Aircraft Weight and Balance Exercise

Aircraft Weight and Balance Exercise
Pilot in cockpit
An aircraft’s performance and handling characteristics can be significantly affected by weight and center of gravity limits. An overloaded or improperly balanced aircraft will require more power and greater fuel consumption to maintain flight, and may have consequences on control and stability. For this reason it is important to always perform a weight and balance before a flight.

For this exercise, please use the Center of Gravity Moment Envelope Chart below and this Weight and Balance Sheet.  

Weight and Balance Terms

  • Arm - the horizontal distance, in inches, from the reference datum to the item
  • Center of Gravity - the point an aircraft would balance if it were possible to suspend it at that point
  • Datum Line - an imaginary vertical plane or line from which all measurements of arm are taken
  • Moment - the product of the weight of an item multiplied by its arm

How to Complete an Aircraft Weight and Balance

To calculate an aircraft's gross weight begin with the empty weight listed in an aircraft's pilot operating handbook. For this example the empty weight will be 1,516 pounds. From here add the weight for front-seat passengers (including the pilot), back-seat passengers, baggage in the baggage compartment and fuel. Adding these together will provide the aircraft's gross weight.

While still using the Weight and Balance Sheet, you can determine the total moment arm for each portion of the aircraft. The moment arm is the distance an area of the aircraft is from its datum -- an arbitrarily selected point by aircraft engineers that acts as the focus of the center of gravity. Multiplying the empty weight for each section of the aircraft by its moment arm will provide the moment index. The sum of all moment indices will provide the total moment.

In summary:

  1. The example aircraft has a 1,516 pound empty weight.
  2. The moment arm is listed on the Weight and Balance Sheet as 40 inches, therefore the aircraft's moment in this section is 1,516 x 40; or 60,640.
  3. Continuing this approach for each section of the aircraft, it is possible to determine the gross weight and total moment.
  4. Next, by dividing total moment by gross weight (empty weight + pilots, passengers, and cargo) the aircraft's overall center of gravity position can be determined.
  5. Using the Center of Gravity Moment Envelope Ensure Chart, the corresponding total aircraft weight and center of gravity can be tested to ensure the moment is within the outlined limits.

By inputting different weights for fuel, cargo, and the front and rear seats it is possible to test center of gravity calculations to see if they fall within these limits.

Center of Gravity Moment Envelope Chart

The video above offers a detailed demonstration of how pilots complete a weight and balance.

These graphics from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) highlight the basics of weight and balance concepts in relation to aircraft control surfaces.