Can You Answer All of These Questions a Pilot Should Know?


By: Ian Fortey

6 Min Quiz

Image: James Lauritz/ DigitalVision / Getty Images

About This Quiz

If you want, you can Google the plans for a flying machine drawn up by Leonardo da Vinci back in the early 1500s. He was fascinated by the subject and had drawn hundreds and hundreds of plans and written a ton on the subject. There's no evidence he ever built his machine, and that's probably for the best as the knowledge we have today tells us that there's no way it would have worked. But the idea was there! And it never went away. And then on Dec. 17, 1903, the Wright brothers tested their very first plane at Kitty Hawk and made four very brief but overall successful flights. And in just over 100 years look how far we've come! The Concorde could cross the ocean at speeds topping 1,300 miles per hour. The Airbus A380 plane had a wingspan of 262 feet and could carry 500 passengers. That's an incredible evolution! And learning everything needed to fly these things is not easy.

If you have a bit of a pilot's heart, that love of freedom and taking to the air in defiance of gravity, then prove to us you know your stuff. Hop in the pilot's seat and take the quiz!

Altitude is measured in feet in places like the United States. How is it measured in other countries?

The problem with imperial versus metric measurements is that there's no worldwide standard for something as basic as altitude. While they measure in feet in America, you'll be doing it in meters in a place like Russia.


What's the maximum payload capacity of a commuter aircraft?

A commuter aircraft has to carry passengers on at least 5 round trips per week and the max payload has to be no more than 7,500 lbs. They also have to have under 30 passenger seats.


What does the variometer on a plane measure?

A variometer is a simple gauge that can be as simple as a ball in a tube. It is used to measure changes in the pitch of the plane, no matter how subtle they may be. What does that mean? The rate of climb or descent basically.


You have a rudder and a fin. Which one moves?

Your plane has a vertical airfoil that has two important parts; the fin and the rudder. Your rudder is what moves to affect the yaw of the plane, which is what causes the plane to rotate left or right in the opposite direction it might roll. The fin, on the other hand, stays stationary.


There's a name for the height a plane stays at for most of a flight. What is it?

Your cruising altitude is the constant highest altitude that a plane stays at for the majority of its flight with the exception of its ascent and descent and any corrections that need to be made for weather or other circumstances.


ELT stands for what?

ELT stands for emergency locator transmitter, which is a piece of equipment that broadcasts an emergency signal on a designated frequency in the event that an accident or other emergency occurs. It can either be set off automatically or you may have to do it manually.


Do you know the first freedom of the Chicago Convention?

The Chicago Convention lays out a set of 9 freedoms that are part of the International Civil Aviation Organization. The first of these freedoms which coordinate and regulate international air travel gives you the right to overfly a foreign country without landing.


Where is the National Flight Data Center?

Located in Washington, D.C., the National Flight Data Center is a facility that was started by the FAA and is basically the central hub of all relevant data and information needed for the flight industry whether government, military or commercial.


Adverse yaw occurs along what axis?

A plane works in three dimensions so it can move along three separate principal axes. Adverse yaw occurs along the vertical axis. If there were a spike right through the middle of the plane going up and down, adverse yaw would be when it spins to the left or right on that axis.


Do you know on which axis roll occurs?

Roll occurs on a plane's longitudinal axis. You can imagine this axis running the length of the plane from nose to tail, and roll occurs as the plane rotates on that axis. So if the left wing lifts and the right wing dips, that's a roll.


What gauge will tell you the plane's altitude?

Altitude is measured by the altimeter, which tells you the plane's altitude above sea level. It determines altitude by measuring atmospheric pressure and needs to be adjusted to account for local barometric pressure.


Do you know what CAVU stands for?

CAVU is a meteorological term that means ceiling and visibility unlimited and refers to ideal flying conditions. Visibility should be 10 miles and your ceiling should be 10,000 feet.


Can you tell us what it means if your course deviation indicator needle is pointing to the left?

The course deviation indicator, or CDI, is a gauge that shows the plane's position in relation to a course that's been set out by some kind of radio beacon. If the needle is pointing left then you have gone off course to the right. When you're on course the needle will be straight.


What's the name of the wind that does not run parallel to the plane's direction of travel?

If the wind is blowing and it's not directly in line with the plane, then that can be classified as a crosswind. Basically any wind that isn't perfectly parallel to the flight path is a crosswind and can make flying more difficult.


Which of these is the term for when you have to land a plane that has lost propulsion?

You're landing dead-stick if anything that propels the plane has stopped working. The engine and propeller are out and the pilot has to glide in for a landing if at all possible. The stick the term refers to is a reference to old-timey wooden propellers.


Do you know what you call the force that works against a plane as it flies?

Drag is just part of physics, and even Aristotle understood the basic principles of it way back in the day. Something moving forward has a force acting against it essentially pushing back on that forward momentum.


Which of these is another name for the tail assembly of a plane?

The empennage is what provides the stability to the plane during flight and consists of the entire tail assembly such as the rudder and fin. Without a vertical and horizontal stabilizer, it's nearly impossible to fly.


How is speed measured when you're flying?

A plane's speed is measured in knots, much like a boat. A knot is equal to one nautical mile per hour and a nautical mile is slightly different than your average everyday mile, so it's actually about 1.15 miles per hour.


Every aircraft gets a four-digit number assigned to it. What do you call that number?

Formally, you'd call this a transponder code but air traffic control will call it a squawk code. Every aircraft has its own squawk code that they use when speaking to air traffic control, and it helps them organize who and where everyone is in the sky.


Cargo, passengers and anything else being carried by plane is called what?

The payload on an aircraft is anything that the plane is carrying above and beyond the essentials. Most people don't consider that if you break the word down it's a load that pays, which is what cargo or passengers are at the end of the day.


What do pants do on a plane?

Pants, arguably the best-named piece of equipment in aviation, are also called fairings and they look basically like sleek, streamlined coverings for the wheels on a smaller plane. They help reduce drag on the plane overall.


What officially qualifies as supersonic speed?

Supersonic speed is what you'd call anything that has exceeded Mach 1, otherwise known as the speed of sound. That works out to 768 miles per hour or, in proper aviation terms, 667 knots at 68F at sea level.


What's the name of the principle that explains how an aircraft achieves lift?

Lift in an aircraft is explained by Bernoulli's principle, which says that an increase in the speed of a fluid, or in this case air, occurs with a decrease in pressure. So the faster you get that plane going on the runway the less pressure on the craft overall ... and boom, you have lift.


Which of these will prevent a fire or explosion while fueling?

A static wire is a pretty simple tool which is literally just a wire that you can clip onto the plane to ground it during the fueling process. A static wire draws off static electricity so that you're not worrying about a spark starting a fire.


How many aircraft approach categories are there?

There isn't just one speed for aircraft approach, and in fact, there are five categories for aircraft approach based on the kind of aircraft ranging from single-engine to jet airliners to military aircraft. Technically, there's a sixth category for helicopters, too.


Not every airfield is super high-tech. What do you call an unpaved runway?

When you can't find a nice, smooth paved runway at a typical airport, sometimes you need to go for something a little more rustic and dirty. In that case, you could make a soft field landing on a dirt runway.


On which axis does pitch occur?

Pitch is what occurs on the transverse axis of a plane. The transverse axis runs through the plane from the left side to the right side, so when you pitch on that access the nose will move up or down.


You can't actually land on every part of a runway. What is the name of the sections that denote the ends of the landable surface?

The threshold of a runway is often marked with something like lines or lights and is essentially a kind of border or end of the usable runway surface. It's kind of like a bookend for a runway.


An airplane doesn't have a steering wheel like a car. What does it have?

You'd likely hear someone in a movie call it a stick or just "the controls," but the proper name for the control wheel of any aircraft is actually the yoke. Whether or not anyone in the cockpit uses that term is another matter.


Which of these is the maximum altitude at which a plane can fly?

The absolute ceiling is about as high as a plane can fly under normal conditions. Generally, the number an aircraft uses will be the service ceiling, which can be considered the maximum altitude an aircraft "should" fly at, rather than the absolute altitude it can achieve.


Do you know what used to cause serious accidents back in the day but not so much anymore?

Wind shear contributed to 26 serious crashes between 1964 and 1985. By 1993, all commercial aircraft were required to have an onboard wind shear detection system to prevent any serious accidents.


Which term covers when you land and then head into another take-off without stopping?

They call a landing in which you touch down and take off again a touch-and-go landing. Obviously this isn't an everyday technique, but it's something you might do when learning how to fly a fixed-wing aircraft.


What type of vehicle doesn't require any kind of certification to operate?

Ultralight aircraft are typically single-seat, slow-flying vehicles that don't even technically qualify as planes. They're flown for recreation and you don't even need pilot certification to use one. They're kind of like those electric scooters that you don't need a license to drive because they're glorified bicycles, but for the air.


This type of engine has a turbine that moves a propeller. What is it?

Turboprop engines work by using the energy produced by the engine to get a turbine moving. That turbine then rotates the propeller which is what generates the thrust for the entire plane. Contrast that with a turbojet engine that uses no propeller but is powerful enough to generate thrust through the compression of air.


Which of these means "little wing" in French?

The aileron on a plane's wing is a hinged flap that you'll see along the flat, inside edge of a plane's wing. Used together on both wings the pilot raises and lowers the ailerons to control the plane's roll during flight, which is the up and down movement of the wings.


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