Load Factors (Part Three)

Load Factors and Flight Maneuvers

Critical load factors apply to all flight maneuvers except unaccelerated straight flight where a load factor of 1 G is always present. Certain maneuvers considered in this section are known to involve relatively high load factors. Full application of pitch, roll, or yaw controls should be confined to speeds below the maneuvering speed. Avoid rapid and large alternating control inputs, especially in combination with large changes in pitch, roll, or yaw (e.g., large sideslip angles) as they may result in structural failures at any speed, including below VA.



Increased load factors are a characteristic of all banked turns. As noted in the section on load factors in steep turns, load factors become significant to both flight performance and load on wing structure as the bank increases beyond approximately 45°.

The yield factor of the average light plane is reached at a bank of approximately 70° to 75°, and the stalling speed is increased by approximately one-half at a bank of approximately 63°.


The normal stall entered from straight-and-level flight, or an unaccelerated straight climb, does not produce added load factors beyond the 1 G of straight-and-level flight. As the stall occurs, however, this load factor may be reduced toward zero, the factor at which nothing seems to have weight. The pilot experiences a sensation of “floating free in space.” If recovery is effected by snapping the elevator control forward, negative load factors (or those that impose a down load on the wings and raise the pilot from the seat) may be produced.

During the pull up following stall recovery, significant load factors are sometimes induced. These may be further increased inadvertently during excessive diving (and consequently high airspeed) and abrupt pull ups to level flight. One usually leads to the other, thus increasing the load factor. Abrupt pull ups at high diving speeds may impose critical loads on aircraft structures and may produce recurrent or secondary stalls by increasing the AOA to that of stalling.

As a generalization, a recovery from a stall made by diving only to cruising or design maneuvering airspeed, with a gradual pull up as soon as the airspeed is safely above stalling, can be effected with a load factor not to exceed 2 or 2.5 Gs. A higher load factor should never be necessary unless recovery has been effected with the aircraft’s nose near or beyond the vertical attitude or at extremely low altitudes to avoid diving into the ground.



A stabilized spin is not different from a stall in any element other than rotation and the same load factor considerations apply to spin recovery as apply to stall recovery. Since spin recoveries are usually effected with the nose much lower than is common in stall recoveries, higher airspeeds and consequently higher load factors are to be expected. The load factor in a proper spin recovery usually is found to be about 2.5 Gs.

The load factor during a spin varies with the spin characteristics of each aircraft, but is usually found to be slightly above the 1 G of level flight. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Airspeed in a spin is very low, usually within 2 knots of the unaccelerated stalling speeds.
  2. An aircraft pivots, rather than turns, while it is in a spin.

High Speed Stalls

The average light plane is not built to withstand the repeated application of load factors common to high speed stalls. The load factor necessary for these maneuvers produces a stress on the wings and tail structure, which does not leave a reasonable margin of safety in most light aircraft. The only way this stall can be induced at an airspeed above normal stalling involves the imposition of an added load factor, which may be accomplished by a severe pull on the elevator control. A speed of 1.7 times stalling speed (about 102 knots in a light aircraft with a stalling speed of 60 knots) produces a load factor of 3 Gs. Only a very narrow margin for error can be allowed for acrobatics in light aircraft. To illustrate how rapidly the load factor increases with airspeed, a high-speed stall at 112 knots in the same aircraft would produce a load factor of 4 Gs.

Chandelles and Lazy Eights

A chandelle is a maximum performance climbing turn beginning from approximately straight-and-level flight, and ending at the completion of a precise 180° turn in a wings-level, nose-high attitude at the minimum controllable airspeed. In this flight maneuver, the aircraft is in a steep climbing turn and almost stalls to gain altitude while changing direction. A lazy eight derives its name from the manner in which the extended longitudinal axis of the aircraft is made to trace a flight pattern in the form of a figure “8” lying on its side. It would be difficult to make a definite statement concerning load factors in these maneuvers as both involve smooth, shallow dives and pull-ups. The load factors incurred depend directly on the speed of the dives and the abruptness of the pull-ups during these maneuvers.

Generally, the better the maneuver is performed, the less extreme the load factor induced. A chandelle or lazy eight in which the pull-up produces a load factor greater than 2 Gs will not result in as great a gain in altitude; in low-powered aircraft, it may result in a net loss of altitude.

The smoothest pull-up possible, with a moderate load factor, delivers the greatest gain in altitude in a chandelle and results in a better overall performance in both chandelles and lazy eights. The recommended entry speed for these maneuvers is generally near the manufacturer’s design maneuvering speed, which allows maximum development of load factors without exceeding the load limits.


Rough Air

All standard certificated aircraft are designed to withstand loads imposed by gusts of considerable intensity. Gust load factors increase with increasing airspeed, and the strength used for design purposes usually corresponds to the highest level flight speed. In extremely rough air, as in thunderstorms or frontal conditions, it is wise to reduce the speed to the design maneuvering speed. Regardless of the speed held, there may be gusts that can produce loads that exceed the load limits.

Each specific aircraft is designed with a specific G loading that can be imposed on the aircraft without causing structural damage. There are two types of load factors factored into aircraft design: limit load and ultimate load. The limit load is a force applied to an aircraft that causes a bending of the aircraft structure that does not return to the original shape. The ultimate load is the load factor applied to the aircraft beyond the limit load and at which point the aircraft material experiences structural failure (breakage). Load factors lower than the limit load can be sustained without compromising the integrity of the aircraft structure.

Speeds up to, but not exceeding, the maneuvering speed allow an aircraft to stall prior to experiencing an increase in load factor that would exceed the limit load of the aircraft.

Most AFM/POH now include turbulent air penetration information, which help today’s pilots safely fly aircraft capable of a wide range of speeds and altitudes. It is important for the pilot to remember that the maximum “never-exceed” placard dive speeds are determined for smooth air only. High speed dives or acrobatics involving speed above the known maneuvering speed should never be practiced in rough or turbulent air.