Weight and Balance

by Capt. Ken Kahn

Before every flight, in every type of airplane, it is necessary to ensure that the airplane is loaded in a way that complies with a number of requirements. One is that the load must not exceed the structural limit of the airplane. Also, the load must not exceed that which would prevent the airplane from making a safe takeoff from the runway to be used, taking into account such factors as runway length, airport elevation, temperature, and wind speed and direction. Another important requirement is that the load must be distributed in such a way that the center of gravity is within allowable limits. Otherwise, the airplane might not be controllable. Since the jet freighters flown by Seaboard typically carried loads 2½ to 3½ times as heavy as the loads carried by passenger versions of the same aircraft, and since Seaboard aircraft often took off at the maximum allowable weight, getting the weight and balance correct was essential. It was not unusual for the weight of the cargo to be estimated. That sometimes led to dangerous situations.

In the 1970’s, Seaboard had a contract to carry freight for a German freight-forwarder. On one of those trips out of London Heathrow with Capt. Don Cutcomb, we had a partial load. The freight was on pallets, some of which had spaces between them. With Don making the takeoff, the airplane rotated by itself and Don yelled that he couldn't hold the nose down. I added my puny weight to the control wheel as Don ran the pitch trim to the full nose-down position. We got the airplane under control and leveled off. I asked Don if he could hold it and he said yes. As I was the little guy on the crew, I went back, unfastened the top of the cargo net, and started crawling over the tops of pallets. When I came to an open space, I climbed down and unlatched the pallet in back of it. I yelled for Don to nose down a bit. I pushed the pallet forward and latched it. I did that one or two more times and Don said that the pitch trim was ok. We continued to our destination. My uniform was filthy. It's a good thing the cargo wasn't in igloos, or loaded to the ceiling, as I don’t think I would have been able to get in back to push them forward.

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