Updated: Dec 8, 2020

Airplane Weight and Balance Lesson by wifiCFI

Terminology (W&B Glossary)

Airplane Flight Manual (AFM)

An FAA-approved document, prepared by the holder of a type certificate for an aircraft, that specifies the operating limitations and contains the required markings and placards and other information applicable to the regulations under which the aircraft was certificated.


The horizontal distance from the reference datum to the CG of an item.


A weight installed or carried in an aircraft to move the center of gravity to a location within its allowable limits.

Basic Empty Weight

Standard empty weight plus optional equipment.

Center of Gravity (CG)

The point at which an airplane would balance if suspended. Its distance from the reference datum is determined by dividing the total moment by the total weight of the airplane. 

Center of Lift

The location along the chord line of an airfoil at which all the lift forces produced by the airfoil are considered to be concentrated.

CG Arm

The arm obtained by adding the airplane’s individual moments and dividing the sum by the total weight.

CG Limits

The extreme CG locations within which the aircraft must be operated at a given weight.

CG Limit Envelope

An enclosed area on a graph of the airplane loaded weight and the CG location. If lines drawn from the weight and CG cross within this envelope, the airplane is properly loaded.


An imaginary vertical plane or line from which all measurements of arms are taken. The datum is established by the manufacturer. Once the datum has been selected, all moment arms and the location of CG range are measured from this point.

Empty Weight

The weight of the airframe, engines, all permanently installed equipment, and unusable fuel. 

Load Factor

The ratio of the maximum load an aircraft can sustain to the total weight of the aircraft.

Maximum Zero Fuel Weight

The maximum authorized weight of an aircraft without fuel. This is the total weight for a particular flight minus the fuel. It includes the aircraft and everything that is carried on the flight except the weight of the fuel.


The product of the weight of an item multiplied by its arm.

Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH)

An FAA-approved document published by the airframe manufacturer that lists the operating conditions for a particular model of aircraft and its engine(s).

Ramp Weight

The zero fuel weight plus all of the usable fuel on board.


A location along the airplane fuselage usually given in terms of distance from the reference datum.

Unusable Fuel

The fuel remaining after a test has been completed in accordance with governmental regulations.

Usable Fuel

The fuel available for flight planning.

Useful Load

The difference between takeoff weight, or ramp weight if applicable, and basic empty weight.

Zero Fuel Weight

The weight of an aircraft without fuel.

Weight and Balance (W&B C1)

There are many factors in the safe and efficient operation of aircraft, including proper weight and balance control. 

The weight and balance system commonly employed among aircraft consists of three equally important elements: the weighing of the aircraft, the maintaining of the weight and balance records, and the proper loading of the aircraft. 

An inaccuracy in any one of these elements defeats the purpose of the system. 

The final loading calculations are meaningless if either the aircraft has been improperly weighed or the records contain an error.

Effects of Overweight

Most modern aircraft are so designed that, when all seats are occupied, the baggage compartment is full, and all fuel tanks are full, the aircraft is grossly overloaded.

Effects of being overweight include:

Longer takeoff run

Reduced rate and angle of climb

Service ceiling Lowered

Cruise speed reduced

Cruise range is shortened

Maneuverability is decreased

Longer landing roll

Excessive loads on structure and landing gear imposed

Forward CG Effects

Longer Takeoff Roll

Because the weight is concentrated forward in the aircraft, it will need to gain more airspeed before it is able to reach liftoff speed.

Longer Landing Roll

The forward weight will create momentum in pulling the aircraft down the runway. 

Also, there won’t be as much weight over the main wheels so braking will be less effective.

Higher Stall Speed

The aircraft will stall at a higher airspeed due to “wing loading.” 

The wings will seem to be carrying more weight and will need to fly at a higher airspeed to produce enough lift to carry the additional feel of weight.

Imagine carrying 2 milk gallons from your car to your house.

One is carried down by your side while the other is carried in a straight arm out in front of you.

While both milk jugs weigh the same amount, the milk jug held out in front of your center of gravity will “seem” heavier.

This is what occurs with “wing loading” in an aircraft with a Forward CG.

Easier Stall Recovery

The forward CG will assist the aircraft in recovering from a stall.

Decreased Cruise Speed

Because the CG is forward, the pilot will need to trim the aircraft “nose-up” to maintain altitude at cruise. 

The deflected trim tab will cause drag with the relative airflow.

Aft CG Effects

Lower Stall Speed

With the CG Aft, the aircraft will have a lower stall speed due to decreased wing loading.

Reduced Elevator Authority

The Aft CG will cause the Elevator and Rudder to be less effective.

This is because the arm from the CG to the Elevator and Rudder is shorter.

More Difficult Stall Recovery

Because the weight is concentrated aft in the aircraft, it will be more difficult to lower the Angle of Attack in order to recover from a stalled condition.

Faster Cruise Speed

The Aft CG will not cause the Trim Tab on the Elevator to be deflected as far.

Creating less drag at cruise.

Weight and Balance Formulas

Weight Shift Formula

Weight x Arm = Moment

After making the appropriate computations, you will take your finalized numbers and chart them on the aircraft’s CG Limit Envelope to make sure the aircraft is within balance limitations.

This CG Limit Envelope graph is located in chapter 6 of the POH.

Sample weight and balance calculation.

This is for a Cessna 172XP.

For this example let’s assume:

The front pilot’s weigh 320 lbs.

The rear passengers weigh 150 lbs.

There is 50 lbs in the baggage area.

There are 50 gallons of fuel on board.

Fuel weight = gallons x 6 lbs.

Fuel weight for this example = 300 lbs.

Weight x Arm = Moment

Now, we multiply our weights by the arms in the POH.

Next, we need to find our takeoff weight.

This is done by adding all of our weights together.

Then we do the same for our takeoff moments.

We find the takeoff arm by:

Dividing the Takeoff Moment by the Takeoff Weight.

Lastly, we plot our Takeoff Arm and Weight on the graph.

In this example, we ended up safely in the Normal Category.

FAA Sources Used in this Lesson

Weight and Balance Handbook

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