I hear and read both the terms "aerobatic" and "acrobatic" used to describe the more extreme maneuvers such as spins, rolls, loops and more. My questions is about the terms themselves. It seems that they are interchangeable, but is one actually more correct to use than the other? Why do we have these two very similar words in the aviation vernacular that seem to mean the same thing?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because I feel this is more appropiate to English.SE. This is interesting question though. $\endgroup$
    – vasin1987
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ If there is a good aviation definition, or even a regulatory definition, that should be on topic here. On that note, this question is related. $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ "acrobatic flight" is when you perform hand-stands, cartwheels, etc. in the passenger cabin during flight. "aerobatic flight" is when you perform rolls, loops, and other such interesting maneuvers. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ @reirab Haha please post that as an actual answer. I'd upvote. $\endgroup$
    – ryan1618
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ How about if a wing-suit flyer does rolls and somersaults in flight? Is that acro- or aero- batics? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 18:55

5 Answers 5


Acrobatic is being incorrectly used, although it is slightly more complicated than that.

"Aerobatic" refers specifically to flight, and "acrobatic" refers specifically to feats of the human body, so referring to an aircraft as performing acrobatics is wrong.

That said, the word "aerobatic" is derived from "aero-acrobatics" and sounds nearly identical, so it's an understandable and relatively common error.

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    $\begingroup$ So, wingwalking is acrobatics, a looping is aerobatics. Got it. So, what's wingwalking during a looping? :-D $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag that would be: aerobatical acrobatics! $\endgroup$
    – user2121
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag a form of insanity. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 22:30
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    $\begingroup$ [Citation needed] for the claim that "acrobatic" refers specifically to the human body. In particular, you're claiming that the etymology of "aerobatics" is an oxymoron: if "acrobatics" can only be done with the human body, then "aero-acrobatics" is a contradiction in terms. If "acrobatic" could refer to something done by a plane before the word "aerobatics" was coined, why can't it refer to that, today? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 9:07

The Oxford English Dictionary's etymology for "aerobatics" is "After acrobatics" and defines it as:

Feats of expert aviation, performed esp. for display. Hence aeroˈbatic a.; ˈaerobat, one who performs aerobatics; hence as v. intr., to perform aerobatics; also trans.

So it's a new word pertaining to aviation based on one for (also Oxford English Dictionary):

A rope-dancer; a performer of daring gymnastic feats and evolutions; a tumbler. lit. and fig.

Edit: Notice the fig. at the end of the definition (which is an abbreviation for figuratively). So "acrobatic" can correctly be used to describe a person, cat, airplane, etc... performing "acrobatics".


Some of the other answers seem to claim that acrobatics would be incorrect when used to describe aerobatics, however when you look up various definitions you will find out that

acrobatics : difficult and dangerous acts done by an acrobat; also : difficult or dangerous acts, movements, etc., done by another kind of performer

Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/acrobatics

So, acrobatics is just the generic word, whilst aerobatics is the more specific word describing a very specific form of acrobatics: acrobatics in the air flowing from the following etymology:

aer- + acrobatics => aerobatics

Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aerobatics

So in conclusion it's fine to use either term, especially when it's already clear that the context is about aviation. In an undefined context it might however be useful to have two words, for example

I went to an aerobatics display


I went to an acrobatics display

of course hold two very different meanings. Point is just: If you can pick, pick aerobatics, but don't go correcting people who aren't saying anything wrong.


In my opinion, acrobatic is more related to a person, "One who is skilled in feats of balance and agility in gymnastics". However, aerobatic relates to maneuvers on the air.


“Aerobatics” is only a portmanteau of “Aeronatical Acrobatics” either is fine and anyone who corrects you is a word snob.

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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't add anything to the existing answers. $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 19:40

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