Pilot Lingo Explained

Pilot Lingo
…a quick study guide for the non-aviator

Didn’t get the joke? Or maybe only half of it? Don’t despair! Here’s an incomplete list of some of the technical terms appearing in our comic strips.

A word of caution: Memorizing this list will NOT make you able to obtain a pilot license! Although it also won’t be an encumbrance to that end. Well, not much, at least. If you end up aviationally challenged like Chuck, you have been warned!

$100 Hamburger When one buys a plane for personal use he or she might one day run out of “missions”. If this occurs it has been common practice to find nice airport restaurants around the country side to justify the occasional Sunday trip. This will exercise the aircraft to keep it from becoming a hangar queen and by the time you fly to a restaurant have your burger and fly back in your own plane the meal will probably cost, well you guessed it, right around $100. (Actual cost and participation may vary depending on country and aircraft size). With increasing gas prices and continuing inflation, we guess this term might go out of use at some point.
100 Hour Inspection Every registered aircraft must be on some sort of maintenance schedule. The small planes Chuck flies usually have to be inspected after every 100 flight hours. (Imagine your car being inspected that often….pfew….)
500, The The Hughes 500 is the helicopter Chuck flies for Roost-Air. It was originally built for the military (they call it the OH-6) but ended up being an excellent utility helicopter. TC in “Magnum PI” also flies one.
AOPA American “Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association”, something like the AAA for the skies. It represents its members at the federal, state, and local levels and offers them legal services, advice, and other assistance. With a membership base of more than 400,000, or
two thirds of all pilots in the United States, AOPA is the largest, most influential aviation association in the world.
APU Not to be confused with the proprietor or Springfield’s minimart, APU is the acronym for Auxiliary Power Unit. Can be a generator or a big battery on wheels which is used to start aircraft engines when you don’t want to use the aircrafts internal battery system.
ATP Aircraft Transport Pilot, this is a pilot rating higher than just Commercial Pilot and combines everything: maneuvers, instrument flying and so on. It’s often required by the airlines. And no, Chuck doesn’t have one. (Yet).
B-17 World War II Army Air Corps Bomber (that’s why Chuck gets so mad after the others called it “Navy plane”, those heathens!). The Army Air Corps was the predecessor of todays Air Force, which came into existence on September 17, 1947.
Cessna 172 Little private piston engine plane, the one you see buzzing around at pretty much every airport. It’s a good trainer too and therefore very common.
CG CG stands for “Center of Gravity”. It’s important to know because a plane can have some very funny flight characteristics or may not fly at all if the CG limits are exceeded (e.g. if Hans sits too far in the back of the plane).
Civil Air Patrol CAP is the volunteer, non-profit auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. Its three missions are to develop its cadets, educate Americans on the importance of aviation, and perform live-saving humanitarian missions, such as search and rescue or emergency aid missions. The Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program is a great opportunity for aviation enthusiastic young people to start flying.
Contacts Part of the ignition system of a piston powered aircraft involved in making the spark for the spark plugs.
Dissymmetry Of Lift Dissymmetry of lift is the difference in lift that exists between the advancing half of the rotor disk and the retreating half. It is caused by the fact that when a helicopter flies forward, the aircraft relative wind (its forward speed) is added to the rotational relative wind on the advancing blade, and subtracted on the retreating blade. The blade passing the tail and advancing forward around the side of the helicopter travels its own speed (the speed it travels around the rotor mast) plus the speed of the helicopter while the blade coming around the nose and moving aft travels its own rotational speed minus the speed of the aircraft. Again, there are whole books written about this in case we weren’t able to explain it good enough in a few sentences. You can’t say we didn’t try though!
Drag Drag is defined as an aerodynamic force working the opposite direction of thrust. It is everything that “holds the plane back”. There are different kinds of drag with a bunch of different definitions which we won’t get into. Getting an umbrella or a bra stuck on your stabilizer like our hero did can actually be defined as “parasite drag” according to the flight training books.
EAA The Experimental Aircraft Association is a quite diverse organization of members with a wide range of aviation interests and backgrounds. Organized into many chapters that are widespread all over the US, it is where people come together who build their own aircraft, including antiques, classics, warbirds, aerobatic aircraft, ultralights, helicopters etc. They not only help each other and chat and barbeque, but also hold many fly-ins, the biggest and most famous one being the “Oshkosh AirVenture”.
Elevator The horizontal, movable primary control surface in the tail section, or empennage, of an airplane. The elevator is hinged to the trailing edge of the fixed horizontal stabilizer. It’s what makes the houses bigger when moved down and smaller when moved up.
F4U Corsair The Vought Corsair’s most unique feature was the “bent” wing, the result of a marriage between the most powerful engine ever installed in a piston-engined fighter and one of the biggest propellers in the world. It vaught, oops-I-mean, fought, in the Pacific during WWII and we are both really big fans of this plane. Watching “Baa Baa Black Sheep” growing up has greatly influenced our young minds and might have contributed to the conception of Chicken Wings.
FAA Federal Aviation Administration or as pilots call them “the feds”.
Flux Capacitor This is not an aviation term. It is the device that enables the DeLorean in the “Back to the future” movie series to time-travel.
FOD Foreign Object Damage is damage caused by (usually and hopefully small) objects that get sucked in by the props or rotors and then hit and damage fan blades, engines, intakes, the airframe, or the props or rotors themselves.
Frost Control When you fly Frost Control with a helicopter (which they do in California for example) you fly up and down an agricultural field (strawberries, avocados, lemons, oranges, anything that grows in the winter and can’t get “frosty” until it’s ripe, harvested, and in the blender) to move the air around. Frost forms as a small inversion layer right on the surface and usually has warmer air on top of it. The key is to fly the helicopter right above the warmer layer and basically push it down to replace the very cold air on the surface. This all is most likely to happen between 2am and sunrise which is why Chuck needs “lots of lights” and why he is not too happy about this job.
GPS Global Positioning System. A navigation system that utilizes satellites. But it seems like every Toyota already has one of those, so it probably doesn’t even need to be in this dictionary here anymore.
Gulfstream Private Jet. Harrison Ford has one. That’s what you need to own if you want to hang with the cool kids in aviation.
Gyroscopic Precession t’s uhm… rotating bodies… ninety degrees… Aww, come on! You don’t know what Gyroscopic Precession is?
Hercules Also called the C-130. A really really big military transport aircraft.
Ident When you push the IDENT button, it adds an extra pulse to your replies that causes your target on the controller’s radar screen to change appearance. (It either “blooms” on an approach control radar screen, or has a flashing “ID” on a center radar screen). Controllers sometimes use this to help find your target, or to make sure the target they think is you really is you so they can keep you separated from people like Chuck.
IFR Instrument Flight Rules. It means that you’re not allowed to play any instrument, even as small as a harmonica, while piloting an aircraft. Just kidding! Instrument Flight Rules are a huge set of regulations you have to abide by while flying under instruments only. It allows you to go through clouds and fog without having to look outside using and trusting your flight instruments. Obviously when there are a bunch of planes in the air without being able to see each other, the FAA needs to make sure everybody is on the same page. It takes a lot of training to learn how to fly IFR and you have to get a rating before you are allowed to go out and do it by yourself. When they say “actual IFR” it means that you’re not only flying under IFR but that you are actually in the clouds with no ground reference and nothing but gray around you.
INOP INOP is aviation-short for “inoperative” and seems to be Chucks middle name. Thanks to Chuck plenty things tend to be INOP on Roost-Air’s aircraft on a daily base.
Lycoming American aircraft engine manufacturer.
Magneto The ignition system of an aircraft is usually powered by two magnetos that create the voltage spike for the spark plugs. That way the engine keeps running even if the battery or the alternator fails.
Maximum Performance Take-Off Used in helicopter flying to get over a high obstacle by utilizing all the available power and pulling the helicopter straight up until the obstacle is cleared. Chuck might call it “pulling the guts out of the machine”, but we prefer telling our students to increase power until the gages start reading towards the top of the yellow arc.
Minimums There are certain weather minimums for IFR approaches (cloud cover and visibility). They depend on the plane speed and equipment and sometimes the weather is so bad that you can’t even fly IFR because you just won’t be able to see the runway in time. But Chuck always seems to break out of the clouds “right at minimums” every time. Funny, huh?!
Mixture Control Small piston planes have a mixture control lever because the ratio of fuel to air entering the engines cylinders changes when the plane gets up to altitude and the air gets thinner. The mixture would get too “rich” (too much fuel in proportion to the air sucked in) so the pilot has the ability to “lean” it out at altitude.
N-number The N-Number is the “tail number” or aircraft registration number for aircraft registered in the United States. Aircraft registrations work like a license plate, with the first one or two letters identifying the country. There are various theories as to why the letter “N” stands for the United States. Here is an article where you can find the most credible ones.
The most plausible one is that the “N” comes from the Navy callsigns that began with an N. The most widespread version is that “N” derives from “North America.

We have a new theory though! When all the guys getting together to work out the region codes, they started fighting about the coolest letters and didn’t reach a solution for hours and hours. Then, late at night, when most of them already got drunk, they decided to draw lots. So the fact that France has an F and Germany a D (Deutschland) is just a big coincidence, and all the letters have, in fact, been assigned completely arbitrary. Check out “VH” for Australia, “B” for China or “SX” for Greece… If you need further proof for our theory, you can find a list of all country codes on Wikipedia.

Non Movement Area Every tower controlled airport is divided in movement areas and non-movement areas. The tower can legally only control the movement areas which are the runways and taxiways. Non-movement areas are ramps and parking areas for example. When a helicopter is parked in the grass or on the ramp, the tower can not legally “clear” him for take-off and has to advise him to use caution since he is in an area not controlled by the tower (sometimes parking isn’t even visible by the tower either). Those are the rules, ask the FAA for more info.
NOTAM NOTAM stands for “Notice to Airman”. If there is a change in aeronautical information that is not known far enough in advance to put it on charts, Facility Directories and stuff, the FAA will issue one of these NOTAMS to notify pilots of the changes. There are several ways of doing this and different kinds of NOTAMS which we will not get into here. (Our time is better spent at drawing cartoons of little chickens and laughing at pilot jokes!)
P-Factor P-Factor or “Asymmetrical Thrust” occurs when an airplane is flown at a high angle of attack. This causes uneven angles of attack between the ascending and the descending propeller blades. Consequently, less thrust is produced from the ascending blade (usually on the left side) than from the descending blade on the right. This produces a tendency for the plane to yaw to the left. It seems that every time you deal with a rotating wing, you will run into all kinds of new aerodynamic and gyroscopic surprises. I am sure the rotor wing pilots among you will know all about that…
POI Principal Operations Inspector. The POI is the main guy assigned to every passenger carry operation (basically every aviation company who flies people around) to keep an eye on things for the FAA. He makes sure all the manuals are in order and the operation runs the way the company says in their manuals. Carl is Roost Air’s POI and thanks to Chuck he is a very busy guy. He probably gets a phone call about Chuck once a day.
Quick Stop A quick stop is also called “rapid deceleration”, and is used to bleed off as much forward airspeed as quickly as possible (slow the helicopter down) by pulling hard aft on the cyclic (stick). This is a really exciting maneuver to teach to a novice student as it involves being coordinated on all of the helicopters controls at the same time to compensate for the hard aft stick pull. And there’s lots of controls in a helicopter, let me tell you!
RADAR Most of you will know what it is, but few people know what it really does and how it works. The word comes from the old British acronym “Radio Aircraft Detecting And Ranging”. As the name gives away it helps a ground based operator to “see” other aircraft on a screen even if they are too far away for the naked eye to see. It helps a lot in the fog as well we’ve been told by air control professionals. The RADAR is able to identify the altitude and the speed of an aircraft by something called “Doppler Effect” which will not be explained in detail. To be able to keep the planes apart, the RADAR is used in conjunction with a “transponder” which is installed in the aircraft itself.
Shallow Approach This one is almost self explanatory. There are basically three approaches named after the angle they’re flown in airplanes and helicopters: the steep, the normal, and the shallow approach. Of course the techniques and the exact definition of the angle are different for different types of aircraft.
Slip A slip is essentially an uncoordinated turn. If you don’t fly your turn nicely, the plane “slips” sidewards towards the center of the turn and the turn will not be very efficient. A similar maneuver called slip can also be used on the approach to a landing where the plane is purposely thrown out of trim to increase drag and therefore make the airplane lose altitude without increasing the approach speed. You can sometimes see aerobatic planes do that since most of them don’t have flaps. If you want to know more about this you might just have to take a flight lesson with a “professional” (not Chuck!) instructor.
Squawk (1) This one is used a lot in Chicken Wings. It has two meanings. To “squawk a code” means the pilot is supposed to dial in a certain 4 digit identification code into the transponder to be able to fly in busy airspace. For example “Cessna 13Y, squawk 0012” means the pilot will dial 0012 into his transponder so the RADAR operator can tell him apart from the other aircraft.
Squawk (2) “To write down a squawk” is the other meaning of this word and it is basically pilot lingo for writing down something that’s wrong or broken for the maintenance personnel. “I am squawking the landing light” could mean he is writing down that the landing light wasn’t working on the last flight. In aviation everything must be kept track of. If you would load up a 10 year old helicopter with all the paperwork that goes with it, it probably wouldn’t even get off the ground.
The NAVY calls a squawk a “gripe”, but they have a different word for everything, don’t they?
Steep Turns Not really very defined in helicopter aviation. Some books say it’s every turn that exceeds 40 degrees. At Roost-Air, every turn that pushes you into your seat and makes you suck up your seat cushion with your behind while being able to see the ground through your side window is considered a steep turn.
Tailnumber See “N-Number”.
TFR TFR stands for “Temporary Flight Restriction”. Whenever there is a specific hazard or condition the FAA may impose restrictions to protect persons or properties on the surface or in the air. What this fancy sentence means is that whenever there is a wildfire, or toxic spill, volcanic eruption, aircraft hijacking, a president in town, or a similar calamity (pun intended!), the FAA issues a NOTAM designating an area in which restrictions apply. And this again means they like to keep sightseeing airplanes and pilots like Chuck out of the area where “real professionals” do their job. Firefighting pilots do not appreciate a confused “Chuck” cross their path right when they are turning in and diving down for their dangerous water drop for example…
Transponder A transponder is used in conjunction with the RADAR on the ground. Without a transponder in each aircraft, the RADAR would only see a bunch of blips moving across the screen. The transponder helps the RADAR differentiate between all the aircraft in the sky. It sends a coded signal back after the Radar “hits” it. If every pilot sets a different 4 digit code in his transponder, the approach controller is able to put all the information he needs to the specific code and can therefore keep everybody apart so they don’t hit each other.
It’s basically a noise abatement installation since it’s been said that a 737 hitting a 747 in mid air makes a lot of noise.
Twin Otter The DeHavilland Twin Otter (DHC-6) is a highly maneuverable, versatile aircraft which can be flown slowly and in tight circles. It’s also good in rugged terrain and found all over the world for uses like skydiving, smoke jumping, surveys, cargo, and more.
UAV Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. You probably have seen them on TV before, they currently fly in Iraq on surveillance and other secret missions while their pilots sit in an air-conditioned building on a domestic air force base operating them remotely by computer. It’s the wave of the future.
UH-1D Huey Helicopter built by Bell which became well know during the Vietnam War.
VFR (on top) Visual Flight Rules. Every time you go out and fly by looking outside (which is why most of us fly in the first place) you are under VFR. The FAA wrote many chapters in their bible “FARs” (Federal Aviation Regulations) about VFR and how to fly, but it’s still easier than flying IFR. Of course the VFR regulations are usually taught later in your flight training since it would turn off most students from flying if you start teaching all the rules first. The realization that you’re not completely “free as a bird” comes to most as a shock the first time they hear about it. “VFR on top” means flying under VFR on top of a cloud layer.
VOR VOR, short for VHF omnidirectional radio range, is a type of radio navigation system for aircraft. A VOR ground station broadcasts a VHF radio composite signal including the station’s identifier, voice (if equipped), and navigation signal. When the aircraft receives this signal…

You know what? Maybe it’s better you google that one…

Zulu Time Zulu Time is the international standardized time in aviation (not only in aviation) and is the same no matter where on the globe you happen to be. Obviously if you fly a plane through several time zones you can’t have everybody constantly do the math or all the pilots would be as confused as Chuck all the time. Weather information, flight plans, tower information, everything runs of Zulu time in aviation. And quite frankly, if you fly a plane from LA to Frankfurt, who cares what the local time in Idaho is, right?!

The name “Zulu Time” was chosen because a) it sounds cool and b) pilots like to come up with abbreviations and terms that nobody else understands.

For most people the explanation above is sufficient. If you want to get scientific, then here’s the true story:
Zulu Time is the same as UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) which replaced the so called “Greenwich Time” or “Greenwich Mean Time” (GMT), in 1972 (UTC and GMT are rarely more than a second apart though).

The term “Zulu Time” derives from Zulu being the word for “Z” in the NATO phonetic alphabet used by the military and air traffic controllers. whereas “Z” derives from the fact that in the late 18th century an American sea captain named Nathaniel Bowditch divided the world into time zones and assigned them each a letter of the alphabet, with Z being the letter for GMT.
It’s all rather complicated, since there are 25 time zones and only 24 hours… You can read it all here.