Hi, Veronica! Please tell Ms. Collins we think she’s AWESOME for sharing Wonderopolis with you and your classmates! We’re glad you have FUN learning in Wonderopolis! :-)

    • We think HOCKEY IS COOL, too, Awesome Super Dude! We’re sure glad you stopped by Wonderopolis today and left us this COOL message in code! :-)

    • We think that’s AWESOME, Kaya! Thank you for sharing that you learned to read code at school…that sounds like so much FUN! :-)

  20. WHY WOULD DID THEY USE THE DIFFERENT GRAPHICS FOR THE VIDEO? BUT THEY WERE COOL, LOL, AND I LOOK FORWARD TO LOOKING AT YOUR WEBSITE. ByE

    • We’re glad you are looking forward to visiting Wonderopolis even more, Jazzi! We appreciate hearing that! :-)

  21. Totally curious with Wonderopolis!
    Excited to learn more!
    Amazed on all of the interesting things!
    Mind reader!

    Wondering how to speak in code
    I want to do tricks with speaking in code!
    Love Wondeopolis!
    Crazy to do the trick that I am planning to do!
    Have to do it quick!

  22. I-india

    L-lima
    O-oreo
    V-victory
    E-evergreens

    L-laugh
    E-ears
    A-apples
    R-rings
    N-no
    I-indiana
    N-nope
    G-grandma
    YEAH

  23. AMAZING
    BUTTERFLIES
    CRAZY
    DOODLES
    ELEPHANTS
    FLORIDA
    GAGA
    HAPPY
    INDIANA
    JACK’O’LANTERNS
    KENZIE
    LILACS
    MARVELOUS
    NICE
    OAK
    PINE
    QUICK
    READING
    SUPER
    TEARS
    UMBRELLA
    VENUS
    WONDEROPOLIS
    X-RAYS
    YO-YOS
    ZEBRAS

    • Hi, Nate! Thanks for sharing a little about yourself and also for letting us know you liked the video for today’s Wonder! :-)

  24. Those are both AWESOME codes, Team Wilch #5 and #10! Way to go, and THANK YOU for sharing them with us! :-)

  25. Thank you very much. I love codes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Woo, hoo! We’re super happy to hear that, Ashlyn! Thank you for visiting this Wonder of the Day® and letting us know you liked it! :-)

  26. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Awesome wonder! Anyone can make up their own coded or secret message/language. The military uses secret codes to communicate. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about bugs.
    XOXOXOXOXO,
    Paige ;)

    • We had a lot of fun with this code Wonder, Paige, and we hope you did, too! Thanks for another AWESOME comment! :-)

  27. The wonder of the day was fantastic. Maybe the saying is right…”you learn something new everyday”. thank you wonderopolis…!!!!!

    • We know WE sure learn something new every day when we visit Wonderopolis, Jazmen! We’re so glad you do, too! :-)

    • Thanks for noticing that we changed the background in Wonderopolis today, Alexa! We try to change it once a week to a new, fun, EXCITING background that we hope will inspire our Wonder Friends to WONDER even more! :-)

    • Thanks for letting us know what you thought about the video for this Wonder of the Day®, Kennedy! We appreciate your comment! :-)

    • Hello, Trashon! We appreciate hearing that you thought the video for this Wonder was nice! We’re so glad you liked watching it and learning even MORE about speaking in code! :-)

    • Thanks so much for your super nice comment, Madelyn! We’re really glad you liked the video for this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • We think that’s GREAT, Tejauna! Thank you for sharing something you learned about in Wonderopolis with your mom! :-)

    • That’s OK, Colin! You can do it! Sometimes when we want to learn a long list of things, we find it helpful to break up the list into smaller parts and learn one small part every day! After a few days, we know the whole list! Maybe that might help you learn all the parts of this code, too! :-)

  28. I really liked you video, it’s catchy. You should do another one like it, but I still don’t know how to speak code. You should teach me how. I think that would be really fun. I’m going to look at more of your videos, so bye.

    • We’re so glad you liked the video for this Wonder of the day®, Cheyenne! We think it would be a COOL and WONDERful idea if you made up your OWN code…then you could share it with everyone in Wonderopolis! :-)

  29. Me and Cheyenne are friends. We go to the same school, too, and we are like in every class. Even when we were watching this video, we were sitting right by each other. I like watching. I think you should have done the first part fast.

    • Thanks for letting us know that you and Cheyenne are friends and classmates, Kyra! We like learning about our Wonder Friends and think it is GREAT that you both like visiting and learning in Wonderopolis! :-)

  30. I’M IN KYRA’S AND CHEYANNE’S CLASS RIGHT NOW, AND I LEARNED ALL THE CODE, BUT I DON’T WANT TO SAY IT ALL, BECAUSE IT’S REALLY LONG.

    • That’s OK, Colin! We’re just glad you visited this Wonder and shared your comment with us today! We appreciate that very much! :-)

    • Lalalalala,

      Oh no! We’re sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy this Wonder. We hope you’ll keep exploring Wonderopolis. We’re sure you’ll find plenty of Wonders you’ll think are WONDERFUL! :)

    • We think your comment RULES, Anna! Thanks for being such a great Wonder Friend…we’re glad you liked this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  31. I know what s & y stand for. S for Steve and Y for Yzerman, meaning Steve Yzerman. Hey Wonderopolis, you should make one for hockey. And you’re right WONDEROPOLIS DOES RULE!!!!!

    Mushkale

  32. Did the radiotelephone spelling alphabet do its job? Even though it is not related to this topic I learned that in some languages “lima” means five. I now think of March 1st as a holiday. I think that ICAO & NATO are really smart people to think of the radiotelephone spelling alphabet. Why can’t people change delta to another word that wouldn’t cause so much confusion? This wonder has given me a lot to think about. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • We’re super proud of you for WONDERing even more about this Wonder after you were through exploring it, Team McNeil 8! We like how your Wonder brain works! Thanks for being such a GREAT friend of Wonderopolis! :-)

    • Welcome to Wonderopolis, Jonah! We’re glad your teacher told you about us! We hope you have as much fun learning and WONDERing here as we do every day!

      P.S. Please tell your teacher that we think he or she ROCKS for inspiring you to WONDER! :-)

  33. Hey, I just saw your video again. I think it’s so cool. It’s my favorite. I also think me and that girl need to go shopping sometime. I still don’t know all of the alphabet yet, but I’m pretty sure I will love that video you need to make movies just saying -<3- cheyenne j

    • We’re so glad you hear from you today, Cheyenne! Thank you so much for exploring this past Wonder of the Day® and leaving us a comment to let us know you were here! We think that ROCKS! :-)

  34. Tango Hotel Alfa Tango India Sierra Alfa Whiskey Echo Sierra Oscar Mike Echo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Wow, Bob! Thanks for letting us know you thought this Wonder was AWESOME! :D We LOVE how you used what you learned in the Wonder to create your comment! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Can you speak in code?
  • Why were spelling alphabets developed?
  • When was the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet finalized?

Wonder Gallery

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Try It Out

Ready to learn more about the ABCs? Grab a friend or family member and give one or more of the following activities a try:

  • Talk slowly through the regular alphabet, all the way from A to Z. Then write out the alphabet on a piece of paper. You already learned that B and D and N and M can sound alike. What other letter combinations might be easy to confuse over the radio? How many other similar-sounding pairs of letters can you come up with?
  • Think you can memorize the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet? If you want to fly an airplane one day, you might need to do just that! Study the code outlined in today’s Wonder of the Day and then put yourself to the test by taking this online quiz. Did you miss a few? If so, that’s OK. Use technology to help you memorize the letters you couldn’t remember. Watch today’s video a couple of times and use the visual images to help you remember the words for those letters.
  • How creative are you? Can you 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!

Still Wondering

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

 

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