In my years as an avionics tech, mechanic, and business owner, I’ve come across many special technical terms. Some are so obscure or industry specific that the ordinary citizen would never have any idea what they mean. However, using the correct term in the proper context can make all the difference when trying to explain a problem to a mechanic.

A few decades ago I supported my aviation habit working as a licensed land surveyor and learned the importance of carefully chosen words. I still have my compulsory copy of Black’s Law Dictionary. I often used it to help select the most precise word for a particular application in legal documents. One might not realize it, but there is a dramatic difference between describing a boundary as going “along” a fence, “with” a fence, or “on” a fence. When communicating with your mechanic, carefully chosen words are just as important.

Mechanics are mostly straight line thinkers with not much tolerance for gray areas. Yes and no answers keep us most comfortable. We’re also tactile people and do well when a problem can be touched or demonstrated visually. It’s good for aircraft owners and pilots to keep these thoughts in mind.

A frequent opening statement from a pilot to a mechanic is that the “engine isn’t running right.” Next comes me giving the pilot the third degree to drag enough information out to make enough sense of the situation to begin my own troubleshooting. It’s a very cumbersome and inefficient system that needs fixing.


Believe it or not, the pilot/owner is the best equipped person to begin serious troubleshooting issues on their planes. I suppose the primary difficulty is a perceived communication disconnect between mechanic and owner. The owner doesn’t feel that he/she knows enough to accurately describe the problem, and the mechanic wants more detail than he/she thinks the owner can provide.

To collect usable information, an owner must be very observant and make written notes as soon as practical. Pay close attention to anything that might be even remotely related to the source of concern. It’s amazing how much information is lost as soon as the wheels touch the ground again.

A mechanic works best if given very clear information in chronological order. Notes should help to relay the information in sequence. As the event is being told, the mechanic can ask appropriate questions that will likely prompt even more detailed and useful information from the pilot.

Choosing the descriptive words carefully can make all the difference in getting to the cause of the problem efficiently. We mechanics don’t expect, or need, the pilot to understand the mechanical aspects of the plane. What we do need is for the pilot to give his/her best detailed and complete description of the event. This might even include making engine noises, really.

There are a lot of terms mechanics and pilots use to describe problems. Most aren’t very technical or useful, but they can convey important information. I’ve collect a few descriptive terms for your review, study and reading pleasure. Some are usable, and some shouldn’t be used, but we’ve heard them all. There are more that were weeded out of this list due to the family nature of the magazine.

Avionics, Just for a Start

Omni snake – noun – the combined AM and FM modulated VOR signal that is removed from the radio frequency. The name comes from its appearance on an oscilloscope. Comparison of the phase between the two modulations yields the bearing to or from a VOR station.

Magic smoke – noun – that mystical matter which makes all avionics components work.

Fried – verb – when electronics get overheated and are susceptible to losing their magic smoke.

Smoked – adj. – when frying is not mitigated soon enough and magic smoke is allowed to escape. In most cases an electronic component that loses magic smoke is not repairable and must be replaced. Fried semiconductors can not be refilled with magic smoke.

Maintenance – In No Particular Order

Bustikated – adj – a part broken beyond any hope of repair. This is usually a sudden failure.

wallered out – verb – passive enlarging of a hole by some unintentional mechanical means. An undertorqued bolt might move around, creating a larger than wanted hole.

hogged out – verb – intentional enlarging of a hole by some mechanical means. A rotary grinder in a drill motor will do this job nicely.

worn slap out – adj – an item that has sustained wear to the extreme that it can no longer function and can’t be recovered. This usually describes normal wear gone unrestrained.

TLAR – acronym – for a very exacting method of measurement used frequently in the detailed world of aviation maintenance: That Looks About Right.

baldini – noun – a tire that is worn to the point of being completely smooth and void of any tread.

maypop – noun – a tire worn to the point of failing at its next use; it “may pop” at any time

unobtanium – noun – a very rare material often used in the manufacture of parts for legacy aircraft. Use of this material has been known to drive the cost of parts for very old aircraft to values as high as the same part for a current production aircraft.

MIF – acronym – for Maintenance or Mechanic Induced Failure; bustikation performed by an A&P

Kludge – noun – a quick, messy but functional fix or workaround to a problem

Kludgebucket – adj. – the result of implementing a kludge.

Smoke tight and half a turn – phrase – when one determines that looking up the proper torque is unnecessary due to one’s personal experience and expertise. This is often followed by a MIF.

Elbow clicks – phrase – a precise unit of measure for torquing a fastener free hand. Also usually followed by a MIF.

Gorilla Snot – product – generic term for that yellow adhesive which sticks to just about anything. Seems to stick best to hands, clothes, and hair.

SSSBEP – acronym – typical source of mechanical problems not attributed to a MIF; Stick Shaker Shorted Between the Ear Phones.

Hurly Gurly – noun – Hand operated countersink tool

Screw stick – screw driver

Gapposis – noun – a condition in which the space between two items has increased beyond acceptable limits.

Womper – noun – a very large mallet

Big Bertha – noun – the largest pry bar in a mechanic’s tool box.

Flame wrench – noun – acetylene torch set. Very effective in removing certain fasteners that don’t respond to more traditional methods.

Mooned rivets – noun – rivets set with the gun at an incorrect angle allows the edge of the tool to make a crescent shaped imprint in the surrounding aluminum.

Happy Rivets – similar to Mooned rivets just in a better mood. See a picture of a smiley face icon for reference.

Armpit – noun – the main gear pivot assembly on a retractable gear Cessna single engine (172RG, 177RG, R182, and 210) or Skymaster.

Leaky Armpit – phrase – when an armpit perspires hydraulic fluid.

WWTCD – Acronym – what would Tom Carr do – question to ask when faced with a perplexing maintenance problem.

And a few select ones from OZ (Australia)

Goop – noun – Officially used to seal wet wing fuel tanks but does an even better job of attaching to clothes, permanently.

Bog – noun – body filler, for the airplane, not you. (aka “bondo” in the States)

Kerosene annual – phrase – A simple annual inspection consisting only of an engine wash and a signature in the records.

Won’t pull the skin off a rice pudding -phrase – an engine performance evaluation.

Flat out like a lizard drinking – phrase -another performance evaluation. Apparently this describes very good performance. I suppose a better knowledge of Australian reptiles would help in understanding.

Stuffed – adj. – a component or system that’s “done in” or unserviceable.

Golden pen – noun – pen used to sign off work not actually performed. Applies more to the mechanic holding the pen than the pen itself.

Dangling the dunlops – phrase -undercarriage extended in the down position.

Undercarriage – noun – in the States we would typically use the pseudonym “landing gear”. However, since its function is not limited to landing, those in OZ prefer the more precise and descriptive “undercarriage”.

Sparking on all fours – phrase – the engine is running smoothly and/or people are working well. In the States we’d probably say “firing on all eight”. That might speak more to our need for excess.

Productive Communication

You may not think this was very productive. I admit it’s a bit frivolous to write, and I had some fun getting input from friends all around the industry, even from my good friend in the land of OZ. But the real objective is that we all need to get our head around the idea of precise and accurate communication between pilot and mechanic.

Oscar Wilde wrote in The Canterville Ghost (1887), “We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” This can easily be said of pilots and mechanics as well. Each have unique personalities and totally different points of reference when discussing maintenance.

The pilot should fully describe the event or problem in a logical manner which allows the mechanic to ask even better questions. The end result is more productive time thinking and less time required for doing. This should yield finding the source of the problem with far less effort ($$$) and less chance of duplicating work. All in all, accurate communications make for a much safer and more productive method all the way around.

Copyright © Paul New 2013. All rights reserved.