Skip to main content
  1. Posts/

Common Pilot Terms and Phrases

·2403 words·12 mins·
Smart Flight Tracking And Analysis For Popular Flight Sims

Common Pilot Terms and Phrases #

The list of pilot terms is extensive, but these few should be enough to get you started. Some common everyday words have different meanings for pilots and others stand alone as jargon only understood by aviators or aircraft enthusiasts alike

Phrases or words used by pilots #

Some common everyday words may have different meanings for pilots. Some words are even common household words. Here are common pilot words and phrases used; some may be common.

  • Accident - an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft that could be fatal to anyone onboard or the aircraft. It may result in serious injury or death to a person.
  • Airfoil is the shape of wings, rotor blades, or any device used to create lift on an aircraft.
  • Airspace Classes - the types of airspace defined by ICAO that differentiate restrictions and limitations of flight depending on flight rules and speed.
  • Airspeed indicator - a primary flight instrument that displays the current Airspeed of an aircraft.
  • Alpha Code - the standard Phonetic alphabet used by aviators to communicate clearly with ATC and other pilots.
  • Attitude indicator - flight instrument that displays the aircraft’s orientation with regard to the imaginary horizon on the instrument.
  • Apron - a paved area in an airport where the aircraft can refuel, park, load, or unload cargo and passengers.
  • Approach - the part of a flight when the cockpit prepares for landing.
  • ATC - Air traffic Control - a ground-based service that provides traffic separation for aircraft by directing aircraft before takeoff landing and even traffic in the air.
  • Butter ****is a term used when a pilot lands an aircraft smoothly. Butter is a term to boast a very smooth landing.
  • Briefing - orientation has done either before or after the flight.
  • Cargo - anything that is carried on the aircraft.
  • Ceiling - this is commonly used to describe the lowest Altitude where clouds are present.
  • Centre of Gravity - (CG) is the point of balance in an aircraft.
  • Clearance - the authorization provided by ATC to proceed with a specific action in an ATC airspace. ATC clearances are required for the safety of all aircraft within certain airspace.
  • Cross-country - a type of flight requiring a certain amount of distance and a landing at a different airport to be tagged as a cross-country flight. Cross-country is required to obtain a Private Pilot License.
  • Dead Stick - an aircraft flying without engine power.
  • Drag - this is the opposite force of lift. It counteracts the lifting force of the aircraft. Example of usage: “Drag increases as the speed increases.”
  • Distress - an international signal sent to know that an aircraft is in danger and needs immediate assistance.
  • Dirty Configuration - this is a set-up with the flaps down.
  • ETA - Estimated time of arrival. Time of arrival on destination based on the local time.
  • ETD - Estimated Time of departure. Time of departure from your airport departure.
  • ETE - Estimated Time en Route. The estimated time of travel to a destination.
  • Finals - it is a leg in a pattern. This is the final leg before landing.
  • Elevator - Horizontal flight control surfaces that control the pitch of the aircraft.
  • Feathering - the event when variable pitch propellers are adjusted for better airflow.
  • Ferry Flight - a flight intended to deliver an aircraft to another location for different purposes such as maintenance and new acquisition.
  • Firewall - fire-resistant bulkhead located between the engine and other locations for safety in case a fire breaks out in the aircraft.
  • Five by Five - it is a phrase to know that the radio onboard is working perfectly.
  • Flaps - A retractable secondary flight control that creates more lift, lowering the stall speed of an aircraft.
  • Flare - is a procedure in which the pilots pull the nose up before the initial touchdown to reduce the Airspeed and lower it.
  • Flight plan - a document submitted to the authorities before the flight. The flight plan must be approved before starting a flight.
  • FOD - foreign object debris. Unnecessary objects or items that can be found at the airport that could cause damage to equipment or harm to personnel
  • General Aviation - a sector in civil aviation that includes all except commercial transport and aerial works.
  • Glass cockpit - An aircraft with a digital display instead of an analogue display.
  • Go-around - a procedure once a pilot aborts a landing and attempts another landing by flying another pattern.
  • Ground effect - an event that occurs when the aircraft is close to the ground. The ground effect increases lift as it gets closer to the ground.
  • Hand-off - it is called when an ATC gives instructions to another ATC regarding the radar identification of an aircraft.
  • Handshake - an interaction between two computers. A signal transmitted is called “ping”. Most of these interactions are done automatically. The computer may be a ground-based station or a satellite in orbit.
  • Hangar - a structure used to store aircraft for parking, repairs, upgrades, or other modifications.
  • Heavy - the term is used by ATC to categorize an aircraft with a takeoff weight of 136,000 kg or more. This term is used for traffic separation, especially between takeoffs or landings.
  • Horizontal Stabilizer - this provides stability for the aircraft to avoid unnecessarily pitching up or down of the aircraft.
  • ICAO - International Civil Aviation Organization, an agency under the U.N. that governs anything related to international air transport.
  • IFR - Instrument Flight Rules is a type of flight where pilots are not operating using visual reference and just relying on instruments.
  • Instrument Meteorological Conditions - (IMC) weather conditions where IFR flying is still permitted.
  • IAS - indicated Airspeed Airspeed displayed on the instrument onboard the aircraft.
  • Incident - any occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft other than an accident. It could affect the safety of operations.
  • Jet - an aircraft propelled by jet engines.
  • Joystick - a control column of an aircraft that is like a stick. It is a counterpart of a yoke if it is not present in the cockpit.
  • Knots - a common measurement of the speed of an aircraft.
  • Laminar Air - it is the smooth air travelling within the aircraft.
  • Lift - Force that propels an aircraft upward. Mainly generated by the wings.
  • Load Factor - a force produced by an aircraft accelerating or decelerating due to gravity. The measurement for load factors is in Gs, where G is equivalent to the acceleration due to gravity.
  • Longitudinal Axis - directional axis that is controlled by the rudder.
  • Limitations - restrictions or maximum safety limits of an aircraft given by the manufacturer. Some of these examples are weight, Airspeed, and fuel capacity.
  • Mach - a speed measurement relevant to the speed of sound. One mach = speed of sound.
  • Magnetic Compass - direction of the aircraft relative to magnetic North.
  • Magnetic North - The North where a magnetic compass points to. This North differs from the True North.
  • Magnetic Deviation - Error on the magnetic compass caused by other magnetic forces in an aircraft or outside factors that could affect the magnetic compass. For example, the electricity generated by the magnetos and alternators can cause magnetic deviation.
  • Magneto - an aircraft component that generates the high voltage for the spark plugs.
  • Mayday - this is an international distress signal that announces that the aircraft declares an emergency.
  • METAR - a weather report that is updated mostly on an hourly basis.
  • Morse Code - an old code that is used before. It is transmitted by beeps and written by dots and lines to identify certain letters in the alphabet.
  • MTOW - Maximum takeoff weight. The maximum allowable weight for an aircraft to commence a takeoff safely.
  • Naval - a term used by aviators relating to watercraft, ships or a navy.
  • NORDO - short for no radio, which means the aircraft lost all radio communication on the aircraft.
  • NOTAMs - also called Notices to airmen. published notices to pilots before their flights advising them of relevant information in real-time. For example closure of a taxiway or runway in an airport.
  • OAT - is short for outside air temperature.
  • Orbit - this is a manoeuvre to commence a 360-degree turn. A standard rate of turn must be followed during the turn. This is usually commenced for traffic separation.
  • Overshoot - when a landing aircraft runs beyond the runway length.
  • Pan! Pan! Pan! - it is a signal declaring the aircraft is in a state of urgency but not requires immediate assistance.
  • Payload - total loaded content on the aircraft, excluding the oil and fuel required for the trip. These include passengers, pilots, and cargo onboard.
  • Pilot in Command (PIC) - the individual responsible for the operation of the aircraft during the flight. It is the one responsible for the safety of the aircraft during the said operation.
  • PIREP - also known as Pilot Report- are reports made by pilots to ATC or other pilots to provide vital information. Most PIREPs are weather reports or runway conditions if debris is present on the runway.
  • Pitch - the movement of the aircraft’s nose upward or downward.
  • Pitot Tube - a small device outside an aircraft used to measure air pressure. The pitot tube is mostly used to read the Airspeed of an aircraft.
  • Primary Flight Display (PFD) - the main display of an aircraft where vital instruments are shown. PFDs are mostly found in glass cockpit aircraft.
  • Propeller - a part of the aircraft that rotates to create thrust.
  • Roger - a word used by pilots to confirm that they understand or receive the information provided.
  • Roll - the aircraft movement on its longitudinal axis.
  • Rotate - it is a term by which the aircraft reaches a certain speed that is safe to commence a takeoff.
  • Rudder - flight control responsible for the aircraft’s yaw movement.
  • Second in command (SIC) - designated pilot to take over the flight from the PIC.
  • Short Field - if the runway is shorter, the aircraft must utilize the runway efficiently on takeoff and landing.
  • Sideslip - when the aircraft aligns parallel to the wind and maintains the current heading despite the aircraft’s orientation.
  • Slip - the sliding movement inwards of an aircraft that happens when a steep turn occurs. Slip happens when the turn is uncoordinated.
  • Soft Field - a type of runway that is not paved. Commonly made from dirt, grass or gravel.
  • Souls On Board - a term used to count how many passengers are onboard the aircraft, including crew and pilots.
  • Squawk - a four-digit ID code set in the transponder of an aircraft. ATC gives the number to identify an aircraft.
  • Standard rate of turn - a turn the aircraft makes. The standard is 3° of heading per second or two minutes to make a full 360° turn.
  • Straight-and-level flight - a condition in which the aircraft maintains constant heading and Altitude during a flight.
  • Tail - the rear section of the aircraft where the horizontal and vertical stabilizers are located.
  • Tarmac - a paved area at an airport where an aircraft can park, refuel, load and unload cargo. Common to a hangar, but tarmac cannot be used for storage and maintenance of an aircraft.
  • Threshold - part of a runway with markings indicating the beginning of the runway.
  • Throttle - a device that controls the engine power of the aircraft.
  • Thrust - forward force that propels the aircraft forward.
  • Touch-and-Go - a series of takeoffs and landings at a runway without making a full stop. Used for pilot training and aircraft testing.
  • Transponder - an electronic device where you input the given squawk code. Used for aircraft identification by the ATC.
  • Trim Tab - secondary flight control used to relieve pressure on the primary flight control.
  • True Airspeed - The Airspeed of an aircraft is corrected by the errors caused by different factors such as Altitude and temperature.
  • True Altitude - a vertical height of an aircraft relative to the Mean Sea Level
  • Turbulence - a sudden shift of air caused by irregular atmospheric change. It is also known as rough air.
  • TWR - Tower, also known as ATC.
  • TWY - taxiways, these are marked areas in airports that are used for taxiing. Aircraft cannot use taxiways for takeoff, regardless of their length.
  • Upwind - a part of the traffic pattern parallels the runway.
  • Urgency - a state of an aircraft which concerns the safety of the aircraft, passenger or cargo onboard but does not require immediate action.
  • Useful load - the weight of items that pilots can load in an aircraft. Such as passengers, fuel, passengers, cargo and pilots.
  • UTC - Universal Time Coordinated, the standard time used for flight plans. It is used to have a standard time around the globe.
  • V Speed - list of speed limits in an aircraft that the manufacturer sets. Some speeds are stall speeds, maximum speed under smooth air, full flaps, extended speed and many other V speeds.
  • Visual - this means that you have visual confirmation on the said object, whether a runway, another aircraft or other things you may require to look for.
  • VFR - flight rules that use visual references or guides during a flight.
  • Visual Meteorological Conditions - (VMC) weather conditions required to operate VFR.
  • WILCO - is short for “will comply” which means will follow instructions from ATC or other pilots.
  • Wind Shear - a sudden hazardous change of wind vertically or horizontally.
  • Wx - is short for the weather.
  • Weight and balance - the computation is done preflight to determine the centre of gravity in an aircraft. It is done to compute if the aircraft’s centre of gravity is within limits.
  • XC - cross-country flight.
  • Yaw - the movement of the aircraft on the vertical axis. The left and right movement of the nose.
  • Yoke - a control column used by pilots to control the aircraft. It is the equivalent of a joystick in some aircraft.
  • Zulu Time - Also known as UTC, where all flight plan times are filed.

Summary #

The world of aviation can be an intense and complicated one, with all its unique jargon. There are many words or phrases that pilots use every day which may seem overwhelming at first glance but over time become common knowledge to those who spend enough time flying.