How does a Fighter Plane Balance its Mass just after a Missile has been Released From its wing?


Have you ever wondered what happens to the balance of the plane when a missile or a bomb is released from its wing. Let’s find out. David Tussey from Quora explained what happens to the plane right after a missile is released from it.

I’ve dropped tons (literally) of bombs as a Navy attack pilot (A-7E), and only once did I experience a situation where the asymmetrical load was dangerous.

It was a mining mission, using training, captive mines.

Aerial mining is a key mission for attack aircraft, and planning/executing a successful mining mission is very challenging. Often the training missions are done with dumb(iron) bombs to simulate the mines, but every once and awhile you get to train with real mines (explosives removed , of course). You actually drop the real mines, AND they are recovered by Navy divers and their exact location is marked to judge how well you did.

It was a flight on a lead A-6E, with two A-7Es. I was in one of those. We were each carrying two Mark-56 aerial mines (shown below). These babies weight 2000 lbs, have to be carried on the next to outboard station, and although they come with an optional flared nose cone to reduce drag, since this was a training mission, those were not used. So the drag count on these suckers is near infinity…literally a flat frontal plate and the size of a refrigerator. Ugh…

For this load, there’s even a special cat-launch engine thrust chart on the A-7E for “mine configured missions”. There’s even a special procedure on flap retraction. Bottom line, it takes a lot of attention to even get airborne.

The cat launch(off the USS Independence, CV-62) was unlike any I’ve ever taken before or sense, even with heavier loads. I set the engine up for max thrust, but at the end of the cat stroke, it felt like had hit a wall. The airspeed was okay, and I did accelerate, and no settling off the cat, but damn it was so much more sluggish than any other cat shot.

So, the three of us join up, and the A-6E lead lines us up heading into Charleston harbor from way out in the Atlantic (that radar they’ve got is awesome). And we were to drop in sequence, six mines laid out in a straight line, 2000′apart. The idea was to lay a fence to blockade the harbor (Training folks…training. We don’t really want to close the Charleston harbor.)

I was drops #3 and #4. I was set up with a 2000′ horizontal spacing and tricked the system so that I could pickle when the last A-6E mine came off, and then my mines would release 2000′ later. We were in a tight V formation, about 500′ AGL doing about 400 knots.

Well…when my first mine came off the right wing, the asymmetrical load coupled with the change in drag, damn near rolled my aircraft into the A-6E on which I was flying wing. It really caught me off guard and took a ton of stick pressure to hold the aircraft level. It was a very scary 2–3 seconds until the other mine dropped.

In retrospective, it was unsafe to be in that tight of a formation, and being unprepared for such a significant shift in asymmetrical load. That was as close to a mid-air as I’ve ever come.

Otherwise, the mining mission was a great success. But damn, what a pig the airplane is carrying those puppies around.