Aviation Terminology – How to Talk Like A Pilot

Talk like a pilot

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Aviation Terminology

Becoming a pilot is difficult for a multitude of reasons, but one of them is because you have to learn a whole book worth of new terms. Speaking pilot is almost like speaking another language. We prepared a list of some of the most commonly used or important terms in the aviation world. This is a great tool for anyone on the fence or new to flying. This list will give you a nice jump start so you will be able to recognize what certain things are when talked about when you are taking your lessons. We started with A and worked our way through Z.  


Absolute Altitude – The vertical distance between the aircraft and ground level.

Adverse yaw – Occurs when the plane’s nose turns away from the direction of the turn.

Adverse Yaw – When an aircraft turns in the opposite direction of a roll due to the use of ailerons and the difference in lift and drag of each wing.

Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) – An official Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) publication that details proper pilot operation within the US National Airspace System, including Air Traffic Control (ATC) and aviation safety.

AGL – (Above Ground Level) – The vertical distance measured between the aircraft and a specific landmass.

Aileron – The movable, hinged flight control surfaces that are used in pairs with opposite motions to control the roll of an aircraft.

Airfoil – The cross-sectional shape of a wing, blade, turbine, or rotor that produces lift.

Airspace Classes – The different types of airspace defined by ICAO and adopted around the world. They include controlled, uncontrolled, and special-use airspace.

AirSpeed Indicator (ASI) – A pitot-static flight instrument that indicates the airspeed of an aircraft through an air mass in miles per hour, knots, or both.

Altimeter – An instrument that measures an object’s altitude above a fixed surface.

Altitude Indicator – An instrument that indicates aircraft orientation relative to the earth’s horizon.

Angle of Attack – The angle between a reference line on an airfoil and the direction of the oncoming air.

Annual Inspection – A required aircraft inspection every 12 calendar months.

Approach – The phase of flight when the pilot intends to land on the runway. There are different types of approaches, depending on whether the pilot is flying VFR or IFR.

Apron – The paved area at an airport where aircraft park, fuel, load, and unload.

ATC (Air Traffic Control) – A ground-based service that ensures the safety of air traffic by directing aircraft in the area during take-off, landing, and while flying in the designated airspace.

ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) – A continuous broadcast of pre-recorded aviation information available to pilots around specific terminals. The information is constantly updated and designed for the mass spreading of relevant information, which is particularly useful at busy airports.


Base Leg – The flight path in an airport pattern that runs in the runway landing direction.

Blade Angle – The angle between the reference line of a propeller blade and a plane perpendicular to the axis of rotation.

Bleed Air – Hot compressed air produced during the compressor stage of aircraft engine operation.


Calibrated Airspeed – The indicated airspeed corrected for position and instrument error.

Camber – The convexity of the curve on an aircraft wing.

Ceiling – The height of the lowest cloud layer or obscuring phenomena that are reported as “broken”, “overcast”, or “obscuration”, and not classified as “thin” or “partial”.

Center of Gravity (CG) – The longitudinal and lateral point over which the aircraft would balance.

Chord Line – The imaginary straight line running between the airfoil’s leading and trailing edges.

Clearance – The authorization provided by air traffic control for aircraft to proceed with a particular action in controlled airspace, which is designed to prevent aircraft collisions.

Climb – The act of increasing aircraft altitude, typically to a designated level.

Cockpit – The cockpit of a plane is located at the front. It contains the instrument panel and pilot’s seats.

CofA – Certificate of Airworthiness

Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) – A radio frequency used for air-to-air communication, allowing continued aircraft operation at non-towered airports or outside of tower operating hours.

Controlled Airspace – Designated airspace within which Air Traffic Control provides aircraft movement instructions and regulations.

Crosswind – Wind that is blowing perpendicular to the aircraft course.


DA – Density Altitude –  is the air density given as a height above mean sea level. The density altitude is considered to be the pressure altitude adjusted for a non-standard temperature.

Descent – The act of decreasing aircraft altitude, typically to a designated level.

Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) – Radio navigation technology used to measure the distance between the aircraft and a ground station.

Downwind Leg – A flight path parallel to but running in the opposite direction of the runway intended for landing.

Drag – A parallel and opposing force to an aircraft’s motion through the air.


Elevator – Horizontal surfaces that control aircraft pitch and are typically hinged to the stabilizer.

Empennage – Another phrase for the tail of an aircraft, which provides stability during flight.

ETA – Estimated Time of Arrival – The time you will arrive at a destination, based on the local time.

ETD – Estimated Time of Departure – The time you plan to depart.

ETE – Estimated Time en Route – The amount of time you will spend traveling to a destination.


FAA – Federal Aviation Administration – The governing body of civil aviation in the United States.

FARs – Federal Aviation Regulations – FAA rules governing aviation in the U.S.

FBO – Fixed-Base Operator – An airfield operation where pilots may find fuel and other services.

Final Approach – A flight path running in the direction of the runway intended for landing that ends with a landing.

Firewall – A fire-resistant bulkhead that is situated between the engine and other aircraft areas.

Flaps – Flaps are a kind of high-lift device used to increase the lift of an aircraft wing at a given airspeed. Flat devices, typically located on the edges of an aircraft wing, that control lift at specific speeds.

Flare – A maneuver that typically occurs during the landing stage of an aircraft. The aircraft’s nose is pointed upwards, which lowers the descent rate in preparation for landing.

Flight Deck – An area at the front of the airplane where the pilot and aircraft controls are situated – in other words, the cockpit.

Flight Plan – Formatted information provided by pilots or dispatchers regarding an upcoming flight, including details such as destination, path, timing, etc.

FSDO – Flight Standards District Office – Local authority overseen by the FAA

FSS – Flight Service Station – An air traffic facility that provides information and services to pilots.

Fuselage – The central portion of an aircraft, which is intended to house the flight crew, passengers, and cargo.


General Aviation – The division of civil aviation aircraft operations that includes all but commercial air transport and aerial work.

Glass Cockpit – A term used to describe an aircraft that is fully equipped with electronic, digital flight instrument displays, instead of analog-style gauges.

Go-Around – occurs when the pilot abandons a landing and goes around the flight pattern before attempting to land.

Gross Weight – The aircraft weight including people, cargo, fuel, etc.

Ground Effect – The increasing lift and decreasing drag that occurs as a result of an aircraft’s wings as it gets closer to the ground.

Groundspeed – The horizontal speed of an aircraft relative to the surface below.


Hangar – A building made to hold aircraft for storing, maintenance, assembly, etc.

Horizontal Stabilizer – The horizontal stabilizer prevents up-and-down, or pitching, the motion of the aircraft nose.

Hypoxia – A condition caused by low levels of oxygen that can lead to dizziness, disorientation, etc, posing extreme danger to pilots operating aircraft at high altitudes.


ICAO – International Civil Aviation Organization – A specialized agency of the United Nations. Supports aviation and navigation around the globe.

ILS – Instrument Landing System – A system that uses radio waves to assist landings in IFR conditions.

Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) – Regulations that define aircraft operations when pilots are not able to operate using visual references.

Indicated Airspeed (IAS) – The speed of an aircraft displayed on the airspeed indicator, which is determined by the pitot-static tube and does not take into account any outside factors.

Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) – Weather conditions that describe a situation where pilots are not able to operate using visual references.


Jet – An aircraft propelled by one or more jet engines.


KCAS – Knots Calibrated Airspeed – Indicated airspeed corrected for instrument and position error

KIAS – Knots Indicated Airspeed – Read directly from the airspeed indicator

Knot – A measurement of speed that takes into account nautical miles: 1 knot = 1 nautical mile per hour = 6076 feet per hour. 1 mph =1 mile per hour = 5280 feet per hour.

KTAS – Knots True Airspeed – The speed of the aircraft relative to the airmass in which it is flying.


Lift – The force that directly opposes aircraft weight, generated primarily by the wings.


Mach – The ratio of aircraft speed to the speed of sound through the medium where the aircraft is traveling.

Magnetic Compass – The directional orientation of an aircraft according to the geomagnetic field.

Magnetic Deviation – The error produced by the unavoidable magnetic impact of aircraft materials.

Magnetic North – Unlike the geographical north (North Pole), this point is the location indicated as North by where the compass points.

Magneto – An aircraft engine component that generates high voltage to ignite spark plugs.

Mean Sea Level (MSL) – The average level of the surface of an ocean used as a basis for vertical measurements.

METAR – A pilot weather report delivered on a continuous basis.

MTOW – Maximum Take-Off Weight


NDB – Non-directional beacon is a radio transmitter at a know location used as a navigation aid.

NOTAMs – Abbreviation for “Notices to airmen.” which are written notices provided to pilots prior to flights advising them of relevant circumstances.


OAT – Outside Air Temperature

Operating Limitations – Restrictions defined by an aircraft manufacturer including airspeed, weight, etc.

Overshoot – Landing aircraft beyond the runway.


Payload – The weight of the content carried in an aircraft, including passengers, pilots, cargo, etc.

Pilot in Command (PIC) – The designated individual that is responsible for safe aircraft operations during flight.

PIREP – Pilot Report – Report made by a pilot during flight to ATC describing actual weather conditions.

Pitch – The movement of an aircraft, characterized by the nose and tail rising and falling.

Pitot Tube – A small device located on the front outside edge of an airfoil, used to measure air pressure.

POH – Pilot’s Operating Handbook – An aircraft flight manual containing pertinent safety information.

Propeller – A piece of aircraft equipment that contains rotating blades, creating engine thrust.


Quadraplane – An aircraft that has 4 wings of the same size


Roll – Aircraft rotation along the longitudinal axis, which runs from the nose to tail.

Rudder – An aircraft surface used to control the yaw movement.

Runway (RWY) – A “defined rectangular area on a land aerodrome prepared for the landing and takeoff of aircraft”.


Short Field – A runway that is shorter in length and requires aircraft to minimize the amount of runway used when taking off or landing.

Sideslip – An aircraft movement that typically aligns with the lateral force of the wind and results in a sideways flow.

Skid – The sliding and outward pivoting movement of the aircraft that occurs as a result of a shallow turn.

Slip – The sliding and inward pivoting movement of the aircraft that occurs as a result of a steep turn.

Soft Field – A runway that is not paved and made of elements such as dirt or grass.

Squawk – A four-digit code given to an aircraft by ATC to allow for simple identification of an aircraft in a given region.

Stall – The condition that occurs as a result of an aircraft exceeding its angle of attack and therefore experiencing decreased lift.

Standard Rate Turn – A turn that an aircraft makes at a rate of 3°/second or a 360° turn in two minutes.

Straight-and-Level Flight – Maintaining a consistent heading and altitude during flight.


Tail – The rear aircraft structure that provides aerodynamic stability.

Tarmac – The paved area at an airport where aircraft park, fuel, load, and unload.

Threshold – The area of a runway, designated with particular markings, indicating the beginning of a runway.

Throttle – A device that controls the amount of power outputted by the engine.

Thrust – A force that opposes aircraft drag and is created by the engines to propel the aircraft forward.

Torque – A force that is intended to produce rotation.

Touch-and-Go – An aircraft maneuver used to practice landing techniques by simply landing on the runway and taking off once more without coming to a full stop.

Transponder – An electronic device on airplanes that generate an output code, which is used for ATC identification purposes.

Trim Tab – Small surfaces on the trailing edge of a bigger control surface used to counteract the aerodynamic forces on the bigger control surface.

True Airspeed – The speed of an aircraft is the speed corrected for the errors caused by altitude and temperature.

True Altitude – The vertical height of an aircraft above Mean Sea Level (MSL).


Upwind Leg – The flight path in an airport pattern that runs parallel to the runway landing direction, along the same direction the aircraft will be landing.

UTC – Universal Time Coordinated – The primary time standard used to regulate clocks and time around the world.


Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI) – A device that provides the feet per minute (fpm) rate at which an aircraft is climbing or descending.

Very High Frequency (VHF) Omni-Directional Range (VOR) – A short-range radio aircraft navigation system that allows equipped aircraft to receive directional information through radio signals from ground-based beacons.

Visual Flight Rules (VFR) – Regulations that define aircraft operations when pilots are able to operate using visual references.

VFR On Top – The condition where IFR conditions exist, however, VFR conditions exact above the cloud layer.

Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) – Weather conditions that describe a situation where pilots are able to operate using visual references.


Wind Shear – An abrupt change in horizontal or vertical wind direction.

Wx – weather


XC – Cross-country


Yaw – The movement of an aircraft around the vertical axis, characterized by the nose moving side-to-side. The rudder controls yaw.

Yoke – The aircraft control devices used by pilots for changes in attitude, as well as pitch and roll movement.


Zulu Time – A term synonymous with UTC (Universal Coordinated Time), which is the same as Greenwich Mean Time. Pilots file all flight plans in Zulu Time

As you can see, there are quite a few terms. This is just the beginning. As you go through your career, your pilot vocabulary will continue to build and build. This page represents only a fraction of what you will hear, but it is a good start. If you ever hear something that doesn’t make sense, do not be scared to ask what it means. This is the best way to learn, and you will be talking like a pilot in no time.

Good Luck!



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