Smoke On Go

Taildraggers – Improve Your Flying Skills

THE RUDDER 

You can fly a nosewheel aircraft without ever touching the rudder, as the pivot point (CG) is in front of the main gear. If the aircraft gets sideways, physics will pull it straight again. In a taildragger, the exact opposite is true: if the tailwheel starts to move sideways it will continue to do so. If unchecked, the result will be a ground loop, with the tail and the nose swapping ends. Expensive!!!

As you start rolling down the runway, p-factor is trying to turn you off the pavement and into the grass. When you bring your tail up, gyroscopic forces do the same. Oh yeah, torque and spiraling slipstream are still doing their thing as well.

Tailwheel pilots develop an innate sense for the airplane’s track and longitudinal axis.

Tailwheel aircraft can be less forgiving in landing and very dramatic.

BRAKES

Brakes are used sparingly, as a quick jab on the brakes is often enough to start a ground loop. You need to keep the CG between your mains if you want to keep going straight down the runway. Comfort with the rudder pedals and reluctance to use brakes are all good habits in any aircraft. 

ENERGY MANAGEMENT

Flight instructors talk about potential and kinetic energy, but until you fly a taildragger, especially one without flaps, you will not really know about managing energy. Flaps cover up a lot of mistakes. Taildraggers force you to plan ahead and fly more precisely with the correct approach speed.

If you approach the threshold 10 knots fast without flaps, you will float a long way down the runway.

SLIPS WHEN LANDING 

Because many tailwheel aircraft don’t have flaps, you will also be taught how to use the forward slip to lose altitude and for slowing down.

PITCH CONTROL

More than anything, flying a taildragger will give you a new appreciation for precise pitch control. Many pilots constantly move the elevator to “feel for the runway.” With no flaps and a partially-obscured view, the only effective method is to fly the right attitude and not over-flare.

THREE POINT LANDINGS

If there was a ‘normal landing’ in tailwheels, this would be it. You will learn to touch all three wheels down at the same time. Not recommended for nosewheel aircraft.

Three point landings are very satisfying.

WHEEL LANDINGS

When the winds are high or gusty, touching down on one or both of the mains first is the goal. By landing faster, you have more control on touchdown, and your wing is at a lower AOA. It’s not as easy as the three point, but it’s fun.

CROSSWIND CONTROL

You will become more assertive, willing to do whatever it takes to correct for even the smallest amounts of drift. It will be more natural to kick on the crab and transition to a side slip. When you land, your wing is at a high angle of attack and your tailwheel will not have the same authority as a nosewheel.

The flight isn’t over until the aircraft is tied down. In a taildragger it’s a good habit to hold proper control inputs during taxi, as it may be the difference between an uneventful flight and a accident. You have to fly it all the way to the chocks, and that’s a good reminder for any aircraft.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE AND PRACTICE

Taildraggers are not wild beasts that can only be tamed by “real pilots.” Flying any aircraft takes skill, practice, and focus – not magic powers. Taildraggers can be unforgiving during takeoff and landing, but the rest of the time, they fly exactly the same as most aircraft.

You can learn almost all of these lessons in any aircraft. Go up to altitude and practice making large rudder inputs to help teach you to put the aircraft exactly where you want it.

In crosswind landings focus on tracking the centerline while keeping the aircraft straight. It sounds simple, but concentrate on working the rudder pedals and ailerons.

No-flap landings are a great way to improve your skills.

Power-off, 180-degree spot landings are also excellent for experimenting with different combinations of altitude, airspeed, and aircraft configuration.

Good technique will pay off in any aircraft.

ADDITIONAL BENEFITS:

  • Landing on rough airstrips.
  • You open up your choice of flying some great aircraft like perhaps a Beech Staggerwing, a DC3 or even a warbird.
  • Learn aerobatics, as most aerobatic aircraft are taildraggers.

A tailwheel endorsement is one of the most fun and rewarding things you can do with most pilots getting their conversion in 5-10 hours.