Moments and Moment Arm Moments and Moment Arm

   A study of physics shows that a body that is free to rotate will always turn about its center of gravity. In aerodynamic terms, the mathematical measure of an airplane's tendency to rotate about its center of gravity is called a "moment." A moment is said to be equal to the product of the force applied and the distance at which the force is applied. (A moment arm is the distance from a datum [reference point or line] to the applied force.) For airplane weight and balance computations, "moments" are expressed in terms of the distance of the arm times the airplane's weight, or simply, inch pounds.

   As previously mentioned, airplane designers locate the fore and aft position of the airplane's center of gravity as nearly as possible to the 20 percent point of the mean aerodynamic chord (MAC). If the thrust line is designed to pass horizontally through the center of gravity, it will not cause the airplane to pitch when power is changed, and there will be no difference in moment due to thrust for a power on or power off condition of flight. Although designers have some control over the location of the drag forces, they are not always able to make the resultant drag forces pass through the center of gravity of the airplane. However, the one item over which they have the greatest control is the size and location of the tail. The objective is to make the moments (due to thrust, drag, and lift) as small as possible; and, by proper location of the tail, to provide the means of balancing the airplane longitudinally for any condition of flight.

   The pilot has no direct control over the location of forces acting on the airplane in flight, except for controlling the center of lift by changing the angle of attack. Such a change, however, immediately involves changes in other forces. Therefore, the pilot cannot independently change the location of one force without changing the effect of others. For example, a change in airspeed involves a change in lift, as well as a change in drag and a change in the up or down force on the tail. As forces such as turbulence, gusts, etc., act to displace the airplane, the pilot reacts by providing opposing control forces to counteract this displacement.

   Some airplanes are subject to changes in the location of the center of gravity with variations of load. Trimming devices are used to counteract the forces set up by fuel burnoff, and loading or off loading of passengers, cargo, etc. Elevator trim tabs and adjustable horizontal stabilizers comprise the most common devices provided to the pilot for trimming for load variations. Over the wide ranges of balance during flight in large airplanes, the force which the pilot has to exert on the controls would become excessive and fatiguing if means of trimming were not provided.