Sunday, February 5th, 2012 09:49 am GMT -7 Sunday, February 5th, 2012 09:49 am GMT -7Sunday, February 5th, 2012 09:49 am GMT -7

Here’s some candid definitions of model airplane technical terms. Tongue firmly in cheek.

Or not.Ha Ha





What the airplane does on its own to fly in one direction. It either keeps it going in that direction or brings it back. The airplane designer went to a lot of trouble to add good stability to the design.


What you as the pilot do when you work against the airplane’s built-in stability. Tip: Stability and control are usually working against each other. That is part of the reason a basic trainer does not make a good aerobatic airplane. The less you are fighting what the airplane really wants to do, the better it will fly.


What the model airplane designer affectionately calls “the bozo holding the transmitter”.

A Good Airplane Design

Usually cheap, simple, and good enough to meet the mission goals. Arguably, any popular design.

A Good Pilot

Someone who has a good understanding of the capabilities and limitations of his aircraft. Someone whose flying is best described by the word “precision”.

A Safe Pilot

Someone who uses superior judgment to avoid getting into situations that require superior flying skill. Sadly, unrelated to being a good pilot.

Hot Dog

Should be what the club sells on contest days. Instead, it’s a pilot that likes to show off. Unrelated to being a good or (hopefully) safe pilot.

Conventional Gear

Also known as a taildragger. Relatively light and aerodynamic. Best choice for large airplanes on soft fields. The choice of “pilot’s pilots”.

Tricycle Gear

A landing gear with a big training wheel on the front. Best choice for crosswind landings on smooth runways. In my book, the only choice for a trainer. If your landings are white knuckle events, take three of these and call me in the morning.

No Gear

Leaving the wheels off. My preferred choice when flying a park flyer over grass. Guaranteed not to break or need maintenance. The gear, that is. Works best with a rubber prop saver.

Angle of Attack

The difference between where a wing is pointing and where it is going.

Zero Lift Angle

The angle of attack where a wing produces no lift. For most airfoils, it is about -5 degrees.


Angles of attack higher than where maximum lift is produced, which is about 15 degrees for most airfoils. A stall can happen at any airspeed!


A bad day at the field. Corkscrew flight with one or both wings stalled. Relatively low rate of descent, but hard to get out of. With this one, prevention is the best medicine.

Spiral Dive

Vertical flight. High rate of descent, but easy to get out of. Just don’t rip the wing off (unlikely) or get into flutter (more likely).


A high frequency self-feeding vibration, usually on a wing or control surface. Can quickly lead to self-destruction. Not to be confused with what your heart will be doing when you get into a spin or spiral dive.

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