Letter P - Aviation Glossary of Terms, Acronyms & Definitions | Aircraft Systems

Letter P - Aviation Glossary of Terms, Acronyms & Definitions


P-lead. Primary lead. The wire that connects the primary winding of a magneto to the ignition switch. The magneto is turned off by grounding its P-lead.

Packing. A seal between two parts where there is relative motion.

Paint. A covering applied to an object or structure to protect it and improve its appearance. Paint consists of a pigment suspended in a vehicle such as oil or water. When the vehicle dries by evaporation or curing, the pigment is left as a film on the surface.

Parabolic reflector. A reflector whose surface is made in the form of a parabola.

Parallel circuit. A method of connecting electrical components so that each component is in a path between the terminals of the source of electrical energy.

Paralleling circuit. A circuit in a multi-engine aircraft electrical system that controls a flow of control current which is used to keep the generators or alternators sharing the electrical load equally. The relay opens automatically to shut off the flow of paralleling current any time the output of either alternator or generator drops to zero.

Paralleling relay. A relay in multi-engine aircraft electrical system that controls a flow of control current which is used to keep the generators or alternators sharing the electrical load equally. The relay opens automatically to shut off the flow of paralleling current any time the output of either alternator or generator drops to zero.

Parasite drag. A form of aerodynamic drag caused by friction between the air and the surface over which it is flowing.


Parent metal. The metal being welded. This term is used to distinguish between the metal being welded and the welding rod.

Partial pressure. The percentage of the total pressure of a mixture of gases produced by each of the individual gases in the mixture.

Parting film. A layer of thin plastic material placed between a composite lay-up and the heating blanket. It prevents the blanket from sticking to the fabric.

Pascal. The unit of pressure produced when one newton of force acts uniformly over an area of one square meter. One pascal is equal to 14.503 ∙ 10-5 (0.00014503) psi. The kilopascal (kPa) is easier to manipulate. 1 kPa = 1,000 Pa = 0.14503 psi.

Pascal’s Law. A basic law of fluid power which states that the pressure in an enclosed container is transmitted equally and undiminished to all points of the container, and the force acts at right angles to the enclosing walls.

PCB. Plenum chamber burning. A method of thrust augmentation used on engines with vectored nozzles. Fuel injected into the fan-discharge air is burned to increase thrust.

Peak voltage. The voltage of AC electricity that is measured from zero voltage to the peak of either alternation.

Penetrant dwell time. The length of time a part is left in the penetrant when preparing it for inspection by the fluorescent or dye penetrant method. The hotter the part and the longer the penetrant dwell time, the smaller the fault that will be detected.

Performance number. The rating of antidetonation characteristics of a reciprocating engine fuel that is better than the high rating reference fuel, iso-octane. Performance numbers are greater than 100.

Permanent magnet. A piece of hardened steel that has been exposed to a strong magnetizing force which has aligned the spin axes of the electrons surrounding its atoms. The high retentivity of the material causes the electrons to retain their magnetic orientation.

Permanent-mold casting. A casting made in a reusable metal mold. The walls of permanent-mold castings can be made thinner than similar walls made by sand casting.

Permeability. A measure of the ease with which lines of magnetic flux can pass through a material.

Petrolatum-zinc dust compound. A special abrasive compound used inside an aluminum wire terminal being swaged onto a piece of aluminum electrical wire. When the terminal is compressed, the zinc dust abrades the oxides from the wire, and the petrolatum prevents oxygen reaching the wire so no more oxides can form.

Petroleum fractions. The various components of a hydrocarbon fuel that are separated by boiling them off at different temperatures in the process of fractional distillation.

Phase sequence, or phase rotation. The sequence with which the output phases of a three-phase generator are connected to the load. Reversing the phase sequence of a generator from A-B-C to A-C-B prevents the generator from being synchronized with the others on the bus.

Phased array antenna. A complex antenna which consists of a number of elements. A beam of energy is formed by the superimposition of the signals radiating from the elements. The direction of the beam can be changed by varying the relative phase of the signals applied to each of the elements.

Phenolic plastic. A plastic material made of a thermosetting phenol-formaldehyde resin, reinforced with cloth or paper. Phenolic plastic materials are used for electrical insulators and for chemical-resistant table tops.

Pi (π) filter. An electronic filter used to prevent radio frequency energy produced in the ignition exciter from feeding back into the aircraft electrical system. The filter is made of an inductor with a capacitor on its input and output. The name is derived from the resemblance of the three components on a schematic diagram to the Greek letter pi (π).

Pilot hole. A small hole punched or drilled in a piece of sheet metal to locate a rivet hole.

Pin knot cluster. A group of knots, all having a diameter of less than approximately 116 inch.

Pinion. A small gear that meshes with a larger gear, a sector of a gear, or a toothed rack.

Pinked-edge tape. Cloth tape whose edges have small V-shaped notches cut along their length. The pinked edges prevent the tape from raveling.

Pinking shears. Shears used to cut aircraft fabric with a series of small notches along the cut edge.

Piston pin. See wrist pin.

Piston. A sliding plug in an actuating cylinder used to convert pressure into force and then into work.

Pitch (aircraft maneuver). Rotation of an aircraft about its lateral axis.

Pitch (rivet). The distance between the centers of adjacent rivets installed in the small row.

Pitch angle. The angle between the chord line of a propeller blade and the plane of rotation. See blade angle.

Pitch distribution. The gradual change in pitch angle of a propeller blade from the root to the tip.

Pitch pocket (wood defect). Pockets of pitch that appear in the growth rings of a piece of wood.

Pitot pressure. Ram air pressure used to measure airspeed. The pitot tube faces directly into the air flowing around the aircraft. It stops the air and measures its pressure.

Plain-weave fabric. Fabric in which each warp thread passes over one fill thread and under the next. Plain-weave fabric typically has the same strength in both warp and fill directions.

Plan position indicator (PPI). A type of radar scope that shows both the direction and distance of the target from the radar antenna. Some radar antenna rotate and their PPI scopes are circular. Other antenna oscillate and their PPI scopes are fan shaped.

Plane of rotation. The plane in which a propeller blade rotates. The plane of rotation is perpendicular to the propeller shaft.

Planer. A woodworking power tool used to smooth the surfaces of a piece of wood.

Planetary gears. A type of large-ratio reduction gearing. A series of small planetary gears are mounted on a spider attached to the output shaft. The planetary gears rotate between a fixed sun gear and a driven ring gear.

Plastic media blasting (PMB). A method of removing paint from an aircraft surface by dry-blasting it with tiny plastic beads.

Plasticizer. A constituent in dope or lacquer that gives its film flexibility and resilience.

Plastics. The generic name for any of the organic materials produced by polymerization. Plastics can be shaped by molding or drawing.

Plenum chamber. An enclosed chamber in which air can be held at a pressure slightly higher than that of the surrounding air. Plenum chambers are used to stabilize the pressure of the air before it enters a double entry centrifugal compressor.

Plenum. An enclosed chamber in which air can be held at a pressure higher than that of the surrounding air.

Ply rating. The rating of an aircraft tire that indicates its relative strength. The ply rating does not indicate the actual number of plies of fabric in the tire; it indicates the number of piles of cotton fabric needed to produce the same strength as the actual piles.

Plywood. A wood product made by gluing several pieces of thin wood veneer together. The grain of the wood in each layer runs at 90° or 45° to the grain of the layer next to it.

Pneumatics. The system of fluid power which transmits force by the use of a compressible fluid.

PNP transistor. A bipolar transistor made of a thin base of N-type silicon or germanium sandwiched between a collector and an emitter, both of which are made of P-type material.

POH. Pilot’s Operating Handbook. A document published by the airframe manufacturer and approved by the FAA that lists the operating conditions for a particular model of aircraft. Engine operating parameters are included in the POH.

Pole shoe. Inward extensions from the field frame of a generator around which the field coils are wound.

Polyester fibers. A synthetic fiber made by the polymerization process in which tiny molecules are united to form a long chain of molecules. Polyester fibers are woven into fabrics that are known by their trade names of Dacron, Fortrel, and Kodel. Polyester film and sheet are known as Mylar and Celenar.

Polyester resin. A thermosetting resin used as a matrix for much of the fiberglass used in composite construction.

Polyurethane enamel. A hard, chemically resistant finish used on aircraft. Polyurethane enamel is resistant to damage from all types of hydraulic fluid.

Polyvinyl chloride. A thermoplastic resin used in the manufacture of transparent tubing for electrical insulation and fluid lines which are subject to low pressures.

Poppet valve. A T-shaped valve with a circular head. Poppet valves are used to cover the intake and exhaust openings in the cylinder head of a reciprocating engine. The valves are held closed by one or more coil springs and are opened by a cam lobe or a rocker arm pushing on the end of the valve stem.

Porcelain. A hard, white, translucent ceramic material that was used as the insulator in some of the early aircraft spark plugs.

Position error. The error in pitot-static instruments caused by the static ports not sensing true static air pressure. Position error changes with airspeed and is usually greatest at low airspeeds.

Positive-displacement pump. A fluid pump that moves a specific volume of fluid each time it rotates. Spur-gear pumps, gerotor pumps, and vane pumps are all positive-displacement pumps.

Pot life. The length of time a resin will remain workable after the catalyst has been added. If a catalyzed material is not used within its usable pot life, it must be discarded and a new batch mixed up.

Potential energy. Energy possessed in an object because of its position, chemical composition, shape, or configuration.

Potentiometer. A variable resistor having connections to both ends of the resistance element and to the wiper that moves across the resistance.

Power brakes. Aircraft brakes that use the main hydraulic system to supply fluid for the brake actuation. Aircraft that require a large amount of fluid for their brake actuation normally use power brakes, and the volume of fluid sent to the brakes is increased by the use of deboosters.

Power control valve. A hand-operated hydraulic pump unloading valve. When the valve is open, fluid flows from the pump to the reservoir with little opposition. To actuate a unit, turn the selector valve, and manually close the power control valve. Pressurized fluid flows to the unit, and when it is completely actuated, the power control valve automatically opens.

Power. The time rate of doing work. Power is force multiplied by distance (work), divided by time.


Power-assurance check. A test run made of a gas turbine engine to determine how its performance compares with its precious performance as new or freshly overhauled.

Powerplant. The complete installation of an aircraft engine, propeller, and all accessories needed for its proper function.

Precession. The characteristic of a gyroscope that causes a force to be felt, not at the point of application, but at a point 90° in the direction of rotation from that point.

Precipitation heat treatment. A method of increasing the strength of heat-treated aluminum alloy. After the aluminum alloy has been solution-heat-treated by heating and quenching, it is returned to the oven and heated to a temperature lower than that used for the initial heat treatment. It is held at this temperature for a specified period of time, and then removed from the oven and allowed to cool slowly.

Preflight inspection. A required inspection to determine the condition of the aircraft for the flight to be conducted. It is conducted by the pilot-in-command.

Preignition. Ignition of the fuel-air mixture inside the cylinder of an engine before the time for normal ignition. Preignition is often caused by incandescent objects inside the cylinder.

Prepreg. Preimpregnated fabric. A type of composite material in which the reinforcing fibers are encapsulated in an uncured resin. Prepreg materials are cut to size and shape and laid up with the correct ply orientation, and the entire component is cured with heat and pressure.

Press-to-test light fixture. An indicator light fixture whose lens can be pressed in to complete a circuit that tests the filament of the light bulb.

Pressure altitude. The altitude in standard air at which the pressure is the same as that of the existing air. Pressure altitude is read on an altimeter when the barometric scale is set to the standard sea level pressure of 29.92 inches of mercury.

Pressure carburetor. A carburetor installed on some aircraft reciprocating engines that uses the pressure difference between air inside the venture and ram air entering the carburetor to produce a fuel-metering force. Pressure carburetors have generally been replaced with continuous-flow fuel injection systems.

Pressure cooling. A method of air cooling a reciprocating engine in which the cylinders are enclosed in tight-fitting shrouds. The cowling is divided into two compartments by baffles and seals, with half of each cylinder in each compartment. Ram air is directed into one compartment, and the pressure in the other is decreased by air flowing over a flared exit or adjustable cowl flaps. The pressure difference across the cylinders causes cooling air to be drawn through the fins to remove the unwanted heat.

Pressure fueling. The method of fueling used by almost all transport aircraft. The fuel is put into the aircraft through a single underwing fueling port. The fuel tanks are filled to the desired quantity and in the sequence selected by the person conducting the fueling operation. Pressure fueling saves servicing time by using a single point to fuel the entire aircraft, and it reduces the chances for fuel contamination.

Pressure manifold (hydraulic system component). The portion of a fluid power system from which the selector valves receive their pressurized fluid.

Pressure plate (brake component). A strong, heavy plate used in a multiple-disk brake. The pressure plate receives the force from the brake cylinders and transmits this force to the disks.

Pressure reducing valve (oxygen system component). A valve used in an oxygen system to change high cylinder pressure to low system pressure.

Pressure relief valve (oxygen system component). A valve in an oxygen system that relieves the pressure if the pressure reducing valve should fail.

Pressure vessel. The strengthened portion of an aircraft structure that is sealed and pressurized in flight.

Pressure. A measure of force applied uniformly over a given unit of surface area.

Pressure-demand oxygen system. A type of oxygen system used by aircraft that fly at very high altitude. This system functions as a diluter-demand system until, at about 40,000 feet, the output to the mask is pressurized enough to force the needed oxygen into the lungs, rather than depending on the low pressure produced when the wearer of the mask inhales to pull in the oxygen. (See diluter-demand oxygen system.)

Pressure-injection carburetor. A multibarrel pressure carburetor used on large radial and V-engines. Fuel is metered on the basis of air mass flowing into the engine and is sprayed under pressure into the eye, or center, of the internal supercharger impeller.

Prevailing torque. The torque required to turn a threaded fastener before it contacts the surface it is intended to hold.

Primary winding. The winding in a magneto or ignition coil that is between the source of voltage and the breaker points. The primary winding is normally made of comparatively large diameter wire, and has a small number of turns, typically about 200.

Primer (finishing system component). A component in a finishing system that provides a good bond between the surface and the material used for the topcoats.

Profile drag. Aerodynamic drag produced by skin friction. Profile drag is a form of parasite drag.

Profile tip (compressor blade tip). The tip of an axial-flow compressor bladed whose thickness is reduced to give it a higher resonant frequency so it will not be subject to the vibrations that would affect a blade with a squared tip. The profile tip also provides a more aerodynamically efficient shape for the high velocity air that is moved by the blade. Profile tips often touch the housing and make a squealing noise as the engine is shut down. For this reason profile tips are often called squealer tips.

Profilometer. A precision measuring instrument used to measure the depth of the hone marks in the surface of a cylinder wall.

Progressive inspection. An inspection that may be used in place of an annual or 100-hour inspection. It has the same scope as an annual inspection, but it may be performed in increments so the aircraft will not have to be out of service for a lengthy period of time.

Prony brake. An instrument used to measure the amount of horsepower an engine is delivering to its output shaft. The engine is operated at a specific rpm, and a brake is applied to its output shaft. The amount of torque applied to the brake is measured, and this, with the rpm, is converted into brake horsepower.

Propeller end. The end of a reciprocating engine to which the propeller is attached.

Propeller. A device for propelling an aircraft that has blades on an engine-driven shaft and that, when rotated, produces by its action on the air, a thrust approximately perpendicular to its plane of rotation. It includes control components normally supplied by its manufacturer, but does not include main and auxiliary rotors or rotating airfoils of engines.

PropFan engine. The registered trade name by Hamilton Standard of an ultra-high-bypass turbine engine. See UHB engine.

Propulsive efficiency. A measure of the effectiveness with which an aircraft engine converts the fuel it burns into useful thrust. It is the ratio of the thrust horsepower produced by a propeller to the torque horsepower of the shaft turning the propeller. The nearer the speed of the aircraft is to the speed of the exhaust jet or propeller wake, the less kinetic energy is lost in the jet or wake, and the higher the propulsive efficiency.

PRT. Power recovery turbine. A turbine driven by exhaust gases from several cylinders of a reciprocating engine. Energy extracted from exhaust gases by the turbine is coupled, through a fluid clutch, to the engine crankshaft.

Pulsating DC. Direct current whose voltage periodically changes, but whose electrons flow in the same direction all of the time.

Pulse-jet engine. A type of air-breathing reaction engine used during World War II to power jet-propelled missiles. Fuel is sprayed into the combustion chamber and ignited. As the heated air expands, it closes the one-way shutter valve in the front of the engine and exits the engine through the nozzle at the rear. As soon as the pressure inside the combustion chamber decreases, air enters through the shutter valve and more fuel is ignited. The thrust is produced in a series of pulses.

Pump control valve. A control valve in a hydraulic system that allows the pilot to manually direct the output of the hydraulic pump back to the reservoir when no unit is being actuated.
Pureclad. A registered trade name for clad aluminum alloy.

Purge (air conditioning system operation). To remove all of the moisture and air from a cooling system by flushing the system with a dry gaseous refrigerant.

Push fit. A fit between pieces in a mechanical assembly that is close enough to require the parts to be pushed together. A push fit is looser than a press fit, but closer than a free fit.

Pusher engine. An engine installed with the propeller facing the rear of the aircraft. Thrust produced by the propeller mounted on a pusher engine pushes rather than pulls the aircraft.

Pusher powerplant. A powerplant whose propeller is mounted at the rear of the airplane and pushes, rather than pulls, the airplane through the air.


Pusher propeller. A propeller installed on an aircraft engine so that it faces the rear of the aircraft. Thrust from the propeller pushes rather than pulls the aircraft.

PV diagram. A diagram showing the relationship between the volume of a cylinder and the pressure during a cycle of engine operation.

PVC (Polyvinylchloride). A thermoplastic resin used to make transparent tubing for insulating electrical wires.

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