Theory of Flight


Theory of Flight is about how aircraft fly and the related theoretical background which is the inevitable consequence of flight. The content of the articles in this category is generic. While most pilots are taught many of the concepts discussed within this category, many pilots do not encounter the application of some of the underlying principles until much later on in their career. The purpose of this category in SKYbrary is to provide simple summaries of those parts of the theory of flight for which a good understanding is most likely to support safe flight, both in normal and abnormal circumstances.

The Effects of not appreciating key points about the theory of flight can ultimately be terminal loss of control of the aircraft, perhaps after an unexpected initial loss of control.

Defences against this are a good knowledge of the theory of flight and simulator practice in those parts of the flight envelope or those lift/drag conditions which are rarely encountered in everyday flying.

Typical Scenarios

Typical scenarios where knowledge of flight theory can make a difference are:

  • Loss of all engines - optimum glide range and descent rate control
  • Avoiding or recovering from a high level climb or cruise stall
  • Effective recovery from an inadvertent stall or spin without exceeding the structural limits of the aircraft,
  • Turbine Compressor surge/stall
  • Frost on critical wing surfaces
  • Low level loss of control with insufficient height for recovery

Contributory Factors

  • Ineffective flight deck security - interference with the operation of the aircraft
  • Lack of recognition that the intentional or unintentional actions of the other pilot could prejudice the continued safety of flight.
  • Operation outside the certificated flight envelope


Be satisfied that the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for your operation are adequate and then always apply them. Be satisfied that your own knowledge of flight theory is commensurate with the flying environment in which you operate, especially in respect of sufficient understanding of aircraft control when recovering from unusual aircraft attitudes

Further Reading

For a basic summary from a light aircraft perspective, see the ’FAA Airplane Flying Handbook’

Another old but very useful reference is "Aerodynamics for Naval Aviators", produced in January 1965 for the US Navy by H H Hurt Jr, University of California,


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