The empty weight of an aircraft includes all operating equipment that has a fixed location and is actually installed in the aircraft. It includes the weight of the airframe, powerplant, required equipment, optional or special equipment, fixed ballast, hydraulic fluid, and residual fuel and oil. Residual fuel and oil are the fluids that will not normally drain out because they are trapped in the fuel lines, oil lines, and tanks. They must be included in the aircraft’s empty weight. For most aircraft certified after 1978, the full capacity of the engine oil system is also included in the empty weight. Information regarding residual fluids in aircraft systems that must be included in the empty weight, and whether or not full oil is included, will be indicated in the Aircraft Specifications or Type Certificate Data Sheet.
Other terms that are sometimes used when describing empty weight include basic empty weight, licensed empty weight, and standard empty weight. The term “basic empty weight" typically applies when the full capacity of the engine oil system is included in the value. The term “licensed empty weight" typically applies when only the weight of residual oil is included in the value, so it generally involves only aircraft certified prior to 1978. Standard empty weight would be a value supplied by the aircraft manufacturer, and it would not include any optional equipment that might be installed in a particular aircraft. For most people working in the aviation maintenance field, the basic empty weight of the aircraft is the most important one.
Empty Weight Center of Gravity
The empty weight center of gravity for an aircraft is the point at which it balances when it is in an empty weight condition. The concepts of empty weight and center of gravity were discussed earlier in this chapter, and now they are being combined into a single concept.
One of the most important reasons for weighing an aircraft is to determine its empty weight center of gravity. All other weight and balance calculations, including loading the aircraft for flight, performing an equipment change calculation, and performing an adverse condition check, begin with knowing the empty weight and empty weight center of gravity. This crucial information is part of what is contained in the aircraft weight and balance report.
To determine the useful load of an aircraft, subtract the empty weight from the maximum allowable gross weight. For aircraft certificated in both normal and utility categories, there may be two useful loads listed in the aircraft weight and balance records. An aircraft with an empty weight of 900 lb will have a useful load of 850 lb, if the normal category maximum weight is listed as 1,750 lb. When the aircraft is operated in the utility category, the maximum gross weight may be reduced to 1,500 lb, with a corresponding decrease in the useful load to 600 lb. Some aircraft have the same useful load regardless of the category in which they are certificated.
The useful load consists of fuel, any other fluids that are not part of empty weight, passengers, baggage, pilot, copilot, and crewmembers. Whether or not the weight of engine oil is considered to be a part of useful load depends on when the aircraft was certified, and can be determined by looking at the Aircraft Specifications or Type Certificate Data Sheet. The payload of an aircraft is similar to the useful load, except it does not include fuel.
A reduction in the weight of an item, where possible, may be necessary to remain within the maximum weight allowed for the category in which an aircraft is operating. Determining the distribution of these weights is called a weight check.
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