I’ve been actively involved in aviation since 1975, but I’ve been passionately engaged in aviation my entire life – or at least since my first airplane ride in a United DC-6 from Idlewild to San Francisco in 1952. That would be, as of today, 10 January 2018, sixty six freaking years. Holy Haysoos is that a whole passel of time, or what?
Over all those years, I’ve come to accept a lot of aviation terminology, although I’ve oftentimes wondered about some of the words and phrases – and why the hell they were chosen. So, that’s the topic of this rant: Why the hell do they call it a stall?
It may be apocryphal, but, back in the 90’s when I was working for King Schools I recall investigating the origins of that first topic: stall. The research led me back to Orville, or Wilbur, who first described that impending crash as a “stall”.
Why? I’m not sure. If you look in the dictionary (yes, I sill own, and use, a dictionary – not some online agglomeration of “fun facts” that might actually define a word … or not.) you’ll find:
stall, n. 1. a compartment in a stable or shed for the accommodation of one animal … 9. an instance or the condition of causing an engine, or a vehicle powered by an engine, to stop, especially by suppling it with a poor fuel mixture or by overloading it.
It’s not until the 10th meaning (of 22, and there’s a second definition set involving variations on the verb form of stall, as in “stalling for time, etc.”) do we finally find:
10. Aeronautical. an instance or the condition of causing an airplane to fly at an angle of attack greater than the angle of maximum lift, causing a loss of control and a downward spin (sic)
How many students have become befuddled by the term “stall”. For most of us it’s an automotive term – unless you’re a farmer, rancher or a pervert and fancy a go with a goat. Stall? Really? Sheez. It’s confusing as hell to students. “You want me to stall? What if the engine doesn’t restart? Won’t we die with the engine stalled?” Well, of course, no … unless you can’t or don’t remember how to recover from a stall. AND, what is the flight control that will always break a stall? Class?
That’s correct, the elevator. Well done.
It still don’t make it any less confusing for brand new primary students. When an aviation term results in confusion, it causes a negative transfer of learning – and the student struggles. I sure wish Orville, or Wilbur, could have been a bit more creative in their choice of a word that describes a condition which usually scares the bejesus out of a new student.
Okay, here’s another favorite: Forward Slip; and it’s equally confounding companion: Side Slip.
Slipping is a cross-controlled condition of flight: lots of, say, left aileron accompanied by lotsa right rudder. The confusion, of course, occurs in the airplane’s apparent direction of flight. In a FORWARD SLIP – an altitude losing maneuver – the airplane moves forward with the nose pointed to the SIDE in a different direction than the route of flight. In a SIDE SLIP – a means of correcting for a crosswind – the airplane’s nose is pointed FORWARD whilst the wing is lowered into the wind and opposite rudder is applied.
Did anyone give this any thought?
So … let’s see if we’ve got this right. In order for it to be a FORWARD SLIP, the nose is pointed to one SIDE. And in order for it to be a SIDE SLIP, the nose isn’t pointed to the side, it’s pointed FORWARD. Is it possible that those early pioneers of flight were poorly schooled in the use of the English language?
And, hell, isn’t a slip something a woman wears over her undergarments and beneath her dress?
Ready, set? Speaking of garments, here’s another favorite. Why are airplanes parked on an APRON. Isn’t that what Mom donned over her dress while she was cooking? How the hell is an APRON a place where airplanes park? Back to Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language.
apron, n. 1. a garment covering part of the front of the body and tied at the waist, for protecting the wearer’s clothing; a kitchen apron.
It’s not until entry number 6 where we get to airplanes.
6. a paved or hard-packed area abutting an airfield’s buildings and where planes are parked, loaded, or the like.
Why, hell, it makes perfect sense. Something that covers and protects clothes from kitchen spatters is a perfectly natural word to describe a place where airplanes park. Sure. And if you can buy that logic, I’ll bet you had a hand in electing that racist, misogynist, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing, orange-colored buffoon that got elected President in 2016. Wankah.
Anyone interested in a CRAB? I’m smacking my lips thinking about flying to Baltimore for a bunch of Chesapeake Bay callinectes sapidus boiled in Old Bay Seasoning. Now the dictionary’s aeronautical definition comes fairly soon: it’s entry #6.
6. Aeron. the maneuver of crabbing
A bit of a cop out, n’estce pas? Further along we find:
11. to move sideways, diagonally, or obliquely, esp. with short, abrupt burst of speed; scuttle.
12. Aeron. (of an aircraft) to head partly into the wind to compensate for drift.
CRAB … actually makes a little sense. Ooorahh. Finally, an aviation term borrowed from the vernacular that actually makes a little sense. Someone observed a crab scuttling along, kinda sideways, and applied the movement to an airplane.
You’re flying due East, 090°, and you’ve got a 20 knot wind straight outta the north. In order to continue on your easterly heading, you’ll have to CRAB a bit into that northerly wind. Eureka.
We could also talk about those terms that make new pilots, or pax, nervous. Like: TERMINAL. “We’re going to the TERMINAL?” Is it a cancer?
Maybe: FINAL approach. “We’re on FINAL, and we don’t have enough fuel to go around and try again.” OMG. It’s FINAL. Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh..
How’s about: GRAVEYARD SPIRAL. Not exactly words you wanna hear when ya got a nervous Nellie on board. “D-d-d-d-d-did someone s-s-s-s-say: GRAVEYARD?”
“KILL THE ENGINE.” Aaaaaahhhhhhhh. “He KILLED the engine.”
You engaged flaps, only the right flap came down and, OMG, “The left wing FELL OFF.”
WILCO? Could it be a business that produces a document that disposes of your earthly possessions once you’ve left the mortal coil?
WILCO, as I’m sure you all recall, simply means, “I WILlCOmply with your instructions.”
And lastly, but not leastly: who the bloody hell is this “ROGER” guy?
An apocryphal story made the rounds at King Schools back in the mid/late-90’s. The story went something like this. When the first air traffic control tower went into operation at Cleveland way back in 1930, the first air traffic controller’s name was … wait for it … ROGER.
“Roger, American 25’s on short final.” “Roger, United 16’s ready to taxi from the APRON.” “Pan American 1, ready for takeoff, Roger.”
It’s ‘sposed to be a term from morse code, but I haven’t had the time to do a thorough search. Maybe one of y’all could email me and let me know what you’ve found. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Roger means that I understand what you just said.
Sure, there’s lots more. Only I’ve run outta time and need to post this before it becomes February. If you’ve got a couple of more, shoot me an email. You’ll find the address in my contact info. “Roger, wilco. Over and out.”