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You’ve got the basic pilot lingo down, but you’re still hearing terms and phrases that you don’t understand. It’s time to talk like an experienced pilot.
Talking like a pilot is a skill that is best perfected through years of experience of communication between yourself, other pilots, and Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) from all over. After you learn the basics, it’s important to learn more advanced aviation terms and common pilot slang.
Learning to talk like a beginner pilot is one thing. There are terms and phrases that you’ll hear every day and during just about any flight that you make. But as you spend more time on the radio, you’ll hear more and more things you don’t understand. It’s time to step it up a notch and dive into more of the advanced flight terms and phrases so that you can talk like an experienced pilot.
All of the terms and phrases that you see in this article come from a combination of our own expertise here at SkyTough as well as the input of aviation experts and other pilots in the industry. So as you read through everything below to learn to talk like an experienced pilot, do so with the confidence that you’re getting the best information out there.
Talking Like An Experienced Pilot
This is the second article in our Learn To Talk Like A Pilot series, where you’re going to be learning how to talk like an experienced pilot. If you’re starting out as a brand new pilot, be sure to check out the first article in this series, you can learn the basics of talking like a pilot. Once you’ve got the basics down, this is the article for you.
If you’ve spent a bit of time in the cockpit and have been talking with other pilots, people in the industry, and various Air Traffic Controllers from around the country (or even the world), then you’ve likely heard some things that you might not understand. There are some more advanced terms out there that you might not have heard yet during your time as a pilot. And on top of that, pilots and ATC sometimes seem to have their own language and their own slang.
It’s important as a pilot that you continue to improve your abilities across the board since the aviation industry is ever-changing. Keeping up with the newest and most commonly used pilot slang and phrases is essential to ensure that you understand as much as you possibly can every time you’re flying. So if you’re ready to step your game up and sound like a real pilot next time you’re on the radio, then continue reading.
Tighten your seatbelt and get ready to go, it’s time to learn how to talk like an experienced pilot.
Advanced Aviation Terms All Experienced Pilots Need To Know
Before we get into arguably the more fun stuff and dive into the pilot slang and lingo, it’s important to dive deep into more aviation terms to make sure you really understand everything you need to know. In the previous article in this series, you learn many of the basic aviation terms that all pilots need to know.
Here, we’re going to take a look at some of the much more specific and advanced terms that will come in handy as your pilot’s career continues. You’ll learn everything from parts of the plane to commonly used words uttered by both pilots and ATC during normal flying operations. These terms will almost all come up at one point or another during your piloting career!
Adverse Yaw — This is why an aircraft attempts to turn itself in the opposite direction of a roll and/or turn that the pilot must account for.
Above Ground Level (AGL) — The vertical distance between the aircraft and the ground below it.
Air Speed Indicator — A device that all aircraft have that tells the pilot how fast they’re flying, in either miles per hour or knots (or oftentimes both).
Alpha Code — Another name for the phonetic alphabet that all pilots must know. Alpha code is the words used by pilots and ATC in place of respective letters for clear communication devoid of any ambiguity.
Angle of Incidence — This is the angle that an aircraft is at when a reference line on its wing is perpendicular to the plane’s longitudinal axis.
Approach — This is typically the final phase of a flight as the pilot is approaching the runway and planning on landing the aircraft.
Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) — ATIS is a broadcast of aviation information that is available to pilots continuously, 24 hours a day helping pilots stay updated on any and all pertinent information.
Blade Angle — This is the angle between the blade of a propeller and the airplane perpendicular to the plane’s rotational axis.
Bleed Air — This is compressed hot air created during the early stages of an aircraft engine’s ignition process when the turbines are being turned by the compressed air.
Center of Gravity — The single point at which an aircraft would theoretically balance in all directions.
Contrail — This is the streak of water vapor that you see in the sky behind planes flying overhead often confused for chemical trails. It’s actually just condensed water vapor that’s created by the heat of the engines and cold air of high altitudes.
Density Altitude — The air density referenced as an actual altitude above sea level.
Feathering — Pilots perform this technique while adjusting variable pitch propellers on their aircraft to align the blades with airflow and reduce resistance.
George — This is the common name that pilots around the world use to reference the plane’s autopilot system. The term George is not anything technical or an actual term used by the autopilot system’s manufacturer, but just a colloquial term used to describe it.
Ground Effect — The natural effect that occurs when an aircraft is getting closer to the ground. Ground effect creates increased lift and decreased drag as the aircraft’s wings approach the ground.
Handoff — The term used to describe when one Air Traffic Controller passes radar identification to another controller, handing the plane off to the other controller.
Heavy — A term used by ATC to describe a bigger aircraft whose takeoff weight is at least 136 tons or heavier.
Hypoxia — A condition that pilots can experience when flying at extremely high altitudes where the air is thin. Hypoxia occurs when oxygen levels in the body get dangerously low and results in dizziness, disorientation, and even unconsciousness in the worst cases.
International Civil Aviation (ICAO) — An agency created by the United Nations to aid in navigation and aviation around the world.
Joystick — The main control component of the aircraft, located in the cockpit right in front of the pilot.
Knot — This is the measurement of speed used for planes and boats, taking nautical miles into account. Just like how a standard mile is 5,280 feet, a nautical mile is 6,076 feet. So there is a big difference between mph and knots.
Mach Speed — The relation of the aircraft’s speed to the speed of sound. The Mach number is a multiple of the speed of sound, i.e. a Mach number of one (“Mach one”) means the aircraft is flying at one times the speed of sound.
Magnetic Deviation — Unavoidable error that gets introduced into all aircraft systems and instrumentations due to magnetic fields and pull.
Mean Sea Level — Since the ocean’s surface is not completely flat, pilots and their instrumentation use this measurement as the average level for all measurements and comparisons that use sea level.
Morse Code — The popular dash-dot method of radio communication that pilots learn to help them identify letters and call signs as clearly as possible.
Operating Limits — Airplane manufacturers will provide operating limits for the aircraft that they produce. These limits include the maximum that the planes can handle in terms of many things such as speed, weight, g-force, acceleration, and more.
Overshoot — This occurs when a pilot lands the plane past the runway, “overshooting” the normal runway’s length.
Payload — This is the total weight of everything carried in the airplane, except the plane and its permanent fixtures. This includes passengers, crew, cargo, and more.
Runway End Safety Area — If a pilot overshoots the runway, this is the prepared surface past the end of the normal runway that’s there to give them more room to safely stop the aircraft in an emergency.
Skid — The opposite of slip that you’ll see just below, this is the outward pivoting movement of the plane during a steep turn.
Slip — The opposite of skid from above, this is the inward movement of the plane during a steep turn.
Touch and Go — A common technique that pilots use for practicing their landing skills, touch and go is when a pilot lands the aircraft and then takes back off again without stopping.
Transponder — The electrical device on airplanes that emits an output code that can be used by ATC to identify the aircraft.
Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) — The universal timing standard that all pilots use during any type of controlled flight. This 24-hour timing scheme mirrors Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
Zulu Time — This is another term used to describe the same timing standard above, UTC. Referring to it as Zulu Time is just the way that pilots and ATC quickly refer to it.
Pilot Slang Used By Experienced Pilots
Now that you’ve taken a look through some of the more technical and advanced aviation terms from above, let’s get into some of the more fun stuff. When we say pilot slang, we’re referring to words and phrases that pilots and ATC use that might not seem like they make much sense to other people that hear them. Without being a pilot, many of the things you see below would just seem like a completely random jumble of words!
So let’s take a look and learn some of the most commonly used phrases used by experienced pilots.
“Kick the tires and light the fires” — Not as commonly used on commercial flights as it used to be, this phrase is a way for pilots to radio that they are ready for takeoff. “Kick the tires and light the fires” means that they have finished the pre-flight inspection and are prepared to ignite the plane’s engine(s) and head into the air.
“We have a deadhead crew onboard” — While this might seem like a less than kind way to describe a crew, it actually isn’t. All this phrase means is that there is an off-duty crew onboard getting flown back to their home base or their next destination. If a crew flies somewhere but needs to be somewhere else for their next flight, they can tag along on another flight heading there as long as seats are available.
“George has taken over the flight controls” — This is just one of the many phrases that pilots can say or ways that they can say George is flying the plane. Who’s George you might ask? If you didn’t catch it in the section above, George is the commonly used name for a plane’s autopilot system. So when a pilot says that George is flying the plane, that means they’ve engaged autopilot.
“Pan-Pan” — The easiest way to think about what “pan pan” means is that it’s basically one level below an emergency or distress signal. This phrase is used when there is some sort of issue with the aircraft that the pilot needs to inform ATC of without downright declaring an emergency. Something like one of the multiple engines on an aircraft going down may require a plane to make an emergency landing and the pilot might say “pan-pan” to quiet the frequency and get the attention of ATC.
“Let’s share some crew juice at the hotel” — The main keyword of this phrase is “crew juice”, which is basically an amalgamation of leftover alcoholic beverages from the plane. Pilots and members of the crew can have to go from one timezone to another and back again in just a few days, and sometimes just need to relax. Since they of course can’t drink alcohol while on duty, they might say something like this to unwind with colleagues back at the hotel.
“Feet wet” or “Feet dry” — When pilots fly over water, they might radio into ATC and say “feet wet”, meaning that they’re no longer flying over dry land. This will help ATC direct any needed help and rescue vessels to their location. Similarly, a pilot will say “feet dry” once they get back above land for the same reasons.
“Go juice” — This simple phrase is another way for pilots to describe jet fuel while talking to other pilots, members of the crew, and ATC. If a pilot says something like “we need more go juice”, that simply just means that they need to refuel, whether that be once the plane lands (typical for commercial and private flights) or in mid-air with an aerial tanker (for military aircraft).