Weight is a major factor in airplane construction and operation, and it demands respect from all pilots and particular diligence by all A&P mechanics and repairmen. Excessive weight reduces the efficiency of an aircraft and the safety margin available if an emergency condition should arise.
When an aircraft is designed, it is made as light as the required structural strength will allow, and the wings or rotors are designed to support the maximum allowable weight. When the weight of an aircraft is increased, the wings or rotors must produce additional lift and the structure must support not only the additional static loads, but also the dynamic loads imposed by flight maneuvers. For example, the wings of a 3,000-pound airplane must support 3,000 pounds in level flight, but when the airplane is turned smoothly and sharply using a bank angle of 60°, the dynamic load requires the wings to support twice this, or 6,000 pounds.
Severe uncoordinated maneuvers or flight into turbulence can impose dynamic loads on the structure great enough to cause failure. In accordance with Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 23, the structure of a normal category airplane must be strong enough to sustain a load factor of 3.8 times its weight. That is, every pound of weight added to an aircraft requires that the structure be strong enough to support an additional 3.8 pounds.
An aircraft operated in the utility category must sustain a load factor of 4.4, and acrobatic category aircraft must be strong enough to withstand 6.0 times their weight.
The lift produced by a wing is determined by its airfoil shape, angle of attack, speed through the air, and the air density. When an aircraft takes off from an airport with a high density altitude, it must accelerate to a speed faster than would be required at sea level to produce enough lift to allow takeoff; therefore, a longer takeoff run is necessary. The distance needed may be longer than the available runway. When operating from a high-density altitude airport, the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) or Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) must be consulted to determine the maximum weight allowed for the aircraft under the conditions of altitude, temperature, wind, and runway conditions.