Weight and Balance TerminologyS


The datum is an imaginary vertical plane from which all horizontal measurements are taken for balance purposes, with the aircraft in level flight attitude. If the datum was viewed on a drawing or photograph of an aircraft, it would appear as a vertical line which is perpendicular (90 degrees) to the aircraft’s horizontal axis. For each aircraft make and model, the location of all items is identified in reference to the datum. For example, the fuel in a tank might be 60 inches (60") behind the datum, and a radio on the flight deck might be 90" forward of the datum.

There is no fixed rule for the location of the datum, except that it must be a location that will not change during the life of the aircraft. For example, it would not be a good idea to have the datum be the tip of the propeller spinner or the front edge of a seat, because changing to a new design of spinner or moving the seat would cause the datum to change. It might be located at or near the nose of the aircraft, a specific number of inches forward of the nose, at the engine firewall, at the center of the main rotor shaft of a helicopter, or any place that can be imagined. The manufacturer has the choice of locating the datum where it is most convenient for measurement, equipment location, and weight and balance computation. Figure 4-1 shows an aircraft with the leading edge of the wing being the datum.

The location of the datum is identified in the Aircraft Specifications or Type Certificate Data Sheet. Aircraft certified prior to 1958 fell under the Civil Aeronautics Administration, and had their weight and balance information contained in a document known as Aircraft Specifications. Aircraft certified since 1958 fall under the FAA and have their weight and balance information contained in a document known as a Type Certificate Data Sheet. The Aircraft Specifications typically included the aircraft equipment list. For aircraft with a Type Certificate Data Sheet, the equipment list is a separate document.


The arm is the horizontal distance that a part of the aircraft or a piece of equipment is located from the datum. The arm’s distance is always given or measured in inches, and, except for a location which might be exactly on the datum, it is preceded by the algebraic sign for positive (+) or negative (-). The positive sign indicates an item is located aft of the datum and the negative sign indicates an item is located forward of the datum. If the manufacturer chooses a datum that is at the most forward location on an aircraft (or some distance forward of the aircraft), all the arms will be positive numbers. Location of the datum at any other point on the aircraft will result in some arms being positive numbers, or aft of the datum, and some arms being negative numbers, or forward of the datum. Figure 4-1 shows an aircraft where the datum is the leading edge of the wing. For this aircraft, any item (fuel, seat, radio, and so forth) located forward of the wing leading edge will have a negative arm, and any item located aft of the wing leading edge will have a positive arm. If an item was located exactly at the wing leading edge, its arm would be zero, and mathematically it would not matter whether its arm was considered to be positive or negative.

The arm of each item is usually included in parentheses immediately after the item’s name or weight in the Aircraft Specifications, Type Certificate Data Sheet, or equipment list for the aircraft. In a Type Certificate Data Sheet, for example, the fuel quantity might be identified as 150 gallons (gal) (+138) and the nose baggage limit as 200 pounds (lb) (-55). These numbers indicate that the fuel is located 138" aft of the datum and the nose baggage is located 55" forward of the datum. If the arm for a particular piece of equipment is not known, its exact location must be accurately measured. When the arm for a piece of equipment is being determined, the measurement is taken from the datum to the piece of equipment’s own center of gravity.

 ©AvStop Online Magazine                                                                                                                                                      Contact Us              Return To Books

AvStop Aviation News and Resource Online Magazine

Grab this Headline Animator