When we think about keeping our landing skills sharp, generally that means going out on days when the wind is blowing straight across the runway to hone our crosswind technique. That makes sense since we never know what the wind might be doing at the destination and we need to be ready for anything.
But what about practicing takeoffs and landings at various CGs? If your buddy decides at the last minute that he wants to bring his girlfriend and her sister along on the flight, or if your mother-in-law shows up with a full-size suitcase instead of the carry-on bag you expected her to bring, not only will you be heavier, but you could also find yourself flying at a center of gravity that’s far different than what you’re used to. Do you know exactly how the airplane will behave on takeoff and landing at various CGs?
The best way to find out is to load up the airplane with weights at a number of different CGs to get a feel for how the landing flare will feel with the CG positioned forward versus rearward. As we know from our private pilot training, a rear-loaded airplane will gain some performance but give up stability. Be sure not to load the airplane too far rearward or over max gross, of course, but also make sure you’re comfortable flying in the full flight envelope.
Also, when flying at different weights, make a mental note of how much lighter the elevator becomes at aft CG and work it into your mindset when approaching to land. And if you can get your passengers to stay still during the flare, all the better. But be ready if somebody in back decides to shift all his weight to grab something from behind his seat, as the CG will shift slightly. This goes double for practicing with weight on board the airplane: you want to make sure anything you bring aboard is secured so that it can’t shift when the airplane is moving.