Aviation terminology and definitions have changed over time. The definitions presented here focus on terms used in the pioneer era.


Aerobatics Flight intentionally performed in an aeroplane not required for normal flight
Aerodrome Term incorrectly attributed to his aeroplanes by Samuel Langley
Aerofoil Wing surface of an aeroplane

Control surfaces attached to the trailing edges of wings to operate in opposite directions to provide lateral (roll) control - an alternative to wing warping

Airfield grassy areas or fields for taking off and landing used by early aviation pioneers

A complete aeroplane apart from its engine(s)



Angle of incidence The angle between the horizontal axis of an aeroplane and the line joining the leading and trailing edges of the wings
Assisted take-off Typically using a ramp or natural slope, or a catapult device
Attitude The position of an aeroplane in its three axes in relation to the earth
Axes of control

Pitch (lateral), yaw (vertical) and roll (longitudinal). Pitch refers to a nose up or down attitude about an axis running from wing to wing. Yaw refers to the nose moving left or right about an axis running up and down. Roll rotation is around an axis running from nose to tail.

Camber The curvature of the outside surface of an aerofoil
Canard French for 'duck', a canard aeroplane has a forward horizontal control surface smaller than the main wing. Some early canard machines had no tail
Cockpit An emclosed space in an aeroplane for the pilot. In very early aeroplanes, pilots sat in the open on the leading edge of a lower wing
Drag The force acting on an aeroplane in flight in a backward direction
Dihedral The upward angle of inclination of wings to create lateral stability
Elevators Control surfaces of an aeroplane to provide the means for climbing, gliding or diving. Elevators are usually located at the tail of an aeroplane (canard aeroplanes have their elevators at the front)
Flight Typically considered as take-off under a machine's own power from a level surface, sustained flight (beyond take-off momentum), and landing without damage at a point no lower in height than take-off
Floatplane A seaplane supported on the water by one or more floats
Flying boat A seaplane with its fuselage comprising a hull for support on the water
Fuselage The main structure of an aeroplane to which the wings and tail are attached
Hop An attempt at flight that cannot be sustained beyond take-off momentum
Horsepower The thrust of an engine at full throttle at normal rpm. In early days, it was typical for engines to perform well below their estimated horsepower
Hydro-aeroplane Another name for a seaplane
Inherent stability An aeroplane design that tends naturally towards balanced level flight
Joystick A single control that operates multiple controls, eg ailerons and elevators
Landing speed The lowest speed at which at aeroplane can land safely
Leading edge The front edge of an aerofoil that cuts through the air
Lift The upward acting force on an aeroplane in flight
Longitudinal stability The natural tendency of an aeroplane to return to level flight from a climb or dive
Loop A loop or loop-the-loop is an aerobatic manoeuvre where an aeroplane dives to increase its momentum as it makes a complete vertical backward circle. Forward loops came much later.
Monocoque A fuselage stressed by its rigid covering (often laminated) as compared to a framework with a simpler covering
Nacelle Streamlined fuselage normally housing the engine
Ornithopter A heavier-than-air aeroplane which obtains lift via the flapping motion of its wings
Pusher aeroplane Having propeller(s) mounted behind the engine(s) of an aeroplane and designed to push forward, usually mounted behind the pilot
Radial engine An engine in which the cylinders are stationary and arranged radially around a common crankshaft
Rib A framework component which gives the shape to the outer surface of a wing or control surface
Rotary engine An engine in which the cylinders are arranged radially around a fixed crankshaft, around which the cylinders revolve
Rudder Vertical control surface at the tail of an aeroplane for directional control
Seaplane An aeroplane designed to take off and land on water only

A reduction in altitude without gaining speed, often caused by banking too steeply, causing the aeroplane to fly sideways and downward along its lateral axis

Spin A downward movement of an aeroplane in a spiral manner, often caused by a stall
Stall The result of insufficient lift to maintain an aeroplane in forward flight, as a result of lack of speed and an appropriate angle of incidence of the wings
Step A shallow break in the smooth undersurface of a hull or floats of a seaplane for assistance in take-off from water
Sweep-back The angle at which the wings of an aeroplane are inclined backwards in relation to the fuselage
Tail unit The combination of control surfaces at the tail of an aeroplane

Tractor aeroplane

Having propeller(s) and engine(s) at the front of the aeroplane, designed to be pulled through the air
Trailing edge The back edge of an aerofoil
Undercarriage The take-off and landing gear of an aeropane - incuding suspension and wheels, floats or skis
Whirling arm An early apparatus with a long arm rotated at fixed speeds to test aerodynamic aerofoils attached at the end of the arm
Wind Tunnel An apparatus originally designed to create a steady wind current to enable the testing of aerodynamics of aerofoils and model aeroplanes
Wing warping Twisting the trailing edges of the wings in opposite directions to provide lateral (roll) control. Replaced by ailerons
Wingspan The width of an aeroplane from one wingtip of the longest wing to its opposite wingtip
Yaw Turning to the right and/or left about an axis passing through the centre of gravity and vertical to an aeroplane
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