Lexicon for flying “on the step” – Part 2

Could the origin to flying “on the step” have been drawn from water craft? Barry Schiff and another fellow pilot I know suggest it is a probable fountainhead for the term. But I have not located an original source document making this connection. 

Barry, in his AOPA article May 2016 said, “The theory of step flying probably originated with speedboats and seaplanes operating on the water. Such vehicles do have step modes during which greater speeds are sustainable at lower power settings than when operating in the plowing mode (nose high in the water).” But Barry goes on to say, “there is no basis . . . for believing the same principle is applicable in flight.

Cirrus SR22TN Turbo above the clouds in the flight levels, credit wikiWings
On the step, Cirrus SR22TN Turbo above the clouds in the flight levels, credit wikiWings

Recently, a fellow pilot told me he’s used both engine power from below and momentum from above to set up best cruise flight in a variety of planes he’s flown over the years. He’s been an avid boater, and understands the boat planing effect achievable at the right speeds in water.

If you are aware of a reference to flying “on the step” please share the source or point me in the general direction to search. I’m interested in finding the origins for the flying term “on the step.”


Schiff, Barry “Stepping Along ‘On the step’ Fact or fiction?,” AOPA Pilot, May 2016, p18.

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