What Is an Aircraft Counterweight?

Counterweights are common to aircraft manufacturing and operations, serving to provide an opposing force that balances and stabilizes mechanical systems. Counterweights may be used in numerous ways, often being relied on for the balancing of control surfaces, the management of propeller pitches, and for balancing the crankshafts of piston-powered aircraft. To help you better understand how such components are used, we will discuss aircraft counterweight components in more detail.

Control surfaces are a form of aerodynamic device that permit pilots to govern the flight attitude of their aircraft during operations. They can come in various forms, common examples including ailerons, elevators, rudders, spoilers, flaps, slats, and air brakes. As the fluttering of a control surface can be detrimental to optimally managing the aircraft’s attitude, counterweights are utilized for enhancing balance along each hinge axis. Due to the high importance of control surface balancing, aircraft featuring counterweight components will often necessitate structural security checks during the preflight inspection.

For propeller assemblies that follow constant speed designs, counterweight components are beneficial for increasing the pitch of blades. To ensure that propeller blades can return to a fine pitch when necessary, engine oil pressure will be used to exert enough force to overcome the counterweights. If the propeller assembly is a feathered type, on the other hand, the counterweights serve to adjust the blades into a feathered position for optimal operations.

The way in which counterweights increase the pitch of a blade is through their attachment method. Generally, propellers will be connected to the blade clamps, and centrifugal force is generated as the propellers rotate during powered operation. With this centrifugal force, blade pitches are enhanced. For feathering, governor oil pressure is reduced as needed, allowing for the counterweights to take over for feathering. To return the blades to their original position, the governor pitch control can be pushed forward to delimit its travel, bringing oil back from the engine to overcome the counterweight force once again.

The crankshafts of piston engines also benefit from the use of counterweight components, allowing for static and dynamic balancing to be achieved. Vibration can be a detrimental force to any component, but it can specifically be damaging if parts are moving. As such, the crankshaft of a piston engine will always be balanced to mitigate the chance of excessive vibration. For static balancing, the assembly of crank cheeks, crankpins, and counterweights will all have their weight balanced upon the axis of rotation. By placing the crankshaft on two knife edges, engineers can see whether balance is optimal by checking if the shaft turns toward any specific direction.

For dynamic balance, on the other hand, the forces that result from power impulses and crankshaft rotation will need to be governed to prevent vibration. This is done by installing dynamic dampers on the assembly, and such parts are pendulums that are fastened to the crankshaft. If vibration occurs while the crankshaft is in operation, the pendulum is specifically designed to oscillate in a non-uniform fashion as compared to the vibration, causing it to be reduced.

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