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Those not familiar with aircraft design or operation may not understand some of

the terminology used within this site. We hope that this section, which defines
some common terms and symbols, will be useful.


Symbol Description Units Definition

AIAA American Institute of - -
Aeronautics &
AN/APG Unknown - Designation for radar systems
c Chord length ft Characteristic length of an airfoil.
CD Coefficient of drag - Measure of the total drag of the
C D0</SUB< Parasite drag - Measure of the drag due to the
font> coefficient aircraft shape
C Di Induced drag - Measure of the drag caused by lift
CEP Circular Error Probable - Defines how likely a bomb is to
reach its target
CG Center of Gravity ft Point where the aircraft is
CL Coefficient of lift - Measure of the lift produced by
the aircraft
CM Pitching moment - Measure of the pitching moment
coefficient about the aerodynamic center
D Drag lb Force pushing against aircraft
DGPS Differential Global - System allowing precise
Positioning System navigation and position data
anywhere on Earth
EW Electronic Warfare - -
FBW Fly-by-wire - Flight surfaces controlled
electronically rather than
FLIR Forward Looking - System using infrared (heat)
Infrared sensors to image an area
g Acceleration due to ft/s 2 Defines how much load a
gravity or "g's" structure can take before failing
GBU Guided Bomb Unit - Bomb guided by advanced
targeting system
GPS Global Positioning - see DGPS
GTOW Gross Takeoff Weight lb Weight of aircraft at takeoff
including fuel and payload
IFF Identification Friend or - System used to identify friendly or
Foe enemy aircraft
IMU Inertial Measurement - -
INS Inertial Navigation - Very accurate navigation device
IRS Infrared Signature - Measure of the heat signature of
an object which can be viewed
with IR sensors
JDAM Joint Direct Attack - Second generation of advanced
Munitions bombs
KEAS Knots equivalent knots Ground equivalent airspeed
L Lift lb Upward force on aircraft opposing
LE Leading edge - Forward surface of wing
M Mach number - Multiple of the speed of sound at a
given altitude
m Meter - -
M cr Critical Mach number - Mach number at which shocks
begin to form
n Load factor g Number of g's experienced by the
nm Nautical mile - Standard distance measurement
used in aviation, equals 6,280 ft
OEI One Engine Inoperative - -
R/C Rate of climb ft/min Rate at which altitude is gained
RAM Radar Absorbant - Advanced materials which absorb
Materials radar waves
RCS Radar Cross Section - Measure of how much radar a
shape reflects
RFP Request for Proposal - Industry term indicating a need for
a design
SFC Specific Fuel lbmass fuel / Measure of the fuel needed per
Consumption hr / lb force pound of thrust, or a measure of
thrust fuel efficiency
S ref Reference area ft Measure of wing area used to
determine aerodynamic
T Thrust lb Force opposing drag which
propels aircraft forward
t/c Thickness to chord - Ratio of airfoil thickness to chord
ratio (length)
UCAV Uninhabited Combat - Politically correct term for new
Aerial Vehicle class of unmanned combat aircraft
V Freestream velocity ft/s The speed of the air flowing past
the aircraft
VA Corner or maneuvering ft/s or KEAS Minimum speed at which aircraft
speed can maneuver without stalling
VC Maximum level cruise ft/s or KEAS Maximum level speed at which
speed at sea level aircraft can fly
VD Design dive speed ft/s or KEAS Maximum speed aircraft can
reach in a dive
VHF Very High Frequency - Radio band used for
VS Stall speed ft/s or KEAS Speed at which the wing will stall
(i.e. lose lift)

Other Terminology:

• afterburning: Process of burning fuel in a pipe aft of the turbine in a jet

engine to increase thrust and speed.
• aileron: Control surface located on the outboard section of the wings that
deflect up or down to increase or decrease the lift produced by each wing
and produce a rolling motion.
• airfoil: Shape defined by the cross-section of wing or aero surface.
• angle of attack: Angle at which the airstream meets the wing.
• aspect ratio: Ratio of the square of the wingspan to the wing reference
• avionics: Aviation electronics.
• camber: The curvature of an airfoil or wing as viewed from the side.
• ceiling: A maximum altitude.
• egress: Exit.
• flap: Control surface located on the inner portion of a wing that extends
outward and deflects downward to increase the camber and lift of the
• ingress: Entrance.
• knots: Measure of velocity in nautical miles per hour.
• longerons: Fuselage structural members.
• low observables: Materials designed to make an aircraft harder to detect
by radar, IR, or other sensors.
• pitch: Up and down motion of the aircraft nose.
• planform: A two-dimensional aircraft or wing shape as viewed from
• range: Maximum distance aircraft can travel without refueling.
• roll: Up and down motion of wing tips.
• rudder: Control surface located on the vertical tail that defects from side
to side to change the sideforce on the aircraft and cause the nose to turn
right or left.
• sawtooth: Notch in the leading or trailing edge of a wing.
• signature: Radar/IR/electromagnetic "fingerprint" left by an aircraft.
• stall: As the wing angle of attack increases, the wing generates more lift
until a maximum is reached. After this point, the wing is said to stall
because it rapidly loses lift.
• sweepback: Angle of wing inclination with respect to the fuselage.
• thrust vectoring: System that deflects the engine thrust in different
directions to make the aircraft more maneverable.
• turbofan: Gas turbine engine in which a large diameter fan in a short duct
generates thrust.
• turbojet: Gas turbine engine in which the exhaust gases generate thrust.
• turboprop: Gas turbine engine in which exhaust gases are used to turn a
• yaw: Side to side motion of aircraft nose.