Full speed ahead: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/balls_to_the_wall

Full speed ahead and nosedive: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2006/02/why-we-say-balls-to-the-wall.html

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    $\begingroup$ It is unfortunate that that Slate article exists. It is wrong and it is being used as a reference in the Wikipedia entry. $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 5:28
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    $\begingroup$ Citogenesis at work, perhaps? $\endgroup$
    – njuffa
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 7:44
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    $\begingroup$ Again: is this english.se or aviation.se? 🙈😅 $\endgroup$
    – sophit
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 8:55
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    $\begingroup$ I said the WALL... not the ceiling! How many {morons} do we have on this ship? $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 20:47

2 Answers 2


When used in aviation it just means "everything forward" for maximum performance, everything being throttles, propeller RPM levers, and mixture control levers, where you need maximum performance. Not flight controls. It has nothing to do with diving; it's just a reference to maximum power.

The "balls" are the knobs traditionally used on throttle quadrants back in the 20s and 30s. The "wall" is represented by the instrument panel forward of the quadrant, or possibly the firewall in a single engine airplane.

When an engine quits on takeoff, one of first memory items is to confirm that all three sets of controls, throttle, prop and mixture, are all the way forward.

Supercharged piston engines of the day had a manifold pressure red line setting that you had to manage. You weren't just supposed to push the throttle all the way, you adjust it until the MP gauge is at a redline mark.

In an emergency however, you may elect to ignore the manifold pressure limit and make the engine produce whatever it could. In WW2 aircraft, there was a War Emergency Power setting, usually with a "gate" made of, or retained by, copper witness wire that would form a normal limit stop, but which you could break through if you pushed hard enough, to get everything the engine had (and probably damaging it in the process, which is why the witness wire).

Anyway, in an airplane like a DC-3 it's 6 balls, one on top of each lever. So it's a short-form and amusing slang description of shoving all of the engine control levers fully forward.

Another very similar phrase used commonly in aviation for throttles is to say "firewall it". It means shove the throttle fully forward, with the joking inference or suggestion that you ram it so hard your fist ends up in the engine firewall.

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    $\begingroup$ Got it, so "Balls to the wall" is the aviation equivalent of the term "Floor" used in cars. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ Pretty much, yeah. There's similar phrase in flying, where you say "firewall it". $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 1:32
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    $\begingroup$ I’d say it’s more analogous to “pedal to the metal” $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 5:21
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah 'firewall it' could've originated with cars, but normally it would be 'floor it'. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 5:25
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    $\begingroup$ The "balls" are the knobs traditionally used on throttle quadrants I always assumed "balls" were an anatomic reference. TIL! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 15:54

It actually means "to cut every piece of red tape, do everything they could..."

My point is, it's slang. It's old slang. It certainly isn't official aviation phraseology where a definition could be looked up.

So really it means whatever the user intends it to mean in the context where it is used. I don't think you will get a more definitive answer than what's provided by the two links you posted in the question.

Personally I would vote against the control stick being one of the "balls". They aren't shaped as balls, and I don't think diving is intended, but that's just an opinion.

  • $\begingroup$ shapes like balls: I think some were. P51 A/B Mustang perhaps. $\endgroup$
    – Jasen
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 7:45

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