James, a student pilot from Wisconsin, writes: “I know that, like many of the names of airplane parts, aileron is French, but what does it mean? And why are there so many French words in aviation, anyway? Wasn’t the airplane invented in the USA?”
First to ailerons. Aileron translates to little wing or small wing. For those of you who are detail-oriented, aile is French for wing, and the suffix on is a common masculine diminutive in the French language. In addition to being an airplane part, the word aileron is also apparently used in French to describe the flight control feathers of birds.
As to why we use a French word for our wing’s control surfaces, many people will tell you it’s because the French invented them, but that’s not true. Sorry. Instead, it was an Englishman, Matthew Piers Watt Boulton. In 1864.[Read more…]