Some Creative Weight and Balance Calculations

We had wrapped up our third day at Wolf Creek, soaked tired muscles at the “Hippy Dip,” the free hot springs in town, and were back at our house when my youngest son called to say he had quit his current job….
Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
21 Dec 2023

We had wrapped up our third day at Wolf Creek, soaked tired muscles at the “Hippy Dip,” the free hot springs in town, and were back at our house when my youngest son called to say he had quit his current job. His scholarship had just been upgraded to pay full tuition, which may have played a role in his decision to seek different employment, but regardless this meant no more terrible hours for him, lots of miles on his car to and from work, and more time for studies. Oh, it also meant a little extra time home at Christmas. 😊

For days my wife had been reminding me I needed to book him a shuttle ride from St George to Las Vegas and a flight home from Vegas for his Christmas visit. And, for days I had been putting it off, saying I would get to it, which I never did, and now my delay (procrastination) was going to pay off.

“Ask him if he wants us to pick him up on the way home Sunday,” I said. I figured he would agree. Who wouldn’t want to get home in two hours via private plane instead of two hours on a shuttle bus to the Vegas airport, followed by TSA, waiting for a plane, etc.?

When he enthusiastically agreed, I told her to ask him how much he weighs and how much he was bringing with him. He gave his weight and said, “A backpack.” My wife is going to be in Utah in January and wanted to bring her ski gear (minus skis) back with us so she could go skiing with her daughter. Some quick calculations and I knew we could make everything work.

I am often surprised, although you would think I would be used to it after seven years, at how little it adds to a trip to go 150 miles out of your way. Dealing with angles, the difference in flying distance from Pagosa Springs to Fullerton, or adding in a stop at St George is about 38 miles, or around 12 minutes of flying.

Pagosa (KPSO) to St George (KSGU)

Sunday morning, we had breakfast, went to church, finished at the house, and headed over to the airport, two miles away. We loaded up the bags in the plane and borrowed the crew car to return ours to the house, and then my wife waited in the FBO while I did pre-flight on the plane and fueled it up.

It was a beautiful day, sunny skies, calm winds, and 40°F. With overnight lows in the teens, I had the engine heater plugged in and cowl plugs in so it wouldn’t be cold soaked. When I turned on the master switch the engine monitor showed the cylinder heads at 87°F, the oil at 85°F, and it cranked over easily catching on the third blade.

The flight to St George was beautiful. There was a blanket of clouds covering the entire valley from Farmington, NM northwest all the way to Monument Valley. Passing Durango off our right wing, we could look way off the left wing and see Ship Rock poking up through the clouds. Flying over a low layer of clouds is a mixed bag of emotions. On one hand it is beautiful, looking like a fluffy white lake filling up the valley, rising up against the surrounding hills and cliffs like an imaginary shoreline. On the other hand, if you lose your engine you are going to have very little time to pick out a suitable landing site once you exit the bottom of the clouds.

I kept an eye on my tablet, noting the location of location of roads in relative to our position.

Approaching Monument Valley, I turned just left of course to get a closer look. We have flown through Monument Valley before and it is breathtaking, but we have never had a view like this flight.

KSGU currently has construction on one of the taxiways which requires the airliners to back taxi on the runway. To reduce congestion they require a PPR (Prior Permission Request) number to land or take off. It is a simple procedure, you call at least two hours prior to your arrival/departure and request a PPR giving them your name and tail number. Then when you make your radio call you just include “with PPR xxxxx.”

There were only a couple other planes on frequency when we arrived and it was a simple procedure. We landed, taxied up to the FBO and shut down. My wife climbed out and I looked across the ramp to see my son walking toward us with a big smile, his backpack, and…. a rolling carry-on.

Creative Weight and Balance

Well, that was not part of my original equation when he gave me his weight and his luggage. He’s flown with us enough that he knows about weight and balance (W/B), making sure we are not only under gross takeoff weight, but that it is all distributed to keep us inside the center of gravity envelope.

“You didn’t mention a carry-on” I said giving him a big hug.

“I thought you would just know,” he replied.

The issue wasn’t the total weight, it was how to distribute it inside the plane so that we didn’t end up outside the back of the CG limits. Bad things happen if you load a plane outside the CG limits.

Every Private Pilot Check Ride will at some point have a question during the oral portion about weight and balance. This was a situation that would make a DPE (Designated Pilot Examiner) proud.

I can hear the DPE now.

“You’re on a cross country flight with your wife picking up your son to bring him home for Christmas. You are below gross and well within the CG limits prior to picking him up. You have calculated that the W/B after picking him up will still be below gross but at the aft limits of the CG. However, when he arrives he has a 22lb carry-on that he had not told you about. There is room in the luggage area for the bag, but that will put you outside the CG envelope, what do you do?”

What did I do? Well, I pulled out my phone and opened up my W/B app and started plugging different weights into the stations to see what I could shift around where. I determined that if my wife put our little soft-sided cooler under her legs in front of her seat and held her backpack it would work.

I still couldn’t add anything to the baggage area or hat rack which meant my son would be packed into the back seat with bags next to him almost to the roof. But hey, he was flying for free and in the time it would have taken to ride the shuttle to the Las Vegas airport we would be landing in Fullerton.

St George (KSGU) to Fullerton (KFUL)

The flight home was smooth with headwinds coming in about 15-20 mph. Two hours and eighteen minutes after taking off from St George we landed in Fullerton and everyone was glad to stretch their legs out.

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