Aircraft Weight and Balance (Part Two)

Effect of Weight on Stability and Controllability

Overloading also affects stability. An aircraft that is stable and controllable when loaded normally may have very different flight characteristics when overloaded. Although the distribution of weight has the most direct effect on this, an increase in the aircraft’s gross weight may be expected to have an adverse effect on stability, regardless of location of the CG. The stability of many certificated aircraft is completely unsatisfactory if the gross weight is exceeded.

 

Effect of Load Distribution

The effect of the position of the CG on the load imposed on an aircraft’s wing in flight is significant to climb and cruising performance. An aircraft with forward loading is “heavier” and consequently, slower than the same aircraft with the CG further aft.

Figure 5-63 illustrates why this is true. With forward loading, “nose-up” trim is required in most aircraft to maintain level cruising flight. Nose-up trim involves setting the tail surfaces to produce a greater down load on the aft portion of the fuselage, which adds to the wing loading and the total lift required from the wing if altitude is to be maintained. This requires a higher AOA of the wing, which results in more drag and, in turn, produces a higher stalling speed.

Figure 5-63. Effect of load distribution on balance.

Figure 5-63. Effect of load distribution on balance.

With aft loading and “nose-down” trim, the tail surfaces exert less down load, relieving the wing of that much wing loading and lift required to maintain altitude. The required AOA of the wing is less, so the drag is less, allowing for a faster cruise speed. Theoretically, a neutral load on the tail surfaces in cruising flight would produce the most efficient overall performance and fastest cruising speed, but it would also result in instability. Modern aircraft are designed to require a down load on the tail for stability and controllability. A zero indication on the trim tab control is not necessarily the same as “neutral trim” because of the force exerted by downwash from the wings and the fuselage on the tail surfaces.

The effects of the distribution of the aircraft’s useful load have a significant influence on its flight characteristics, even when the load is within the CG limits and the maximum permissible gross weight. Important among these effects are changes in controllability, stability, and the actual load imposed on the wing.

 

Generally, an aircraft becomes less controllable, especially at slow flight speeds, as the CG is moved further aft. An aircraft that cleanly recovers from a prolonged spin with the CG at one position may fail completely to respond to normal recovery attempts when the CG is moved aft by one or two inches.

It is common practice for aircraft designers to establish an aft CG limit that is within one inch of the maximum, which allows normal recovery from a one-turn spin. When certificating an aircraft in the utility category to permit intentional spins, the aft CG limit is usually established at a point several inches forward of that permissible for certification in the normal category.

Another factor affecting controllability, which has become more important in current designs of large aircraft, is the effect of long moment arms to the positions of heavy equipment and cargo. The same aircraft may be loaded to maximum gross weight within its CG limits by concentrating fuel, passengers, and cargo near the design CG, or by dispersing fuel and cargo loads in wingtip tanks and cargo bins forward and aft of the cabin.

With the same total weight and CG, maneuvering the aircraft or maintaining level flight in turbulent air requires the application of greater control forces when the load is dispersed. The longer moment arms to the positions of the heavy fuel and cargo loads must be overcome by the action of the control surfaces. An aircraft with full outboard wing tanks or tip tanks tends to be sluggish in roll when control situations are marginal, while one with full nose and aft cargo bins tends to be less responsive to the elevator controls.

The rearward CG limit of an aircraft is determined largely by considerations of stability. The original airworthiness requirements for a type certificate specify that an aircraft in flight at a certain speed dampens out vertical displacement of the nose within a certain number of oscillations. An aircraft loaded too far rearward may not do this. Instead, when the nose is momentarily pulled up, it may alternately climb and dive becoming steeper with each oscillation. This instability is not only uncomfortable to occupants, but it could even become dangerous by making the aircraft unmanageable under certain conditions.

The recovery from a stall in any aircraft becomes progressively more difficult as its CG moves aft. This is particularly important in spin recovery, as there is a point in rearward loading of any aircraft at which a “flat” spin develops. A flat spin is one in which centrifugal force, acting through a CG located well to the rear, pulls the tail of the aircraft out away from the axis of the spin, making it impossible to get the nose down and recover.

An aircraft loaded to the rear limit of its permissible CG range handles differently in turns and stall maneuvers and has different landing characteristics than when it is loaded near the forward limit.

 

The forward CG limit is determined by a number of considerations. As a safety measure, it is required that the trimming device, whether tab or adjustable stabilizer, be capable of holding the aircraft in a normal glide with the power off. A conventional aircraft must be capable of a full stall, power-off landing in order to ensure minimum landing speed in emergencies. A tailwheel-type aircraft loaded excessively nose-heavy is difficult to taxi, particularly in high winds. It can be nosed over easily by use of the brakes, and it is difficult to land without bouncing since it tends to pitch down on the wheels as it is slowed down and flared for landing. Steering difficulties on the ground may occur in nosewheel-type aircraft, particularly during the landing roll and takeoff. The effects of load distribution are summarized as follows:

  • The CG position influences the lift and AOA of the wing, the amount and direction of force on the tail, and the degree of deflection of the stabilizer needed to supply the proper tail force for equilibrium. The latter is very important because of its relationship to elevator control force.
  • The aircraft stalls at a higher speed with a forward CG location. This is because the stalling AOA is reached at a higher speed due to increased wing loading.
  • Higher elevator control forces normally exist with a forward CG location due to the increased stabilizer deflection required to balance the aircraft.
  • The aircraft cruises faster with an aft CG location because of reduced drag. The drag is reduced because a smaller AOA and less downward deflection of the stabilizer are required to support the aircraft and overcome the nose-down pitching tendency.
  • The aircraft becomes less stable as the CG is moved rearward. This is because when the CG is moved rearward, it causes a decrease in the AOA. Therefore, the wing contribution to the aircraft’s stability is now decreased, while the tail contribution is still stabilizing. When the point is reached that the wing and tail contributions balance, then neutral stability exists. Any CG movement further aft results in an unstable aircraft.
  • A forward CG location increases the need for greater back elevator pressure. The elevator may no longer be able to oppose any increase in nose-down pitching. Adequate elevator control is needed to control the aircraft throughout the airspeed range down to the stall.