Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Deliberate Use of Inaccurate, Incorrect Words in Aviation. Why?

Concorde Tail wheel
I have been following closely the release of information concerning the crash of the TU-154M in Russia this past week. The reason I am following it is the fact it is one of the first crashes involving an aircraft equipped with a Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS) and is involved in a Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) crash.

More on this accident in a future post after accurate information is available.

When I went to the Wikipedia entry for the accident and discovered it included the term "black box" when discussing the recovery of both the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). I have for many years objected to the deliberate use of incorrect words. As I am a registered user of Wikipedia, I have the ability to edit the entries.

I simply changed the word "black" to "orange" and waited to see what would happen. I did not have to wait long, maybe 5 minutes, until another Wiki user changed the color from orange back to black. Why would someone do this? There has to be something close to insanity involved to justify the change calling a Flight Data Recorder or the Cockpit Voice Recorder that is colored orange to a "black box".

This brings to mind an old friend of mine who owned a boat he christened "The Plane" and the at the same point in time owned a Cessna 140 he named "The Boat". He said he did it to deliberately "mess with" his family and friends minds.

Early in my career, I recognized many pilots when discussing an Instrument Landing Systems components incorrectly using the term "Outer Marker" instead of the correct term "Outer Compass Locater". I would attempt to correct this error by claiming that I had memorized the frequency of every Outer Marker in the USA. The correct frequency is 75 mHz for all of them. The Outer Compass Locater operates in the low/medium frequency spectrum and each one has a different frequency. The outer marker and the outer compass locater are two different radio facilities that are sometimes co-located at the same geographic point.

Hughes H-1 tail skid

The use of the term "tail dragger" is incorrectly and inaccurately used to describe an airplane equipped with a tail wheel. It does describe an airplane with a tail skid however. Did you know the Concorde was equipped with a tail wheel? Did you know the Hughes H-1 was equipped with a tail skid? What is the proper term for the Concorde? Is it a tail wheeler or a tail dragger?

Another term that does not accurately describe reality is the much heard and read "glass cockpit". Originally coined to recognize the large cockpit multi-function displays which consisted of cathode ray tubes (CRT) which were of glass construction. The cathode ray tube displays were replaced by the much lighter in weight liquid crystal displays (LCD) which did not generate as much heat and were much more reliable. The LCD multifunction displays are constructed of layers of plastic.

Coupled with the use of the inaccurate term of "glass cockpit" is the term "steam gauges". Why the use of these words has reached such high level of popularity is a mystery to me. Pilots for the most part pride themselves by flying and following procedures accurately. Why don't they use words accurately as well?


  1. of course you are correct, but you might as well give up. The term black box is ingrained in the population at large. Initially the boxes were black way back. But hard to see and find the color was soon changed to orange, but too late. I suppose that the majority of pilots know the correct color.
    Wikipedia is not necessarily aviation oriented
    and the general public knows "black boxes".
    Outer marker? That is my dilemma right now. My ADF was removed as outdated from my Arrow. Most small fields in the country removed ADF and maintenance cost, the FAA invented GPS approaches and the pilot gets involved with Garmin etc. and the high price of flying in the GA area at least....Bo

  2. ah, getting thru the registration process made it easy to post a comment, Bo

  3. Hi Bo,
    Thanks for your comment. I am going to do my best to make Wikipedia aviation friendly by editing it as time allows. My most recent edit by changing the color from black to orange was another poster changed the entry to make it color neutral. If you register as a Wiki user, you will be able to edit as well. The whole process of being able to do it only took me a couple of minutes. Once you are done, pick a simple edit and try the process out. Let me know when you are successful and I will check it out.