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Aviation Jargon: 45 Terms Aviation Enthusiasts Should Know

I love jets. I love turboprop planes. I love gliders. I love rockets. I love air shows and I love taking a private charter flight over the mountains just for sight-seeing. In short, if it involves aircraft, I love it. I still recall the first time I was invited to take a private tour of General Electric Aircraft Engines Sharonville, Ohio facility(Cincinnati). I felt like a kid again. So in keeping with my love of all things air, I figured other flight enthusiasts would enjoy a small taste of life in the cockpit.

Just like any other work group or technical flock of birds, pilots have a full set of slang terms that they use during conversations or during flight. These professionals use terms that could be as baffling to the uninitiated as a doctor’s explanation of the Da Vinci surgical method to a 10th grader. The following list is a sampling of the terms used by pilots worldwide. It is an interesting list which has developed over time as the aviation industry has changed. Enjoy.

ABORT – Cancel a mission at the last minute; pertaining to takeoffs and landing or dropping a bomb and occasionally opening fire on a target.
Augur In – Have a major accident
Bailing out (bail out) – Jump out of the plane or ejecting from a plane
Barrel Roll – An acrobatic maneuver in which a plane does a complete roll on its longitudinal axis while flying level.
Bird men – Pilots
Bird Dog – Automatic Direction Finder (ADF) or radio compass
Black Out – Temporary blindness due to centrifugal pressure during steep turns
Blowtorch – Jet engines, jet airplane
Boom Carpet – Area on the ground that where sonic boom from shockwaves are heard as the jet passes
Buy the ranch/ farm – A fatal crash (basically referring to the crash site as ‘the ranch’ or ‘farm’)
Buzzing – Diving close to the ground especially near human population
Chopper – A helicopter, of course
Creamed (his bird) – Crashed his aircraft
Dead Stick Landing – Landing an aircraft without power
ETA – Estimated time of arrival
Feather the prop – Adjust the pitch of the blades of a propeller to which power has been cut off so they do not create air resistance
Five by five – Radio receptions is loud and clear (loudness and clarity being measured on a scale of 1 – 5)
Flame out – Loss of fire in the combustion chamber, causing a power failure in a jet engine
Flat out – flying at full speed or full throttle
Flying the beam – Flying along a radio beam transmitted especially for aerial navigation as a guide
Flying the needles – The controls of a flight or flight instrumentation
George – Automatic pilot System
Grease it on – Make a perfect landing (beautiful landing)
Idiot Lights – Lights that goes on or blink signaling instrumentation failure
Landing Hot – Landing at speeds above normal landing speeds
Machbusting – Flying faster than the speed of sound (mach = measurement of sound speed)
No-Go Gauge – Cockpit instruments that indicate the malfunction of other instruments (Idiot lights)
Nose Over – Upending unto the nose
Panic Rack – The ejection seat mechanism including the seat
Porpoising – Pitching motion that aircraft’s experience at the transonic speed range
Prang – to have an accident
PROP (or Jet) – Blast of air behind the engines
Wash – Nonsensical conversation
Roger – Ok or yes, usually meaning ‘message received and understood
S.O.B – Souls on board, a term that is usually used to account for the number of crew and passengers alike on board the aircraft
Scrub – Cancel the flight
Stacked – Planes circling an airport in a holding pattern due to congestion or some other reason, normally waiting to land.
Thermal Thicket – Heat barrier at hyper sonic speeds
Throttle Jockey – Pilot, sometimes used to refer to irresponsible pilots
Touchdown – The moment of contact between plane and ground during landing
Weathered in – Force to stay grounded due to bad weather
Wringing it out – Performing aerial acrobatics
Yoke – One of the many current terms for the control column of an airplane, others include wheel, stick, or simply ‘controls’. The yoke was referred to as the Joystick initially and it sometimes still is.
Zero in – target in sight and ready to be engaged
Zero-zero – No ceiling, no visibility

Naturally, there are other terms in use depending on regions and language groups, but these are the most common in use worldwide. As I continue to explore the history of aviation, you may hear some of these terms and knowing what is referred to will help in understanding the industry better.

When I was a child, I wanted to be a pilot; I was going to enter the Air Force on leaving High School—but life being what it is, my eyesight did not permit that career path. Instead, I pursued a more academic path. But that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for flight one bit. Every chance I get, I fly. And on occasion I drive, by George—its more fun that way.

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