Performance is a term used to describe the ability of an aircraft to accomplish certain things that make it useful for certain purposes.
The primary factors most affected by performance are the takeoff and landing distance, rate of climb, ceiling, payload, range, speed, maneuverability, stability, and fuel economy.
Climb Performance Factors
Since weight, altitude and configuration changes affect excess thrust and power, they also affect climb performance. Climb performance is directly dependent upon the ability to produce either excess thrust or excess power.
Weight has a very pronounced effect on aircraft performance. If weight is added to an aircraft, it must fly at a higher angle of attack (AOA) to maintain a given altitude and speed. This increases the induced drag of the wings, as well as the parasite drag of the aircraft. Increased drag means that additional thrust is needed to overcome it, which in turn means that less reserve thrust is available for climbing. Aircraft designers go to great lengths to minimize the weight, since it has such a marked effect on the factors pertaining to performance.
A change in an aircraft’s weight produces a twofold effect on climb performance. An increase in altitude also increases the power required and decreases the power available. Therefore, the climb performance of an aircraft diminishes with altitude.
Before any flight, the remote PIC should verify the aircraft is correctly loaded by determining the weight and balance condition of the aircraft. An aircraft’s weight and balance restrictions established by the manufacturer or the builder should be closely followed. Compliance with the manufacturer’s weight and balance limits is critical to flight safety. The remote PIC must consider the consequences of an overweight aircraft if an emergency condition arises.
- Although a maximum gross takeoff weight may be specified, the aircraft may not always safely take off with this load under all conditions. Conditions that affect takeoff and climb performance, such as high elevations, high air temperatures, and high humidity (high density altitudes) may require a reduction in weight before flight is attempted. Other factors to consider prior to takeoff are runway/launch area length, surface, slope, surface wind, and the presence of obstacles. These factors may require a reduction in weight prior to flight.
- Weight changes during flight also have a direct effect on aircraft performance. Fuel burn is the most common weight change that takes place during flight. As fuel is used, the aircraft becomes lighter and performance is improved, but this could have a negative effect on balance. In sUA operations, weight change during flight may occur when expendable items are used on board (e.g., a jettisonable load).
Adverse balance conditions (i.e., weight distribution) may affect flight characteristics in much the same manner as those mentioned for an excess weight condition. Limits for the location of the center of gravity (CG) may be established by the manufacturer. The CG is not a fixed point marked on the aircraft; its location depends on the distribution of aircraft weight. As variable load items are shifted or expended, there may be a resultant shift in CG location. The remote PIC should determine how the CG will shift and the resultant effects on the aircraft. If the CG is not within the allowable limits after loading or do not remain within the allowable limits for safe flight, it will be necessary to relocate or shed some weight before flight is attempted.
Gravity is the pulling force that tends to draw all bodies to the center of the earth. The CG may be considered as a point at which all the weight of the aircraft is concentrated. If the aircraft were supported at its exact CG, it would balance in any attitude. It will be noted that CG is of major importance in a sUA, for its position has a great bearing upon stability. The allowable location of the CG is determined by the general design of each particular aircraft. The designers determine how far the center of pressure (CP) will travel. It is important to understand that an aircraft’s weight is concentrated at the CG and the aerodynamic forces of lift occur at the CP. When the CG is forward of the CP, there is a natural tendency for the aircraft to want to pitch nose down. If the CP is forward of the CG, a nose up pitching moment is created. Therefore, designers fix the aft limit of the CG forward of the CP for the corresponding flight speed in order to retain flight equilibrium.
Weight has a definite relationship to lift. This relationship is simple, but important in understanding the aerodynamics of flying. Lift is the upward force on the wing acting perpendicular to the relative wind and perpendicular to the aircraft’s lateral axis. Lift is required to counteract the aircraft’s weight. In stabilized level flight, when the lift force is equal to the weight force, the aircraft is in a state of equilibrium and neither accelerates upward or downward. If lift becomes less than weight, the vertical speed will decrease. When lift is greater than weight, the vertical speed will increase.
Stability is the inherent quality of an aircraft to correct for conditions that may disturb its equilibrium and to return to or to continue on the original flight path. It is primarily an aircraft design characteristic.
Stability in an aircraft affects two areas significantly:
- Maneuverability—the quality of an aircraft that permits it to be maneuvered easily and to withstand the stresses imposed by maneuvers. It is governed by the aircraft’s weight, inertia, size and location of flight controls, structural strength, and powerplant. It too is an aircraft design characteristic.
- Controllability—the capability of an aircraft to respond to the pilot’s control, especially with regard to flight path and attitude. It is the quality of the aircraft’s response to the pilot’s control application when maneuvering the aircraft, regardless of its stability characteristics.
In aerodynamics, the maximum load factor (at given bank angle) is a proportion between lift and weight and has a trigonometric relationship. The load factor is measured in Gs (acceleration of gravity), a unit of force equal to the force exerted by gravity on a body at rest and indicates the force to which a body is subjected when it is accelerated. Any force applied to an aircraft to deflect its flight from a straight line produces a stress on its structure. The amount of this force is the load factor. While a course in aerodynamics is not a prerequisite for obtaining a remote pilot certificate, the competent pilot should have a solid understanding of the forces that act on the aircraft, the advantageous use of these forces, and the operating limitations of the aircraft being flown.
For example, a load factor of 3 means the total load on an aircraft’s structure is three times its weight. Since load factors are expressed in terms of Gs, a load factor of 3 may be spoken of as 3 Gs, or a load factor of 4 as 4 Gs.
With the structural design of aircraft planned to withstand only a certain amount of overload, a knowledge of load factors has become essential for all pilots. Load factors are important for two reasons:
1. It is possible for a pilot to impose a dangerous overload on the aircraft structures.
2. An increased load factor increases the stalling speed and makes stalls possible at seemingly safe flight speeds.
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Lift and Basic Aerodynamics
In order to understand the operation of the major components and subcomponents of an aircraft, it is important to understand basic aerodynamic concepts. This chapter briefly introduces aerodynamics; a more detailed explanation can be found in Chapter 4, Aerodynamics of Flight.
Four forces act upon an aircraft in relation to straight-and-level, unaccelerated flight. These forces are thrust, lift, weight, and drag. [Figure 2-1]
Thrust is the forward force produced by the powerplant/propeller. It opposes or overcomes the force of drag. As a general rule, it is said to act parallel to the longitudinal axis. This is not always the case as explained later.
Drag is a rearward, retarding force, and is caused by disruption of airflow by the wing, fuselage, and other protruding objects. Drag opposes thrust, and acts rearward parallel to the relative wind.
Weight is the combined load of the airplane itself, the crew, the fuel, and the cargo or baggage. Weight pulls the airplane downward because of the force of gravity. It opposes lift, and acts vertically downward through the airplane’s center of gravity (CG).
Lift opposes the downward force of weight, is produced by the dynamic effect of the air acting on the wing, and acts perpendicular to the flightpath through the wing’s center of lift.
An aircraft moves in three dimensions and is controlled by moving it about one or more of its axes. The longitudinal or roll axis extends through the aircraft from nose to tail, with the line passing through the CG. The lateral or pitch axis extends across the aircraft on a line through the wing tips, again passing through the CG. The vertical, or yaw, axis passes through the aircraft vertically, intersecting the CG. All control movements cause the aircraft to move around one or more of these axes, and allows for the control of the airplane in flight. [Figure 2-2]
One of the most significant components of aircraft design is CG. It is the specific point where the mass or weight of an aircraft may be said to center; that is, a point around which, if the aircraft could be suspended or balanced, the aircraft would remain relatively level. The position of the CG of an aircraft determines the stability of the aircraft in flight. As the CG moves rearward (towards the tail) the aircraft becomes more and more dynamically unstable. In aircraft with fuel tanks situated in front of the CG, it is important that the CG is set with the fuel tank empty. Otherwise, as the fuel is used, the aircraft becomes unstable. The CG is computed during initial design and construction, and is further affected by the installation of onboard equipment, aircraft loading, and other factors.
Compliance with the weight and balance limits of any aircraft is critical to flight safety. Operating above the maximum weight limitation compromises the structural integrity of an aircraft and adversely affects its performance. Operation with the center of gravity (CG) outside the approved limits results in control difficulty.
Effects of Weight
Any item aboard the aircraft that increases the total weight is undesirable for performance. Manufacturers attempt to make an aircraft as light as possible without sacrificing strength or safety.
The pilot should always be aware of the consequences of overloading. An overloaded aircraft may not be able to leave the ground, or if it does become airborne, it may exhibit unexpected and unusually poor flight characteristics. If not properly loaded, the initial indication of poor performance usually takes place during takeoff.
Excessive weight reduces the flight performance in almost every respect. For example, the most important performance deficiencies of an overloaded aircraft are:
- Higher takeoff speed
- Longer takeoff run
- Reduced rate and angle of climb
- Lower maximum altitude
- Shorter range
- Reduced cruising speed
- Reduced maneuverability
- Higher stalling speed
- Higher approach and landing speed
- Longer landing roll
- Excessive weight on the nose wheel or tail wheel
The pilot must be knowledgeable about the effect of weight on the performance of the particular aircraft being flown. Preflight planning should include a check of performance charts to determine if the aircraft’s weight may contribute to hazardous flight operations. Excessive weight in itself reduces the safety margins available to the pilot, and becomes even more hazardous when other performance-reducing factors are combined with excess weight. The pilot must also consider the consequences of an overweight aircraft if an emergency condition arises. If an engine fails on takeoff or airframe ice forms at low altitude, it is usually too late to reduce an aircraft’s weight to keep it in the air.
Weight is the force with which gravity attracts a body toward the center of the Earth. It is a product of the mass of a body and the acceleration acting on the body. Weight is a major factor in aircraft construction and operation and demands respect from all pilots. The force of gravity continuously attempts to pull an aircraft down toward Earth. The force of lift is the only force that counteracts weight and sustains an aircraft in flight. The amount of lift produced by an airfoil is limited by the airfoil design, AOA, airspeed, and air density. To assure that the lift generated is sufficient to counteract weight, loading an aircraft beyond the manufacturer’s recommended weight must be avoided. If the weight is greater than the lift generated, the aircraft may be incapable of flight.
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The operating weight of an aircraft can be changed by simply altering the fuel load. Gasoline has considerable weight—6 pounds per gallon. Thirty gallons of fuel may weigh more than one passenger. If a pilot lowers airplane weight by reducing fuel, the resulting decrease in the range of the airplane must be taken into consideration during flight planning. During flight, fuel burn is normally the only weight change that takes place. As fuel is used, an aircraft becomes lighter and performance is improved.
Changes of fixed equipment have a major effect upon the weight of an aircraft. The installation of extra radios or instruments, as well as repairs or modifications may also affect the weight of an aircraft.
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Balance, Stability, and Center of Gravity
Balance refers to the location of the CG of an aircraft, and is important to stability and safety in flight. The CG is a point at which the aircraft would balance if it were suspended at that point.
The primary concern in balancing an aircraft is the fore and aft location of the CG along the longitudinal axis. The CG is not necessarily a fixed point; its location depends on the distribution of weight in the aircraft. As variable load items are shifted or expended, there is a resultant shift in CG location. The distance between the forward and back limits for the position of the center for gravity or CG range is certified for an aircraft by the manufacturer. The pilot should realize that if the CG is displaced too far forward on the longitudinal axis, a nose-heavy condition will result. Conversely, if the CG is displaced too far aft on the longitudinal axis, a tail heavy condition results. It is possible that the pilot could not control the aircraft if the CG location produced an unstable condition. [Figure 9-1]
Location of the CG with reference to the lateral axis is also important. For each item of weight existing to the left of the fuselage centerline, there is an equal weight existing at a corresponding location on the right. This may be upset by unbalanced lateral loading. The position of the lateral CG is not computed in all aircraft, but the pilot must be aware that adverse effects arise as a result of a laterally unbalanced condition. In an airplane, lateral unbalance occurs if the fuel load is mismanaged by supplying the engine(s) unevenly from tanks on one side of the airplane. The pilot can compensate for the resulting wing-heavy condition by adjusting the trim or by holding a constant control pressure. This action places the aircraft controls in an out-of-streamline condition, increases drag, and results in decreased operating efficiency. Since lateral balance is addressed when needed in the aircraft flight manual (AFM) and longitudinal balance is more critical, further reference to balance in this handbook means longitudinal location of the CG. A single pilot operating a small rotorcraft, may require additional weight to keep the aircraft laterally balanced.
Flying an aircraft that is out of balance can produce increased pilot fatigue with obvious effects on the safety and efficiency of flight. The pilot’s natural correction for longitudinal unbalance is a change of trim to remove the excessive control pressure. Excessive trim, however, has the effect of reducing not only aerodynamic efficiency but also primary control travel distance in the direction the trim is applied.
Effects of Adverse Balance
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 the wings 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.
An aircraft stall results from a rapid decrease in lift caused by the separation of airflow from the wing’s surface brought on by exceeding the critical AOA. A stall can occur at any pitch attitude or airspeed. Stalls are one of the most misunderstood areas of aerodynamics because pilots often believe an airfoil stops producing lift when it stalls. In a stall, the wing does not totally stop producing lift. Rather, it cannot generate adequate lift to sustain level flight.
In most straight-wing aircraft, the wing is designed to stall the wing root first. The wing root reaches its critical AOA first making the stall progress outward toward the wingtip. By having the wing root stall first, aileron effectiveness is maintained at the wingtips, maintaining controllability of the aircraft. Various design methods are used to achieve the stalling of the wing root first. In one design, the wing is “twisted” to a higher AOA at the wing root. Installing stall strips on the first 20–25 percent of the wing’s leading edge is another method to introduce a stall prematurely.
The wing never completely stops producing lift in a stalled condition. If it did, the aircraft would fall to the Earth. Most training aircraft are designed for the nose of the aircraft to drop during a stall, reducing the AOA and “unstalling” the wing. The “nose-down” tendency is due to the CL being aft of the CG. The CG range is very important when it comes to stall recovery characteristics. If an aircraft is allowed to be operated outside of the CG, the pilot may have difficulty recovering from a stall. The most critical CG violation would occur when operating with a CG which exceeds the rear limit. In this situation, a pilot may not be able to generate sufficient force with the elevator to counteract the excess weight aft of the CG. Without the ability to decrease the AOA, the aircraft continues in a stalled condition until it contacts the ground.
The stalling speed of a particular aircraft is not a fixed value for all flight situations, but a given aircraft always stalls at the same AOA regardless of airspeed, weight, load factor, or density altitude. Each aircraft has a particular AOA where the airflow separates from the upper surface of the wing and the stall occurs. This critical AOA varies from 16° to 20° depending on the aircraft’s design. But each aircraft has only one specific AOA where the stall occurs.
There are three flight situations in which the critical AOA can be exceeded: low speed, high speed, and turning.
The aircraft can be stalled in straight-and-level flight by flying too slowly. As the airspeed decreases, the AOA must be increased to retain the lift required for maintaining altitude. The lower the airspeed becomes, the more the AOA must be increased. Eventually, an AOA is reached which results in the wing not producing enough lift to support the aircraft which starts settling. If the airspeed is reduced further, the aircraft stalls, since the AOA has exceeded the critical angle and the airflow over the wing is disrupted.
Low speed is not necessary to produce a stall. The wing can be brought into an excessive AOA at any speed. For example, an aircraft is in a dive with an airspeed of 100 knots when the pilot pulls back sharply on the elevator control. [Figure 4-32]
To ensure that the UA center of gravity (CG) limits are not exceeded, follow the aircraft loading instructions specified in the
A stall occurs when the smooth airflow over the UA’s wing is disrupted and the lift degenerates rapidly. This is caused when the wing
According to 14 CFR part 107, who is responsible for determining the performance of a sUA?
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Gravity and centrifugal force prevent an immediate alteration of the flightpath, but the aircraft’s AOA changes abruptly from quite low to very high. Since the flightpath of the aircraft in relation to the oncoming air determines the direction of the relative wind, the AOA is suddenly increased, and the aircraft would reach the stalling angle at a speed much greater than the normal stall speed.
The stalling speed of an aircraft is also higher in a level turn than in straight-and-level flight. [Figure 4-33]
Centrifugal force is added to the aircraft’s weight and the wing must produce sufficient additional lift to counterbalance the load imposed by the combination of centrifugal force and weight. In a turn, the necessary additional lift is acquired by applying back pressure to the elevator control. This increases the wing’s AOA, and results in increased lift. The AOA must increase as the bank angle increases to counteract the increasing load caused by centrifugal force. If at any time during a turn the AOA becomes excessive, the aircraft stalls.
At this point, the action of the aircraft during a stall should be examined. To balance the aircraft aerodynamically, the CL is normally located aft of the CG. Although this makes the aircraft inherently nose-heavy, downwash on the horizontal stabilizer counteracts this condition. At the point of stall, when the upward force of the wing’s lift and the downward tail force cease, an unbalanced condition exists. This allows the aircraft to pitch down abruptly, rotating about its CG. During this nose-down attitude, the AOA decreases and the airspeed again increases. The smooth flow of air over the wing begins again, lift returns, and the aircraft is again flying. Considerable altitude may be lost before this cycle is complete.
Airfoil shape and degradation of that shape must also be considered in a discussion of stalls. For example, if ice, snow, and frost are allowed to accumulate on the surface of an aircraft, the smooth airflow over the wing is disrupted. This causes the boundary layer to separate at an AOA lower than that of the critical angle. Lift is greatly reduced, altering expected aircraft performance. If ice is allowed to accumulate on the aircraft during flight [Figure 4-34], the weight of the aircraft is increased while the ability to generate lift is decreased. As little as 0.8 millimeter of ice on the upper wing surface increases drag and reduces aircraft lift by 25 percent.
Pilots can encounter icing in any season, anywhere in the country, at altitudes of up to 18,000 feet and sometimes higher. Small aircraft, including commuter planes, are most vulnerable because they fly at lower altitudes where ice is more prevalent. They also lack mechanisms common on jet aircraft that prevent ice buildup by heating the front edges of wings.
Icing can occur in clouds any time the temperature drops below freezing and super-cooled droplets build up on an aircraft and freeze. (Super-cooled droplets are still liquid even though the temperature is below 32 °Fahrenheit (F), or 0 °Celsius (C).
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Operating an aircraft within the weight and balance limits is critical to flight safety. Pilots must ensure that the CG is and remains within approved limits for all phases of a flight. Additional information on weight, balance, CG, and aircraft stability can be found in FAA-H-8083-1, Aircraft Weight and Balance Handbook. Those pilots flying helicopters or gyroplanes should consult the Rotorcraft Flying Handbook, FAA-H-8083-21, for specific information relating to aircraft type.
Load Factors in Steep Turns
At a constant altitude, during a coordinated turn in any aircraft, the load factor is the result of two forces: centrifugal force and weight. [Figure 4-1] For any given bank angle, the rate-of-turn varies with the airspeed—the higher the speed, the slower the rate-of-turn (ROT). This compensates for added centrifugal force, allowing the load factor to remain the same.
Figure 4-2 reveals an important fact about turns—the load factor increases at a terrific rate after a bank has reached 45° or 50°. The load factor for any aircraft in a coordinated level turn at 60° bank is 2 Gs. The load factor in an 80° bank is 5.76 Gs. The wing must produce lift equal to these load factors if altitude is to be maintained.
It should be noted how rapidly the line denoting load factor rises as it approaches the 90° bank line, which it never quite reaches because a 90° banked, constant altitude turn is not mathematically possible. An aircraft may be banked to 90° in a coordinated turn if not trying to hold altitude. An aircraft that can be held in a 90° banked slipping turn is capable of straight knife-edged flight. At slightly more than 80°, the load factor exceeds the limit of 6 Gs, the limit load factor of an acrobatic aircraft.
Load Factors and Stalling Speeds
Any aircraft, within the limits of its structure, may be stalled at any airspeed. When a sufficiently high AOA is imposed, the smooth flow of air over an airfoil breaks up and separates, producing an abrupt change of flight characteristics and a sudden loss of lift, which results in a stall.
A study of this effect has revealed that an aircraft’s stalling speed increases in proportion to the square root of the load factor. This means that an aircraft with a normal unaccelerated stalling speed of 50 knots can be stalled at 100 knots by inducing a load factor of 4 Gs. If it were possible for this aircraft to withstand a load factor of nine, it could be stalled at a speed of 150 knots. A pilot should be aware of the danger of inadvertently stalling the aircraft by increasing the load factor, as in a steep turn or spiral.
Figures 4-2 and 4-3 show that banking an aircraft greater than 72° in a steep turn produces a load factor of 3, and the stalling speed is increased significantly. If this turn is made in an aircraft with a
normal unaccelerated stalling speed of 45 knots, the airspeed must be kept greater than 75 knots to prevent inducing a stall. A similar effect is experienced in a quick pull up or any maneuver producing load factors above 1 G. This sudden, unexpected loss of control, particularly in a steep turn or abrupt application of the back elevator control near the ground, has caused many accidents.
Since the load factor is squared as the stalling speed doubles, tremendous loads may be imposed on structures by stalling an aircraft at relatively high airspeeds.
When operating a UA, the remote pilot should consider that the load factor on the wings may be increased any time
(Refer to FAA-CT-8080-2H, Figure 2.)
If a UA weighs 33 pounds, what approximate weight would the airplane structure be required to support during a 30-degree banked turn while maintaining altitude?
B.1 Determining Operational Performance. The manufacturer may provide operational and performance information that contains the operational performance data for the aircraft such as data pertaining to takeoff, climb, range, endurance, descent, and landing. To be able to make practical use of the aircraft’s capabilities and limitations, it is essential to understand the significance of the operational data. The use of this data in flying operations is essential for safe and efficient operation. It should be emphasized that manufacturers’ information regarding performance data is not standardized. If manufacturer-published performance data is unavailable, it is advisable to seek out performance data that may have already been determined and published by other users of the same small UAS manufacturer model and use that data as a starting point.
B.2 SUA Loading and Its Effects on Performance.
B.2.1 Weight and Balance (W&B). Before any flight, the remote PIC should verify the aircraft is correctly loaded by determining the W&B condition of the aircraft. An aircraft’s W&B restrictions established by the manufacturer or the builder should be closely followed. Compliance with the manufacturer’s W&B limits is critical to flight safety. The remote PIC must consider the consequences of an overweight aircraft, as it may result in an unsafe condition.
B.2.1.1 Although a maximum gross takeoff weight may be specified, the aircraft may not always safely take off with this load under all conditions. Conditions that affect takeoff and climb performance, such as high elevations, high air temperatures, and high humidity (high density altitudes) may require a reduction in weight before flight is attempted. Other factors to consider prior to takeoff are runway/launch area length, surface, slope, surface wind, and the presence of obstacles. These factors may require a reduction in weight prior to flight.
B.2.1.2 Weight changes during flight also have a direct effect on aircraft performance. Fuel burn is the most common weight change that takes place during flight. As fuel is used, the aircraft becomes lighter and performance is improved, but this could have a negative effect on balance. In UAS operations, weight change during flight may occur when expendable items are used on board (e.g., a jettisonable load).
B.2.2 Balance, Stability, and Center of Gravity (CG). Adverse balance conditions (i.e., weight distribution) may affect flight characteristics in much the same manner as those mentioned for an excess weight condition. Limits for the location of the CG may be established by the manufacturer. The CG is not a fixed point marked on the aircraft; its location depends on the distribution of aircraft weight. As variable load items are shifted or expended, there may be a resultant shift in CG location. The remote PIC should determine how the CG will shift and the resultant effects on the aircraft. If the CG is not within the allowable limits after loading or does not remain within the allowable limits for safe flight, it will be necessary to relocate or shed some weight before flight is attempted.
B.3 Sources of Weather Information for SUA Operations. Remote PICs are encouraged to obtain weather information prior to flight from Flight Service by using the website https://www.1800wxbrief.com. Remote PICs can create a free account in order to use the briefing service. While Flight Service does offer a telephone-based service, it is intended for crewed aircraft pilots only.
B.3.1 National Weather Service (NWS). Remote PICs are also encouraged to visit the NWS’s Aviation Weather Center (AWC) at https://www.aviationweather.gov. This free, web-based service does not require registration and offers all of the weather products important to a remote PIC, such as Aviation Routine Weather Reports (METAR) and Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF). While reviewing the weather for your intended operation, it is also critical that the remote PIC review any TFRs at the FAA’s TFR website, which can be found at https://tfr.faa.gov.
B.4 Weather and the Effects on Performance. Weather is an important factor that influences aircraft performance and flying safety. Atmospheric pressure and density, wind, and uneven surface heating are factors that affect sUA performance and must be considered prior to flight.
B.4.1 Wind. Wind speed and direction are important as they affect takeoff, landing, and cruise of flight operations. Geological features, trees, structures, and other anomalies can affect the wind direction and speed close to the ground. In particular, ground topography, trees, and buildings can break up the flow of the wind and create wind gusts that change rapidly in direction and speed. The remote PIC should be vigilant when operating sUA near large buildings or other man-made structures and natural obstructions, such as mountains, bluffs, or canyons. The intensity of the turbulence associated with ground obstructions depends on the size of the obstacle and the primary velocity of the wind. This same condition is even more noticeable when flying in mountainous regions. While the wind flows smoothly up the windward side of the mountain and the upward currents help to carry an aircraft over the peak of the mountain, the wind on the leeward side does not act in a similar manner. As the air flows down the leeward side of the mountain, the air follows the contour of the terrain and is increasingly turbulent. This tends to push an aircraft into the side of a mountain. The stronger the wind, the greater the downward pressure and turbulence become. Due to the effect terrain has on the wind in valleys or canyons, downdrafts can be severe.
B.4.2 Surface Heat. Different surfaces radiate heat in varying amounts. Plowed ground, rocks, sand, and barren land give off a larger amount of heat, whereas water, trees, and other areas of vegetation tend to absorb and retain heat. The resulting uneven heating of the air creates small areas of local circulation called convective currents, which creates bumpy, turbulent air. Convective currents, with their rising and sinking air can adversely affect the controllability of the sUA.
B.5 Battery Fires. Lithium-based batteries are highly flammable and capable of ignition. A battery fire could cause an in-flight emergency by causing a LOC of the sUA. Lithium battery fires can be caused when a battery short-circuits, is improperly charged, is heated to extreme temperatures, is damaged as a result of a crash, is mishandled, or is simply defective. The remote PIC should consider following the manufacturer’s recommendations, when available, to help ensure safe battery handling and usage.
B.6 SUAS Frequency Utilization. A sUAS typically uses RFs for the communication link between the CS and the sUA.
B.6.1 Frequency Spectrum (RF) Basics. The 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz systems are the unlicensed band RFs that most small UAS use for the connection between the CS and the sUA. Note the frequencies are also used for computer wireless networks and the interference can cause problems when operating a UA in an area (e.g., dense housing and office buildings) that has many wireless signals. LOC and flyaways are some of the reported problems with sUAS frequency implications.
B.6.1.1 To avoid frequency interference, many modern sUAS operate using a 5.8 GHz system to control the sUA and a 2.4 GHz system to transmit video and photos to the ground. Consult the sUAS operating manual and manufacturer’s recommended procedures before conducting sUAS operations.
B.6.1.2 It should be noted that both RF bands (2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz) are considered line of sight and the command and control link between the CS and the sUA will not work properly when barriers are between the CS and the UA. Part 107 requires the remote PIC or person manipulating the controls to be able to see the UA at all times, which should also help prevent obstructions from interfering with the line of sight frequency spectrum.
B.6.2 Spectrum Authorization. Frequency spectrum used for sUA operations are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Radio transmissions, such as those used to control a UA and to downlink real-time video, must use frequency bands that are approved for use by the operating agency. The FCC authorizes civil operations. Some operating frequencies are unlicensed and can be used freely (e.g., 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5.8 GHz) without FCC approval. All other frequencies require a user-specific license for all civil users, except Federal agencies, to be obtained from the FCC. For further information, visithttps://www.fcc.gov/licensing-databases/licensing.
Sarah Nilsson, J.D., Ph.D., MAS
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