Aeronautical Terms beginning with S

St. Elmo’s Fire

A corona discharge which lights up the aircraft surface areas where maximum static discharge occurs.

Satellite ephemeris data

Data broadcast by the GPS satellite containing very accurate orbital data for that satellite, atmospheric propagation data, and satellite clock error data.


The first fundamental skill of instrument flight, also known as cross-check; the continuous and logical observation of instruments for attitude and performance information.

Selective availability (SA)

A satellite technology permitting the Department of Defense (DOD) to create, in the interest of national security, a significant clock and ephemeris error in the satellites, resulting in a navigation error.

Semicircular canal

An inner ear organ that detects angular acceleration of the body.

Sensitive altimeter

A form of multipointer pneumatic altimeter with an adjustable barometric scale that allows the reference pressure to be set to any desired level.

Signal-to-noise ratio

An indication of signal strength received compared to background noise, which is a measure of how adequate the received signal is.


Transmission and reception on the same frequency.

Simplified directional facility (SDF)

A NAVAID used for nonprecision instrument approaches. The final approach course is similar to that of an ILS localizer; however, the SDF course may be offset from the runway, generally not more than 3°, and the course may be wider than the localizer, resulting in a lower degree of accuracy.

Single-pilot resource management (SRM)

The ability for crew or pilot to manage all resources effectively to ensure the outcome of the flight is successful.

Situational awareness

Pilot knowledge of where the aircraft is in regard to location, air traffic control, weather, regulations, aircraft status, and other factors that may affect flight.

Skidding turn

An uncoordinated turn in which the rate of turn is too great for the angle of bank, pulling the aircraft to the outside of the turn.

Skin friction drag

Drag generated between air molecules and the solid surface of the aircraft.

Slant range

The horizontal distance from the aircraft antenna to the ground station, due to line-of-sight transmission of the DME signal.

Slaved compass

A system whereby the heading gyro is slaved to, or continuously corrected to bring its direction readings into agreement with a remotely located magnetic direction sensing device (usually this is a flux valve or flux gate compass).

Slipping turn

An uncoordinated turn in which the aircraft is banked too much for the rate of turn, so the horizontal lift component is greater than the centrifugal force, pulling the aircraft toward the inside of the turn.

Small airplane

An airplane of 12,500 pounds or less maximum certificated takeoff weight.

Somatogravic illusion

The misperception of being in a nose-up or nose-down attitude, caused by a rapid acceleration or deceleration while in flight situations that lack visual reference.

Spatial disorientation

The state of confusion due to misleading information being sent to the brain from various sensory organs, resulting in a lack of awareness of the aircraft position in relation to a specific reference point.

Special use airspace

Airspace in which flight activities are subject to restrictions that can create limitations on the mixed use of airspace. Consists of prohibited, restricted, warning, military operations, and alert areas.

Standard holding pattern

A holding pattern in which all turns are made to the right.

Standard instrument departure procedures (SIDS).

Published procedures to expedite clearance delivery and to facilitate transition between takeoff and en route operations.

Standard rate turn

A turn in which an aircraft changes its direction at a rate of 3° per second (360° in 2 minutes) for low- or medium-speed aircraft. For high-speed aircraft, the standard rate turn is 1 1⁄2° per second (360° in 4 minutes).

Standard service volume (SSV)

Defines the limits of the volume of airspace which the VOR serves.

Standard terminal arrival route (STAR)

A preplanned IFR ATC arrival procedure published for pilot use in graphic and/or textual form.

Static longitudinal stability

The aerodynamic pitching moments required to return the aircraft to the equilibrium angle of attack.

Static pressure

Pressure of air that is still, or not moving, measured perpendicular to the surface of the aircraft.

Steep turns

In instrument flight, any turn greater than standard rate; in visual flight, anything greater than a 45° bank.

Stepdown fix

The point after which additional descent is permitted within a segment of an IAP.

Strapdown system

An INS in which the accelerometers and gyros are permanently strapped down or aligned with the three axes of the aircraft.


The body’s response to demands placed upon it.

Structural icing

The accumulation of ice on the exterior of the aircraft.

Suction relief valve

A relief valve in an instrument vacuum system required to maintain the correct low pressure inside the instrument case for the proper operation of the gyros.


A device used to transmit indications of angular movement or position from one location to another.

Synthetic vision

A realistic display depiction of the aircraft in relation to terrain and flight path.

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