Air & space vehicles can come down to the Earth and "land" on either land or water (surfaces of oceans, lakes, etc.). Is there a general word or term that represents all of these surfaces (but is more specific than just "surface")?

Example sentence: The airplane can land on any [term needed], whether land or water.

"Earth's surface", "planetary surface", and "terrain" seemed like promising options, but my research indicates that these terms represent only the solid portion of the planet (dry land or below water).

  • And sea planes do "poorly" (aka really bad) on rough water, too.
    – RonJohn
    Jan 3, 2021 at 7:33
  • You're simply making the statement unnecessarily complex. You don't need the word. There are only two possibilities mentioned, land and water. Simply say, "The airplane can land (touch down) on land or water." If there were other surfaces that the plane could land on (I can't think of any) then it might be worth specifying a common attribute such as "any horizontal surface". But then could it land on lava? There is no single word that will describe every kind of flat, level, supportive, non-hazardous, surface. Jan 5, 2021 at 0:47
  • The hypernym for those is geosphere, but that's not going to help you land a plane on it.
    – Mazura
    Jan 5, 2021 at 5:23

5 Answers 5


'surface' works fine, Merriam-Webster explicitly includes water when it comes to the Earth's surface:

1: the exterior or upper boundary of an object or body
// on the surface of the water
// the earth's surface

You could alternatively rephrase your sentence as follows:

The airplane can land anywhere, whether land or water.

Nobody will think it can land mid-air, or on a steep mountain :)

  • I'm hoping to find a term that's not as general as surface, since many surfaces (such as the side of a building or a piece of paper floating in the air) would be unsuitable for an aircraft landing. Jan 2, 2021 at 19:09
  • 15
    @rhymes_with_dorange one has to use a certain amount of common sense with definitions. If I said to a friend "please sit anywhere" they would not sit in the fireplace. Jan 2, 2021 at 19:24
  • @WeatherVane of course, but I am hoping to find a word with a particular scope, not one that needs significant context to achieve that scope. That said, it's quite possible that the word I'm looking for doesn't exist. Jan 2, 2021 at 22:14
  • We use the term surface mail with the implication that it doesn't leave the surface of the earth, not that it travels up buildings or steep mountains. Jan 3, 2021 at 9:02
  • It seems that the specific word I'm seeking may not exist, but surface can be an acceptable stand-in for some situations, assuming the appropriate context. Jan 3, 2021 at 17:08

I suggest

The aircraft is amphibious.

Lexico has


1 Relating to, living in, or suited for both land and water.

Also in Wikipedia

An amphibious aircraft or amphibian is an aircraft that can take off and land on both land and water.

  • 3
    Amphibious is certainly suited to the alternate sentence proposed in this answer, but the question is asking for a noun to describe the surface, rather than an adjective to describe interactions with it. Jan 2, 2021 at 22:12
  • Also the OP only stated land, not take off, so it's not even suited to the sentence - many aircraft can perform emergency landings in water. Jan 4, 2021 at 15:59
  • @PeteKirkham If you describe a plane as "able to land on water" without specifying emergency, it's generally expected that it will be able to take off again... Otherwise any plane can land anywhere (but do not recommend). Jan 4, 2021 at 18:08
  • @user3067860 Which part of the aviation industry did you work it? I was in safety engineering then military operational analysis. Landing on a surface and operating from a surface are different things, landing implies only that the crew is expected to survive. Jan 4, 2021 at 18:19
  • @PeteKirkham "Generally" by English speakers. Not as a technical term. My own industry also has plenty of technical terms that are confusingly similar to English (but different in very specific ways that bite the unwary). Jan 4, 2021 at 18:21

Consider changing the verb instead. An amphibious aircraft can touch down on any surface, wet or dry. You're correct that "surface of the Earth" often colloquially implies only dry land, possibly because of that word "Earth" which also means "dirt" and "ground" in so many contexts. Also, it does sound a bit paradoxical to land on water.

  • 1
    "Water landing" is the standard term in aerospace for coming to a stop in a body of water, whether it sounds paradoxical or not. Jan 4, 2021 at 19:09

Terra Firma literally means "firm land".

You could use, Terra Omnis - meaning "land all".

Could be a nice creative solution to get at what you're after.

  • Both the colloquial land and water are specific parts of two different geospheres, but they're talking about landing planes.... Solid earth (aka, Terra Firma, +1), or the lithosphere and the hydrosphere, respectively.
    – Mazura
    Jan 5, 2021 at 5:15

"Anywhere that can support (its / the plane's) weight", perhaps?

"Land anywhere on Earth" likely has the size and stability requirements built into the context of a plane landing...

Rephrasing the first to be less object dependant, like "Anywhere you could stay for an hour" might work.

Land and sea don't share enough qualities to make this easy.

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