Adverse balance conditions affect flight characteristics in much the same manner as those mentioned for an excess weight condition. It is vital to comply with weight and balance limits established for all aircraft, especially rotorcraft. Operating above the maximum weight limitation compromises the structural integrity of the rotorcraft and adversely affects performance. Balance is also critical because on some fully loaded rotorcraft, CG deviations as small as three inches can dramatically change handling characteristics. Stability and control are also affected by improper balance.
Loading in a nose-heavy condition causes problems in controlling and raising the nose, especially during takeoff and landing. Loading in a tail heavy condition has a serious effect upon longitudinal stability, and reduces the capability to recover from stalls and spins. Tail heavy loading also produces very light control forces, another undesirable characteristic. This makes it easy for the pilot to inadvertently overstress an aircraft.
It is important to reevaluate the balance in a rotorcraft whenever loading changes. In most aircraft, off-loading a passenger is unlikely to adversely affect the CG, but off-loading a passenger from a rotorcraft can create an unsafe flight condition. An out-of-balance loading condition also decreases maneuverability since cyclic control is less effective in the direction opposite to the CG location.
Limits for the location of the CG are established by the manufacturer. These are the fore and aft limits beyond which the CG should not be located for flight. These limits are published for each aircraft in the Type Certificate Data Sheet (TCDS), or aircraft specification and the AFM or pilot’s operating handbook (POH). If the CG is not within the allowable limits after loading, it will be necessary to relocate some items before flight is attempted.
The forward CG limit is often established at a location that is determined by the landing characteristics of an aircraft. During landing, one of the most critical phases of flight, exceeding the forward CG limit may result in excessive loads on the nosewheel, a tendency to nose over on tailwheel type airplanes, decreased performance, higher stalling speeds, and higher control forces.
In extreme cases, a CG location that is beyond the forward limit may result in nose heaviness, making it difficult or impossible to flare for landing. Manufacturers purposely place the forward CG limit as far rearward as possible to aid pilots in avoiding damage when landing. In addition to decreased static and dynamic longitudinal stability, other undesirable effects caused by a CG location aft of the allowable range may include extreme control difficulty, violent stall characteristics, and very light control forces which make it easy to overstress an aircraft inadvertently.
A restricted forward CG limit is also specified to assure that sufficient elevator/control deflection is available at minimum airspeed. When structural limitations do not limit the forward CG position, it is located at the position where full-up elevator/control deflection is required to obtain a high AOA for landing.
The aft CG limit is the most rearward position at which the CG can be located for the most critical maneuver or operation. As the CG moves aft, a less stable condition occurs, which decreases the ability of the aircraft to right itself after maneuvering or turbulence.
For some aircraft, both fore and aft CG limits may be specified to vary as gross weight changes. They may also be changed for certain operations, such as acrobatic flight, retraction of the landing gear, or the installation of special loads and devices that change the flight characteristics.
The actual location of the CG can be altered by many variable factors and is usually controlled by the pilot. Placement of baggage and cargo items determines the CG location. The assignment of seats to passengers can also be used as a means of obtaining a favorable balance. If an aircraft is tail heavy, it is only logical to place heavy passengers in forward seats.
Fuel burn can also affect the CG based on the location of the fuel tanks. For example, most small aircraft carry fuel in thewings very near the CG and burning off fuel has little effect on the loaded CG. On rotorcraft, the fuel tanks are often located behind the CG and fuel consumption from a tank aft of the rotor mast causes the loaded CG to move forward. A rotorcraft in this condition has a nose-low attitude when coming to a hover following a vertical takeoff. Excessive rearward displacement of the cyclic control is needed to maintain a hover in a no-wind condition. Flight should not be continued since rearward cyclic control fades as fuel is consumed. Deceleration to a stop may also be impossible. In the event of engine failure and autorotation, there may not be enough cyclic control to flare properly for a landing.
Learn more about Aircraft Weight and Balance with the FAA Aircraft Weight and Balance Handbook. Weight and balance is one of the most important factors affecting safety of flight. An overweight aircraft, or one whose center of gravity is outside the allowable limits, is inefficient and dangerous to fly.