Moment and Moment Arm

A study of physics shows that a body that is free to rotate will always turn about its CG. In aerodynamic terms, the mathematical measure of an aircraft’s tendency to rotate about its CG is called a “moment.” A moment is said to be equal to the product of the force applied and the distance at which the force is applied. (A moment arm is the distance from a datum [reference point or line] to the applied force.) For aircraft weight and balance computations, “moments” are expressed in terms of the distance of the arm times the aircraft’s weight, or simply, inch-pounds.

Aircraft designers locate the fore and aft position of the aircraft’s CG as nearly as possible to the 20 percent point of the mean aerodynamic chord (MAC). If the thrust line is designed to pass horizontally through the CG, it will not cause the aircraft to pitch when power is changed, and there will be no difference in moment due to thrust for a power-on or power-off condition of flight. Although designers have some control over the location of the drag forces, they are not always able to make the resultant drag forces pass through the CG of the aircraft. However, the one item over which they have the greatest control is the size and location of the tail. The objective is to make the moments (due to thrust, drag, and lift) as small as possible and, by proper location of the tail, to provide the means of balancing an aircraft longitudinally for any condition of flight.

The pilot has no direct control over the location of forces acting on the aircraft in flight, except for controlling the center of lift by changing the AOA. The pilot can control the magnitude of the forces. Such a change, however, immediately involves changes in other forces. Therefore, the pilot cannot independently change the location of one force without changing the effect of others. For example, a change in airspeed involves a change in lift, as well as a change in drag and a change in the up or down force on the tail. As forces such as turbulence and gusts act to displace the aircraft, the pilot reacts by providing opposing control forces to counteract this displacement.

Some aircraft are subject to changes in the location of the CG with variations of load. Trimming devices, such as elevator trim tabs and adjustable horizontal stabilizers, are used to counteract the moments set up by fuel burnoff and loading or off-loading of passengers or cargo.