Plane & Pilot
Monday, June 23, 2008

Wingipedia, Part III

In our final installment, we conclude with “Alberto Santos-Dumont” through “Zulu time”

WingipediaWe’ve finally reached the end, my friends. In “Wingipedia, Part I” [March 2008], we covered “acrobatics through “induced drag.” And in “Part II” [May 2008], we took care of “Jenny” through “roll.” It has been fun, but our aviation version of Wikipedia has reached the end of its line. Wikipedia, which asserts that its name is “a portmanteau of the words wiki (a type of collaborative website) and encyclopedia,” is an online encyclopedia that’s written and edited by its visitors, i.e., people like you and me.
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Technically anything, from a kite on up, can qualify as an unmanned aerial vehicle. UAVs are essentially exotic radio-controlled models, some of which are huge, armed and dangerous. Planes in Iraq can be controlled from as far away as Florida. They’re rewriting some of the rules of warfare.

The original name for landing gear. Very British in origin and still part of a GUMP check.

Unicom stands for “universal communication,” and sometimes it’s a little too universal. Although its purpose is to sort out traffic at uncontrolled fields by making everyone aware of one another, sometimes it turns into the aerial equivalent of a CB radio.

Useful load
The term says it all: It’s that part of the plane’s allowable gross weight that’s actually useful to you, meaning you added it, and it’s the difference between the gross weight and the empty weight. It includes things like gasoline, pilots, baggage, pets, handbags, cosmetics, charts, pencils…you get the picture.

The visual approach slope indicator is the civilian’s version of the “meatball” landing system on a carrier. If you’re right on glideslope, the first set of lights appears white and the second set appears red. If both look white, you’re high; if they both look red, you’re getting low.

Technically, a vector is a quantity having both a direction and a magnitude, e.g., wind is from 30 degrees at 10 knots. An airplane on final has both a downward vector (500 fpm at straight down) and a forward vector (80 mph at horizontal)—the resultant of the two is the glide angle at the glide speed.

“Visual flight rules” means you have the required minimum visibility and cloud separation to fly without an instrument clearance. VFR-on-top means you can see well in every direction but down. Above the clouds, VFR-on-top is one of those places where sphincters tighten up.

The omnirange navigation system: A system in which a ground station sends out signals like the spokes of a wheel, with a spoke for each degree. The receiver tells the pilot which spoke he’s on and whether he’s going to or from the station. It doesn’t give airplane heading and is being rapidly supplanted by GPS.

Weight and balance
This is the mystical art of telling whether you have the load distributed in such a way that the airplane can safely fly or not. Inasmuch as ignoring the weight and balance of an airplane can, if allowed to go far enough out of bounds, kill you, it’s an art worth deciphering.

A wristwatch, in aviation terms, must be big, heavy and terrifically complex. It can include GPS, satellite communicator, popcorn maker, etc. If it tells the time accurately, that’s a plus, but that doesn’t really add to the gee-whiz factor. Jeez, a watch that tells time: How provincial!

Whiskey compass
The name comes from the liquid in compasses that was originally part alcohol (we’re not sure if that’s true, but it sounds good). It’s the one navigation instrument in the cockpit that will still be working when the electricity goes out or the batteries go dead.

No, the winglet, the vertical fin at the end of a wing, wasn’t invented by Burt Rutan, but he’s certainly the one who proved that it worked. The winglet redirects the wingtip vortex, thereby greatly reducing tip losses, and makes the wing think it has a higher aspect ratio, which gives more lift with less wing.


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