Safety topic from Episode 8

Weight and balance

We’ve all heard the adage “If you can close the cargo door on a Cessna, it’ll fly”.  Well, good luck with that thought if you take it seriously. Loading your aircraft with no observance of the published Weight & Balance stipulations is not only dangerous, but shows a complete lack of competence in operating your aircraft to its best efficiency.

Why is it dangerous?

The maximum take-off and landing weights of your aircraft are “based on the surface area of the wing, and how much lift it will generate at a safe and appropriate airspeed.” (FAA handbook, see link below). A much higher airspeed would be required to lift an overloaded aircraft at take-off and the heavier the aircraft is loaded, the less climb performance it will have. This becomes particularly risky at short airstrips, with no room for error if you get those performance tables wrong.

The centre of gravity is a determining factor in flight characteristics. Loading cargo or passengers outside the W&B envelope compromises the manoeuvrability and controllability of the aircraft. Nose heavy or aft-heavy loads greatly affect the stability of the aircraft in all phases of flight. If the C.G. is too far aft, the aircraft may rotate prematurely on take-off or tend to pitch up during climb. If it’s too far forward, it may be difficult to rotate for take-off or landing. 

And you’ll certainly know about it if you try and land your Cessna 182 aft-heavy, particularly if you’ve let your airspeed bleed off a little too far in the flare. You’ll need to summon all your piloting skills to control the aircraft as you feel the first of those inevitable bounces that are giving your landing roll lots of character. Seriously, this is very poor airmanship and displays irresponsible (and potentially expensive) treatment of the landing gear.  

Refresh your knowledge!

The basic empty weight and C.G. location are recorded in the aircraft’s Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH), where you will also find sample load calculations.   

If you have been winging it lately, without proper attention to completing W&B calculations before each flight, then it’s probably because you are unsure how to correctly do it. Ask an instructor for half an hour’s help on this, or practise on your own. We’ve listed below some useful links to advice that will help you get started.   

And finally, although we’d rather connect with you using a carrot, not a stick, don’t forget that it’s only a matter of time until you’re ramp checked, and the nice friendly CASA man is going to want to see evidence of pilot and passenger weights (standard weights should not be used in aircraft with fewer than seven seats) and evidence of cargo weights. 

 The average general aviation aircraft is not designed to be loaded with full fuel, max number of passengers, and a baggage compartment crammed with suitcases, back-packs, golf clubs and camping gear, and still be expected to fly safely. Flying within the correct limits of weight and balance for the aircraft is vital for the safety of you and your passengers.