The Ultimate Aviation Cheat Sheet

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It seems like everybody these days knows a pilot-whether it’s a significant other, family member, or friend. We’ve all been there: sometimes, you have no idea what they’re talking about.

We’re very into the technical, complicated side of flying here at PCE– where we repair and overhaul piston engines for smaller planes, and supply parts and avionics too. But, we’re also a family business that was passed down from a father to a son, and we love being able to help bring families together through aviation- whether it’s learning about planes, learning to fly, or learning to enjoy the ride.

So we put together the best cheat sheet on flight basics- so that (without all the details and ground school) you can grasp a basic understanding of what it’s all about- hopefully in an interesting way, too (with illustrations for those visual learners). Let’s begin.

The 4 Forces of Flight:


Gravity- Supposedly, once upon a time, Sir Isaac Newton was sitting beneath an apple tree when one of them dropped on his head- and from that, we discovered the force of gravity. As you probably know, gravity is the force that pulls things toward the surface of the Earth. Just like an apple, gravity will be the reason that the plane falls toward the ground if the ratio of lift to gravity isn’t right. Gravity makes the airplane go down toward the ground.

Diagram of how air flows over and under airfoil

Lift- Airplane wings are shaped to make air move faster over the top of the wing. When air moves faster, the pressure of the air decreases. So the pressure on the top of the wing is less than the pressure on the bottom of the wing. The difference in pressure creates a force on the wing that lifts the wing up into the air. Lift makes the airplane go up toward the sky.

When lift is greater than gravity, the plane goes up. When gravity is greater than lift, the plane goes down.

Thrust- This makes the plane go forward.

Drag- This pulls the plane backward.


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