There are many factors in the safe and efficient operation of aircraft, including proper weight and balance control. The weight and balance system commonly employed among aircraft consists of three equally important elements: the weighing of the aircraft, the maintaining of the weight and balance records, and the proper loading of the aircraft. An inaccuracy in any one of these elements defeats the purpose of the system. The final loading calculations are meaningless if either the aircraft has been improperly weighed or the records contain an error.
Improper loading decreases the efficiency and performance of an aircraft from the standpoint of altitude, maneuverability, rate of climb, and speed. It may even be the cause of failure to complete the flight or, for that matter, failure to start the flight. Because of abnormal stresses placed upon the structure of an improperly loaded aircraft, or because of changed flying characteristics of the aircraft, loss of life and destruction of valuable equipment may result.
Aircraft can perform safely and achieve their designed efficiency only when they are operated and maintained in the way their designers intended. This safety and efficiency is determined to a large degree by holding the aircraft’s weight and balance parameters within the limits specified for its design. The remainder of this handbook describes how this is done.
Responsibility for Weight and Balance Control
The responsibility for proper weight and balance control begins with the engineers and designers and extends to the technicians who maintain the aircraft and the pilots who operate them. Modern aircraft are engineered utilizing state-of-the-art technology and materials to achieve maximum reliability and performance for the intended category. As much care and expertise must be exercised in operating and maintaining these efficient aircraft as was taken in their design and manufacturing:
- The designers of an aircraft set the maximum weight based on the amount of lift the wings or rotors can provide under the operational conditions for which the aircraft is designed. The structural strength of the aircraft also limits the maximum weight the aircraft can safely carry. The designers carefully determine the ideal center of gravity (CG) and calculate the maximum allowable deviation from this specific location.
- The manufacturer provides the aircraft operator with the empty weight of the aircraft and the location of its empty weight center of gravity (EWCG) at the time the certified aircraft leaves the factory. Amateur-built aircraft must have this information determined and available at the time of certification
- The FAA-certificated mechanic or repairman who maintains the aircraft keeps the weight and balance records current, recording any changes that have been made because of repairs or alterations.
- The pilot in command (PIC) has the responsibility prior to every flight to know the maximum allowable weight of the aircraft and its CG limits. This allows the pilot to determine during the preflight inspection that the aircraft is loaded so that the CG is within the allowable limits.
Pilots and FAA-certificated mechanics or repairmen must ensure they understand the terms as they relate to the aircraft in question. For small aircraft terminology, use the information found in sources associated with Civil Air Regulation (CAR) 3 certification or General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) Specification No. 1 for part 23 aircraft or part 27 for rotorcraft. For terminology applied to large part 25 aircraft, information can be found in Advisory Circular (AC) 120-27, Aircraft Weight and Balance Control. The glossary contains the most current terms and definitions. Current regulations are available from the Superintendent of Documents; U.S. Government Printing Office;Washington, DC 20402. They are also located on the FAA website at www.faa.gov. Earlier regulations may be available in libraries or in the Federal Register.