Aviation Jargon: 52 Terms Aviation Enthusiasts Should Know

PUBLISHED ON 02.01.2022

We love jets, we love turboprop planes, and we love taking a private charter flight over the mountains just for sight-seeing. In short, if it involves aircraft, we love it. Just like us, we know that our clients love aviation too. So for all you other flight enthusiasts, we want you to 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 aviation jargon 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.

Aviation terms developed out of a need for clear, concise communication. It’s easier to understand a unique, unusual term over a fuzzy radio than a common word that could be misconstrued for something else.

The following list is a sampling of the aviation terms used by pilots worldwide. It is an interesting list which has developed over time as the aviation industry has changed. Enjoy.

General Aviation Terms

If you frequently fly a fixed route, you have probably heard some of these general aviation terms.

  • ABORT – Cancel a mission at the last minute. This usually pertains to takeoffs and landings but can relate to dropping a bomb and, occasionally, opening fire on a target.
  • Air pocket – A temporary burst of turbulence
  • Bird men – Pilots
  • Bird Dog – Automatic Direction Finder (ADF) or radio compass
  • Blowtorch – Jet engines, jet airplane
  • Boom Carpet – Area on the ground that where a sonic boom from shockwaves is heard as the jet passes
  • Chopper – A helicopter, of course
  • ETA – Estimated time of arrival
  • Feet wet – Alerts air traffic controllers to the fact that a military aircraft is flying over a body of water
  • Feet dry – A military aircraft is flying over land.
  • Five by five – Radio receptions is loud and clear (loudness and clarity being measured on a scale of 1 – 5)
  • 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
  • No-Go Gauge – Cockpit instruments that indicate the malfunction of other instruments (idiot lights)
  • PROP (or Jet) – Blast of air behind the engines
  • Stacked – Planes circling an airport in a holding pattern due to congestion or some other reason, normally waiting to land.
  • Touchdown – The moment of contact between plane and ground during landing
  • Weathered in – Forced to stay grounded due to bad weather
  • 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

Aviation Terms You Don’t Want to Hear In Flight

As a passenger, you need to be confident in jet safety 101. It helps to understand what the crew is saying so that you can rest easy when they use certain aviation terms during flight. When the bird men are discussing the blowtorch or the yoke, it gives you peace of mind to know that they’re not referring to a strange science experiment going on in the back of the plane.

  • Augur In – Have a major accident
  • Buy the ranch/ farm – A fatal crash (basically referring to the crash site as ‘the ranch’ or ‘farm’)
  • Creamed (his bird) – Crashed his aircraft
  • Dead stick landing – Landing an aircraft without power
  • Ditch – Emergency water landing
  • Flame out – Loss of fire in the combustion chamber, causing a power failure in a jet engine
  • Nose Over – Upending unto the nose
  • Prang – To have an accident
  • Scrub – Cancel the flight
  • Two-for-one special – The plane bounces up at touchdown before landing again.

Aviation Jargon That Makes You Sound Cool

Different flight crews use the lingo in distinct ways. If you use the slang incorrectly, you might elicit some awkwardness or snickers, like when you bring up a hippie festival you went to in college when the pilots are talking about deadheading. Brush up on your private jet etiquette, and learn the cool aviation terms below.

  • 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.
  • Black Out – Temporary blindness due to centrifugal pressure during steep turns
  • Blue Room – Lavatory
  • Buzzing – Diving close to the ground especially near human population
  • Deadhead – A pilot, flight attendant or other crew member flies as a passenger and is off duty except in cases of emergency.
  • Feather the prop – Adjusting the pitch of the blades of a propeller to which power has been cut off so that they do not create air resistance
  • Grease it on – Make a perfect landing (beautiful landing)
  • Idiot Lights – Lights that illuminate 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)
  • Panic Rack – The ejection seat mechanism, including the seat
  • Porpoising – Pitching motion that aircrafts experience at the transonic speed range
  • 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
  • Thermal Thicket – Heat barrier at hypersonic speeds
  • Throttle Jockey – Pilot; sometimes used to refer to irresponsible pilots
  • Wash – Nonsensical conversation
  • Wringing it out – Performing aerial acrobatics

Famous Aviation Terms From Movies

Next time you watch one of these movies, you can impress your friends with your knowledge of the aviation jargon in the following aviation movie quotes.

“Let’s kick the tires and light the fires.” – Harry Connick Jr., “Independence Day”

The aircraft is ready for takeoff.

”Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?” – Peter Graves, “Airplaine”

Roger means “I heard and understood that” when you’re speaking over a radio. Of course, it gets complicated if your name is actually Roger. A vector is a heading that air traffic controls to an aircraft to provide radar-based navigation.

”Negative, ghost rider. The pattern is full.” – Duke Stroud, “Top Gun”

All aircraft must follow a specified circuit when approaching airports, taking off and landing. If the pattern is full, all flight circuits are covered by other planes, and there is no room to make adjustments.

”This was not a crash, and it wasn’t a ditching.” – Tom Hanks, “Sully”

Sully is making a distinction between a ditching, which we defined in the Aviation Terms You Don’t Want to Hear in Flight section above, and a forced water landing.

”I didn’t know you can fly a plane!” “Fly? Yes. Land? No.” – Sean Connery and Harrison Ford, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”

Let’s hope that you never hear your pilot say this.

Crews may come up with their own spin on aviation jargon, but these terms and phrases are the most common in use worldwide. As you 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. For the next level private travel experience, be sure to contact FlyCFG for your next trip.

Jordan Brown


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