Terms of aviation

Aerobatics—Spectacular stunts, such as rolls and loops, performed in general aviation aircraft specially designed to withstand the stresses of such maneuvers.

AERODYNAMICS—Forces — such as resistance, pressure, and velocity — that affect the movement of air around moving objects, such as aircraft.

AERONAUTICAL CHARTS—Maps of the airspace designed to help pilots navigate.

ailerons—Moveable aircraft control surfaces located near the end of the wing which are used to make an aircraft bank or roll.

AIRCRAFT—Any man-made object the flies, including airplanes, blimps and helicopters.

AIRFOIL—Any surface designed to provide lift from the air through which it moves, including wings, control surfaces and propeller blades.

Airframe—The structure of the aircraft, not including the powerplant or engine.

AIRLINE—A company that is in the business of providing scheduled transportation.

AIRPORT—A field from which aircraft land and takeoff.

AIRSPACE—The part of the atmosphere above a particular land area.

AIRSPEED—The speed of an aircraft relative to the air.

AIR TAXI—A company that provides on-demand (instead of scheduled) commercial air transportation.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL (ATC)—The system of ground-based facilities that coordinates aircraft movement by tracking their progress using radar and communicating with pilots via radio.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER—A person who communicates with a pilot, usually by radio, directing the movement of aircraft, especially close to an airport.

AIRWAYS—Highways in the sky.

altimeter—A device that measures changes in air pressure to calculate how high an aircraft is flying.

ALTITUDE—The height that an aircraft is flying above the ground, usually expressed in the number of feet above sea level.

ANTI-ICING—A substance applied to the exterior of an aircraft before flight to prevent the formation of ice, which may impair the ability of an aircraft to fly. Also, a system that is used on board an aircraft to prevent the formation of ice on the wings, propellers, engine inlets and control surfaces.

APPROACH—The phase of flight in which an aircraft has begun its descent toward its destination airport.

ATTITUDE—The position of an aircraft in relation to the earth's horizon.

AUTOPILOT—Short for "automatic pilot," this is a control system that keeps an aircraft on a set course or speed so that the pilot does not have to steer or add power to the aircraft. Autopilots are most often used during the level, cruising portion of a flight.

AVIATOR—A person trained and qualified to fly an aircraft; the pilot.

AVIONICS—Short for “aviation electronics,” any electronic system used on an aircraft, primarily for navigation and communication.

BANK—To tilt an aircraft laterally and inwardly during forward flight.

BUSINESS AIRCRAFT—A general aviation aircraft used to support a business.

BUSINESS AVIATION—The use of general aviation aircraft to support a business. These activities can range from individuals who fly rented, single-engine, piston-powered airplanes to companies that have flight departments that operate fleets of jet airplanes and helicopters.

BUSINESS JET—A jet-powered general aviation aircraft that is used to support a company's business.

CAPTAIN—The pilot in command or aviator in charge of the flight, who usually sits in the left seat of the cockpit.

CEILING—The highest altitude from which the ground is still visible in a particular weather condition.

CHECKLIST—A written list of procedures used by pilots to ensure that all items that need to be completed during a flight are actually performed.

CLEARANCE— Permission granted by an air traffic controller that allows a pilot to taxi, land or takeoff an aircraft.

QUALITY CERTIFICATION—Of official approval granted by a government agency qualifying a pilot or aircraft to fly.

COCKPIT—The forward compartment of an aircraft where the pilots sit.

COCKPIT VOICE RECORDER—An audio system that records all the sounds made in the cockpit. Enclosed in a crash-proof container, this "black box" is used by accident investigators to help determine why an aircraft crashed.

COLLISION AVOIDANCE SYSTEM—A device that can detect when one aircraft may be flying too close to another and tells a pilot which direction to turn in order to avoid a collision.

COMPASS—A magnetic device that helps determine the direction an aircraft is flying.

SURFACE CONTROL—Moveable parts of the aircraft's wing and tail (or empennage) that are used to make an aircraft climb, descend or turn.

CONTROL TOWER—The building from which air traffic controllers direct the movement of aircraft on and around an airport.

COPILOT—A second pilot, who usually sits in the right seat of the cockpit assisting the captain, or who usually sits in the left seat of the cockpit.

CORPORATE AIRCRAFT—A general aviation aircraft used to support a corporation's business activities.

CORPORATE AVIATION—Often used interchangeably with the term "business aviation," this refers to the use of general aviation aircraft to support corporate business. Most corporations have flight departments that operate just one aircraft, but some large corporations fly and maintain fleets of airplanes and helicopters.

cowling—A removable cover or housing placed around a section of the aircraft, usually an engine.

CROSSWIND—Any wind that blows across the intended course of an aircraft, causing it to drift off course.

CRUISING SPEED—A steady, moderate speed considered optimum for long-range flight.

deicing—A system or substance that removes ice that has formed on an airborne aircraft.

downwind—Moving in the same direction as the wind is blowing.

DRAG—The air resistance encountered as an aircraft tries to move forward.

ELEVATOR—The control surface located on the horizontal tail of an aircraft that, when moved by the pilot, makes the airplane climb or descend.

EMPENNAGE—The rear portion or tail of the aircraft.

EMPTY WEIGHT—The weight of the aircraft alone, not including fuel, passengers or baggage.

enroute—On or along the way.

FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION (FAA)—The US government agency that establishes and enforces rules for aviation.

FIXED OPERATOR BASE (FBO)—An airport-based fueling and service center for aircraft, similar to a gas station for cars.

FLAP—Devices located on the trailing or rearward portion of the wing that can be extended to increase lift and drag, especially during takeoff or landing.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT—A person whose job is to help ensure the safety and comfort of aircraft passengers by providing meals, beverages and instructions on what to do in case of an emergency.

FLIGHT DATA RECORDER—A system that records the airspeed, altitude, heading and other operating characteristics of an aircraft in flight. Enclosed in a crash proof container, this “black box” is used by accident investigators to help determine why an aircraft crashed.

FLIGHT DEPARTMENT—The organization within a company that is responsible for flying and maintaining aircraft. People who work in a flight department can include pilots, maintenance technicians, schedulers / dispatchers and flight attendants.

FLIGHT MANUAL—A guide issued by an aircraft manufacturer that contains official information regarding the speed, operating limits and other essential guidelines for safely operating an aircraft.

FLIGHT PLAN—A formal document that describes the intended course of a planned flight.

FLIGHT SERVICE STATION (FSS)—An official aviation information center that pilots use to obtain up-to-date information on weather and airport conditions before starting a flight.

fuselage—The body of an airplane to which the wing, tail and landing gear are attached.

GENERAL AVIATION—All flying activities other than commercial (airline) and military aviation. General aviation aircraft, which includes everything from twoseat training airplanes to intercontinental business jets, can fly to about 10 times the number of airports that airliners can.


based national trade association representing US manufacturers of general aviation aircraft and parts.

GLIDE SLOPE—The part of an instrument landing system that provides a radio beam so that the pilot can follow a standard descent path to land at an airport.

GROSS WEIGHT—The maximum weight of an aircraft is designed to carry when taking off.

HANGAR—An airport building specially designed to house an aircraft.

HEADING—The course or direction in which an aircraft is moving, generally expressed in degrees of a circle (from zero to 360).

HEADWIND—A wind blowing directly against the course of an aircraft.

HELICOPTER—A type of aircraft that uses a rotor or propeller mounted on top of the fuselage to take off and land vertically, which allows it to operate without using a runway or airport.

HELIPAD OR HELIPORT—A small structure or paved area that is used by helicopters to take off and land vertically.

HOLDING PATTERN—To fly in a circle until an air traffic controller clears a pilot to proceed to its destination.

FLIGHT RULES (IFR) INSTRUMENT—These regulations for flying an aircraft when clouds, fog or other weather conditions make it difficult or impossible to fly by sight alone.

INSTRUMENT LANDING SYSTEM (ILS)—Electronic navigation equipment that uses a radio beam to guide pilots of descending aircraft along a standard path so they can land on a runway.

INSTRUMENT PANEL—The section of the cockpit located in front of the pilot that houses all the instruments, gauges and indicators that tell the pilot important information, such as airspeed, altitude and heading. The instrument panel is similar to an automobile dashboard.

JET—A type of aircraft powerplant that uses a turbine, which increases the flow of air through an engine, for power.

Knot—A unit of aviation speed that equals one nautical mile per hour, which is equivalent to 1.151 miles per hour.

LANDING GEAR—A system of wheels, floats or skis that are used to support an aircraft when it is one on the ground or in the water. Landing gears are either "fixed" (permanently extended) or "retractable" (which means they are pulled back inside the fuselage or wings of the aircraft once it becomes airborne).

LIFT—The aerodynamic force that tends to keep an aircraft in the air.

LOGBOOK—A book that contains a record of flights made by a pilot or maintenance procedures performed on an aircraft during its lifetime.

MAINTENANCE TECHNICIAN—A person who is trained and certified to maintain or repair an aircraft.

MULTIENGINE—An aircraft that has more than one engine.

NACELLE—The streamlined housing that encloses the engine.

N NUMBER OR TAIL NUMBER—The license plate of an aircraft that contains a series of numbers and / or letters that are painted on the fuselage near the tail of an aircraft. All aircraft registered in the United States have registration numbers that begin with the letter "N."

NATIONAL BUSINESS AVIATION ASSOCIATION (NBAA)—To a Washington, DC-based national trade association that is dedicated to improving the safety, efficiency and acceptance of business aviation. NBAA's membership includes more than 6,100 companies that are involved in flying general aviation aircraft for business purposes.

NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD (NTSB)—The US government agency that is responsible for investigating aircraft accidents.

NAUTICAL MILE—The standard unit of distance used in aviation. It equals 6,080 feet or 1.151 miles.

navaids—A shortened form of the words “navigational aids.” It refers to any system or device used to help guide a pilot while flying an aircraft.

Navcom—A shortened form of the words “navigation-communication.” It refers to any piece of aircraft equipment used by the pilot for navigation or communication purposes.

I DONT KNOW—The front portion of the aircraft.

NOTICE TO AIRMEN (NOTAM)—Special announcements used to alert pilots of unusual conditions around an airport.

OXYGEN MASK—A small face mask that is connected to a canister of oxygen. This system is used to be each person on board an aircraft in case there is a malfunction in the aircraft's pressurization system, which normally supplies air to breath at high altitudes.

PAYLOAD—The total weight of passengers and cargo that an aircraft carries or can carry.

PILOT—A person trained and certified to fly an aircraft; an aviator.

PILOT IN COMMAND—The captain or aviator in charge of the flight, who usually sits in the left seat of the cockpit.

PITCH, ROLL AND YAW—Terms used to describe the three-dimensional movement of an aircraft. Pitch is the rotation of an airplane around its lateral axis. Roll is the motion of an aircraft around its longitudinal axis. Yaw is the movement of an airplane around its vertical axis.

PowerPlant—An engine used to power an aircraft. There are four basic types of powerplants: a piston engine, which is similar to the engine used in a car, turns a propeller, which propels an aircraft by pulling the air over the wings. The jet engine uses a turbine to accelerate the flow of air without using a propeller. The turboprop uses a jet engine combined with a propeller. The turboshaft engine uses a jet engine and a rotor (or horizontally mounted propeller) to lift a helicopter and allow it to take off and land vertically.

Preflight—The testing procedure a pilot uses before flying to ensure that an aircraft's equipment and systems are working properly.

PROPELLER—A rotating airfoil with two, three or flour blades that is used to move an airplane forward.

pressurization—A system designed to maintain normal air pressure in an aircraft at higher altitudes, where the air is too thin to allow proper breathing.

RADAR—A shortened form of the words “radio detection and ranging.” Radar is a system that uses electronic pulses to measure how far away an object is. The distance is measured by timing how long it takes for the pulses to be transmitted from an airplane or ground facility and reflect or bounce off an object and return to their source. Airborne radar is used by pilots to detect thunderstorms and other severe weather, while ground-based radar is used by air traffic

controllers to track the direction and speed of aircraft.

RAMP—The paved area, usually located next to a hangar, where aircraft can be loaded, unloaded or parked.

RANGE—The maximum distance an aircraft can fly without being refueled.

RIVET—A small metal pin that is used to attach the various sheet metal parts of an aircraft.

ROTORCRAFT—An aircraft that uses rotors; the helicopter.

RUDDER—The movable vertical portion of the tail (or empennage) that is used to control the yawing movement of an aircraft.

RUN-UP—The process of increasing the power of an aircraft engine before takeoff to check and see that the powerplant and propeller are operating properly.

RUNWAY—A strip of level, usually paved ground on which aircraft take off and land.

Scheduler / Dispatcher—A member of the flight department who is responsible for making all the non-mechanical arrangements — such as obtaining permits — to prepare an aircraft for a flight. They also make and maintain lists of the times an aircraft is supposed to depart, arrive and be serviced.

SIMULATOR—A mechanical device that resembles a cockpit and is used by pilots to learn and practice flight maneuvers while on the ground.

SKIN—The outer covering of an aircraft, usually made of sheet metal, but can also be fabricated or wood, especially on older airplanes.

SPIN—A maneuver in which the aircraft, after experiencing an aerodynamic stall, descends with its nose pointing toward the ground while rapidly turning around its vertical axis.

STABILIZER—A fixed (non-movable) horizontal or vertical part of the tail that keeps the aircraft stable as it flies.

STALL—An aerodynamic condition in which the smooth flow of air over a wing or other airfoil is disrupted, thus decreasing the amount of lift produced and causing the aircraft to cease flying.

STICK—The control and steering wheel of an airplane, sometimes called the


TAIL—The rear most part of an aircraft fuselage.

tailwind—A wind that is blowing from behind an aircraft, helping it fly faster.

TAKEOFF—The point in a flight when the aircraft leaves the ground or runway and becomes an airborne.

TAXI—To move an aircraft slowly on the ground or on the surface of the water before takeoff or after landing.

TAXIWAY—A paved strip on the airport that leads from the ramp to the runway.

THROTTLE—The cockpit lever that increases engine power, allowing an aircraft to takeoff or accelerate if it is already airborne.

THRUST—The forward force developed in a jet engine as a reaction to the highvelocity rearward ejection of exhaust gases.

TOUCHDOWN—The moment when the wheels of an landing aircraft touch the surface of a runway.

PATTERN TRAFFIC—A low-altitude course, usually an oval, around an airport that airplanes must follow in order to ensure the safe flow of aircraft to the runway.

TRANSPONDER—A transmitter-receiver that sends a unique, coded signal to ground radars, thus allowing air traffic controllers to identify and track individual aircraft.

TRIM—A device that allows the pilot to adjust the attitude of the aircraft without having to constantly move the elevators.

TURBULENCE—A disturbance or uneven flow of air that causes an aircraft to bounce in flight.

upwind—Flying an aircraft in the opposite direction the wind is blowing.

VECTOR—A heading given to a pilot by an air traffic controller via radio communication.

VISIBILITY—The distance that one can clearly see in the air.

VISUAL FLIGHT RULES—The regulations for flying an aircraft in clear weather by sight alone.

WAYPOINT—A reference point in the airspace used for navigational purposes.

WEATHER BRIEFING—The official forecast information that a pilot gets from a flight service station before departing on a flight.

WEIGHT AND BALANCE—The mathematical calculations done to determine if the cargo and / or passengers aboard an aircraft are loaded properly.

WING—The large airfoils that extend out from either side of the middle of an airplane's fuselage to provide the lift needed to fly.

YOKE—The control and steering wheel of an airplane, sometimes called the “stick.”