Ever been curious to understand pilots? Maybe you envision a future in aviation or you’re just trying to decipher what they’re saying in the movies. Either way, learn the lingo so you can speak pilot from ALPHA to ZULU! Here are some of our favorites.


ATC – air traffic control, directs aircraft through controlled airspace.


Bingo – minimum fuel required for a safe landing at the intended destination.

Birds – both the real kind that we share the air we as well as other aircraft! (FYI… Birds + Birds = Danger!)

Bogey – you’ll definitely hear this in aviation movies. (Top Gun, anyone?) Term for unidentified, potentially dangerous aircraft.


CAVU - Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited. Clear skies with a 10,000 foot ceiling and visibility for 10 miles, minimum. (Basically, the opposite of goo.)

Colorful Actions – completely showboating during a flight while also being completely dangerous (Don’t be that guy.)

Cyclic - The “stick” that controls the directional movement of a helicopter.


Dot – far in the distance, you’ll look like just a dot!

Driver or Captain – code for pilot (They should really just call pilots, “pilots,” but we don’t make the rules.)


ELT - Emergency Location Transmitter (You know… in case you get lost or something bad happens.)


FAR – Federal Aviation Regulations from the FAA, for all aviation activity in the United States.

Feet Wet or Feet Dry – flying over water or flying over land.

FOD – Foreign Object Damage. Particularly relevant to the engines that keep us in the air.

Forced Landing – occurs during emergency scenarios, including damage to the aircraft.

Furball – military term for complicated aerial battle.


Go Juice – sounds like it’s from a comic book, but it just means, “fuel”.

Goo – cloudy or raining weather that obstructs vision (see “IMC”.)

Goon Up – made a mistake (also known as a boo boo.)


Heater – another movie favorite, this one refers to a heat-seeking missile.


IFR - Instrument Flight Rules, standards for flying in the clouds or with limited visibility.

IMC - Instrument Meteorological Conditions, the conditions that necessitate IFR.


Joystick - Some people would refer to the cyclic as a joystick. They would be wrong.


Knot - Unit of measurement for speed and distance. (One nautical mile = about 1.15 statute miles.)


Landing Gear - Wheels, skids or floats, without them ending a flight successfully is difficult.

Lift - One of the aspects of physics that allows for flight.


Magnetic Compass - The most common liquid-type compass, capable of calibration to compensate for magnetic influences within the aircraft.

MSL - Mean Sea Level,  The average height of the surface of the sea for all stages of tide; used as a reference for elevations.


N-Number - In the US, every tail number starts with an N (eg N978MB, N2476F, etc…)

No Go - It’s either GO or NO GO when you’re deciding whether a flight is safe or not!

NOTAR - Ever seen those helicopters without a tail rotor? They use a NOTAR system.


OAT - Outside Air Temperature.


Phonetic Alphabet - The words used here for each letter of the alphabet. (Used in radio communications to ensure that the proper letters are communicated.)

PIC - Pilot in Command.

Pickle – to drop a bomb. (While this doesn’t apply to our helicopters, it still sounds pretty cool.)

Prang – to damage an aircraft in any way.


Quitters - Those who start something and don’t finish (We couldn’t think of a term for Q!)


Rotorcraft - the technical term for helicopters.

Runway - the strip of pavement planes must land on while helicopters are landing wherever we legally can!


Squawk - A four-digit number dialed into his transponder by a pilot to identify his aircraft to air traffic controllers.

Supersonic - A speed greater than the speed of sound.


Touch and Go - Landing practice in which an aircraft does not make a full stop after a landing, but proceeds immediately to another take-off.


UNICOM - Universal Communication, a common radio frequency used at uncontrolled airports for pilots to communicate positioning, etc...


VFR – Visual Flight Rules, standards for flying using visual reference only (as opposed to IFR.)


Wingman – not just your go-to friend for meeting strangers but also the second pilot in a two-aircraft formation.


Nothing to see here.


Yaw - Of the three axes in flight, this specifies the side-to-side movement of an aircraft on its vertical axis, as in skewing.


Zero-Dark-Thirty – more than just a movie about a major U.S. military operation, it is also the time between midnight and dawn.

Obviously, this is just a sampling of the MANY, MANY terms in aviation! (For a full list, visit here.)

Want to put your aviation slang to the test? Contact us for lessons!