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We can see this message multiple times a day:

"This question does not appear to be about aviation, within the scope defined in the help centre."

And if we then look up what the scope is, as is defined in the Help Centre, we see the following:

What topics can I ask about here?

Aviation Stack Exchange is a site for pilots, controllers, mechanics, and aviation enthusiasts. If you have a question about…

  • Flying technique, maneuvers, navigation, procedures, etc.
  • Air Traffic Control
  • Aviation Weather
  • Aviation Regulations
  • Aerodynamics (related to aircraft)
  • Aviation Safety ? and it's not about…

I find this quite a narrow definition, for the following reasons:

  • Pilots and mechanics are proficient in controlling and repairing existing machinery. But they are not the designers of the machinery.
  • There are six broad topics listed as on-topic. But the most popular tag, aircraft-design, is not one of any of them.
  • There is one element of physics listed as on-topic, aerodynamics. But an aircraft that stays aloft is subject to a much larger array of physical laws than only aerodynamics: flight dynamics, thermodynamics (jet engines are off-topic!) - and that's only the dynamics, we're not even mentioning aircraft structures here.

I'm an aeronautical engineer, and the site is not for me unless I'm regarded as an enthusiast which sounds unprofessional. However, I personally find great delight in reading the wonderfully phrased and illustrated answers on aerodynamic questions that I can find nowhere else. These sort of answers make this site worthwhile and remarkable. I'm happy that this part of physics is considered on-topic.

Most other "why is it this way" questions would be off-topic: does a pilot really care about why an AC generator is 400Hz and not 50? Does a mechanic lie awake at night, wondering why some helicopters have 2 blades and some have 5?

So my question is: how narrow a definition do we wish to use for this site? Isn't it much more interesting to browse a site about all aspects of aviation, with explanations on why they are so? A broad vision with a large amount of Benefit Of The Doubt. Can someone re-write the Help Centre please?

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Excellent post, and the topics should absolutely be updated. I'd venture a guess that a majority of questions are in some way related to design here and it was a simple oversight that left it out in the first place! $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Sep 18 '17 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ Knowing this sort of tech stuff is (along with a personal interest for stick and rudder general aviations) what separates 9 to 5 pilots from good Pilots. If this sort of stuff is not on-topic I have no idea what would be.... $\endgroup$ – Caterpillaraoz Sep 22 '17 at 14:25
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I think that aeronautical questions are already welcomed on the site, so they are de facto on-topic. I think your question is not really, "How narrow should the scope be?" but instead, "Should we update the on-topic guidance to make aircraft designers feel more welcome?" If that's your question, I think the answer is an overwhelming "yes".

Updating this text requires moderator involvement, so it definitely won't happen until after the upcoming moderator election. If you think this is a hot topic for moderators to get involved in, I'd recommend posting a question on the question collection page. Moderator nominees will be encouraged to answer your question, so this shortcoming in the site's description will be at the forefront of the successful candidates' minds.

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I also agree that the Help Center description could use some updating to match the shape of the site. Specifically, adding aircraft design would certainly be good. And adding "design engineers" or something along those lines to the first sentence, "av.se is a site for..." also makes a lot of sense. There are tons of great questions and answers on design issues. It's clearly a major portion of the site. That could be one of the first tasks for the new mods.

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I had no luck finding a precedent on Meta.SE regarding how to go on about updating the site description. We can discuss it, then perhaps ask the mods to check with the community managers.

I agree the description doesn't really capture the essence of the site. However, what's regarded as off-topic helps:

and it's not about…

  • Accident speculation
  • The "passenger aspects" of commercial air travel
  • Rockets or spaceflight
  • Resource location

SE is community driven, and as you have demonstrated, the community already welcomes the engineers and questions about etc.

That's because closing and reopening is done via voting, and rarely we see a complaint here about a closing of a question.

I've just checked the past 14 days, and sorting by the close reason, here are the off-topic closed questions:

enter image description here

They are all self explanatory and within the off-topic section, except for the navaid one that isn't clear from the title (it's shopping / resource finding).

In conclusion and IMO, I don't see a problem, apart from a description that can better reflect the popular tags and questions.


Edit: I also think a new user will be drawn to the site from the questions/answers, and not by first checking the help center (still, I agree it can be improved).

Edit 2: I think if the majority agrees that we need a new description, we can make a new post for submissions on the new description based on the tags, popular questions, etc. (unless there's a different route to it).

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    $\begingroup$ Yes indeed the off-topic is clear, but is it on topic unless it is off topic, is the question. $\endgroup$ – Koyovis Sep 18 '17 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Koyovis - with the current description, pretty much, and the community decides part. :D $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Sep 18 '17 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, the community decides. Well, 5% of people of the community: it takes 5 votes to close, out of 97 with a rep over 3,000. If we have 5 diligent closers, they will decide most of the time. $\endgroup$ – Koyovis Sep 18 '17 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Koyovis - I haven't come across close-voting abuse, if you have please flag the post(s) and leave a comment for the mods. On the contrary, I believe there are 2-3 users who keep voting to keep nonsensical posts (it's subjective). :D $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Sep 18 '17 at 13:08
  • $\begingroup$ Please note the "if" in "If we have 5 diligent voters..". I'm not making any accusations at all, just trying to gauge which way we're lined up. $\endgroup$ – Koyovis Sep 18 '17 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Koyovis - I too said if :D I meant it as a reassuring statement for any one reading this. $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Sep 18 '17 at 13:18

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