# The effect of mass on airplane turning radius?

• dbaezner
In summary, the larger the mass of an airplane, the larger its turning radius will be due to the greater inertia. However, the pilot can still control the curve radius within a certain limit. The amount of lift produced by the wings is directly proportional to the mass of the plane, but the turn radius is mainly dependent on the airspeed and the angle of the roll. Heavier planes tend to fly faster, resulting in a larger curve radius. This explanation is based on a non-aerobatic aircraft flying a circle at a constant altitude.
dbaezner
I've been trolling for this answer on the Internet but can't find a simple explanation.

If I have two airplanes of different mass, both flying at the same speed, which plane has the larger turning radius and why? It seems like the more massive plane would require the larger turning radius due to its greater inertia. Can a plane's yaw, pitch, and roll be used to counter for this effect?

Thanks very much.
Dirk

For regular curves, the pilot can choose the curve radius. There is some limit, of course*, but that is certainly not in the range of regular operations.

If all other conditions are the same**, I would expect that the airplane with a larger mass has a larger curve radius.

* do you count diving? It really reduces the curve radius ;).
**well, they cannot be exactly the same, as one airplane needs more lift than the other one

If the plane has more mass, the wings must produce more lift to maintain level flight (i.e. to make lift = weight).

Therefore, (to a first approximation) for the same amount of roll, the turn radius is independent of the mass, but only depends on the airspeed. The proportion of the lift (perpendicular to the wings) that is turned into centripetal force depends only on the roll angle. More centripetal force, acting on more mass, gives the same centripetal acceleration and the same turn radius, if the speed is the same.

But in practice, heavier planes tend to generate more lift by flying faster than light ones, which explains why small planes tend to make sharper turns than big ones for the same amount of roll.

Note: the above is about a non-aerobatic aircraft flying a circle at constant altitude. If you include motion in 3 dimensions and/or aerobatics, the answer would be a lot more complicated!

Last edited:

## 1. What is the relationship between mass and airplane turning radius?

The mass of an airplane is directly proportional to the turning radius. This means that as the mass of the airplane increases, the turning radius also increases.

## 2. How does the mass of an airplane affect its ability to turn?

The mass of an airplane affects its ability to turn by increasing the amount of force needed to change its direction. This is due to the increased inertia of a heavier airplane.

## 3. Can the mass of an airplane be too low for it to turn effectively?

Yes, if the mass of an airplane is too low, it may not have enough inertia to turn effectively. This is why smaller airplanes may have a harder time turning compared to larger airplanes with more mass.

## 4. What other factors besides mass can affect an airplane's turning radius?

Other factors that can affect an airplane's turning radius include airspeed, altitude, and the design of the airplane's wings and control surfaces. Wind conditions can also play a role in the turning radius of an airplane.

## 5. How does the distribution of mass within an airplane affect its turning radius?

The distribution of mass within an airplane can also affect its turning radius. If the mass is concentrated in one area, it can make the airplane more difficult to turn. However, a well-balanced distribution of mass can make the airplane more stable and easier to turn.

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