Ray Slocum calculated the weight and balance of an aircraft thousands of times during his career as an airline pilot, always using the same cumbersome method.
“Paper and pencil,” Slocum says. “You have to be extra careful doing it longhand because it is easy to make mistakes. Calculating weight and balance is not overly complicated, but you can get too far into the details.”
The digital age created an opportunity to remove those risks. Slocum, now a Gulfstream senior production test pilot, partnered with Gulfstream’s Technical Information Department to design and launch a digital weight and balance calculator for the Gulfstream G450, G550, G650 and G650ER. Known as PlaneBalance, the mobile application is available to Gulfstream PlaneBook subscribers. PlaneBook is a paperless suite of aircraft manuals and product support guides that should be in every Gulfstream type-rated pilot’s electronic flight bag.
PlaneBalance is intuitive and configurable for multiple Gulfstream aircraft—perfect for pilots operating in fleets of mixed aircraft. The app is built around a visual representation of an aircraft interior, with drag-and-drop capabilities to position seats, credenzas and other furnishings to match the configuration of serial-number-specific aircraft. Configure a new aircraft in the application—a process that takes as little as 15 minutes using the initial weight and balance report provided by Gulfstream upon delivery—and preflight calculations become quick and simple.
Plug in the variables for a specific mission such as fuel load, baggage and passengers, and PlaneBalance plots the aircraft’s location on the operating envelope, or the parameters in which an aircraft can operate safely and effectively. When the weight and balance is within certified limits, the app displays data with a green background; if the calculations fall outside the limits, the data shows up in red. The pilot can then adjust the load accordingly to ensure a safe takeoff run, maintain stability while in the air, and avoid adverse flight characteristics resulting from a center of gravity too far forward or aft.
Gulfstream aircraft have the most generous center of gravity range in the business aviation industry. The G450, G550, G650 and G650ER are so well-designed in that regard that Gulfstream is the only large-cabin manufacturer that offers forward or aft galleys.
PlaneBalance even allows pilots to input flap settings to adjust elevator trim based on the operating envelope.
“You can do all these calculations in two minutes,” Slocum says. “PlaneBalance is a significant timesaver and safety tool.”
The mobile app also adds efficiency to the weight and balance reporting process. Pilots can print the calculations, including the operating envelope and plotted center of gravity, or email the report to their flight department.
“You can do all the calculations in two minutes. PlaneBalance is a real timesaver.”
PlaneBalance has the potential to improve safety across the Gulfstream fleet, Slocum says. The app’s ease of use might encourage Part 91 operators not required to conduct weight and balance calculations before each flight to do so as a routine part of the safety preflight.
The demand for PlaneBalance is strong, with many multiple-aircraft operators already using the app for their long-range jets. For those with midrange aircraft, PlaneBalance’s creators are working to expand the app’s capabilities to include the Gulfstream G280 and G150.
So how does one balance a 50-ton aircraft with one finger? The answer is simple: by using PlaneBalance on a 23-ounce mobile device.
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