In aerodynamics, load factor is the ratio of the maximum load an aircraft can sustain to the gross weight of the aircraft. The load factor is measured in Gs (acceleration of gravity), a unit of force equal to the force exerted by gravity on a body at rest and indicates the force to which a body is subjected when it is accelerated. Any force applied to an aircraft to defiect its flight from a straight line produces a stress on its structure, and the amount of this force is the load factor. While a course in aerodynamics is not a prerequisite for obtaining a pilot’s license, the competent pilot should have a solid understanding of the forces that act on the aircraft, the advantageous use of these forces, and the operating limitations of the aircraft being flown.
With the structural design of aircraft planned to withstand only a certain amount of overload, knowledge of load factors has become essential for all pilots. Load factors are important for two reasons:
1. It is possible for a pilot to impose a dangerous overload on the aircraft structures.
2. An increased load factor increases the stalling speed and makes stalls possible at seemingly safe flight speeds.