Monday, November 11, 2019
Advanced Training corner Taming the Tail dragger

Taming the Tail dragger

Ever wonder what it would be like to step back in time and go back to the basics of what flying really is about. How about a greater appreciation for crosswinds, coordination, rudder and airspeed control.


To begin with all the airplanes in the early days were conventional tailwheel airplanes. Even through out World War 2 the largest bomber aircraft such as the B-17 and DC-3, down to the typical basic trainer such as the Stearman or North American T-6 and P-51, served as the backbone of military tail wheel aircraft. In the civilian world, the foundation for pilot training was also the tail dragger. Many pilots learned in J-3 cubs, Aeronca champs, Taylorcrafts and Cessna 120 or a bi-plane, just to mention a few.











Most of the aces from Chuck Yeager to the Red Baron were all trained in and the 1st wars were all fought in taildraggers. When I wanted to learn to fly back in the 70's, my Father who had only flown in tail dragger airplanes sat me down and said. Son if you really want to learn to fly like a pro " Learn in a tailwheel airplane" in the end you will have a much better feel, build coordination and rudder control and will never have any problems with landings or directional control . After years of teaching and thousands of hours later, I realized he was right even though most of my flying was done in tricycle gear airplanes.

Now you are probably thinking to yourself, what could I possibly derive from learning to fly a tail wheel airplane when I fly higher performance airplanes such as Cirrus or a multiengine airplane? First question should be what do they all have in common and the answer is direction control issues.

All pilots that fly props to jets can benefit from training in taildragger airplanes. When pilots fly advanced high performance airplanes whether single or multiengine that have more weight and power they tend to take for granted some of the basics.

After not flying a tail dragger for several years I decided to take recurrent training and purchase a Citabria. This little airplane really brought back the basics and fun back to flying for me.

Just follow me through (famous words of every flight instructor) as I share some of the skills that the tail dragger helped me revisit.
The first step in training is not always easy. Most schools do not rent tail wheel airplanes or have experienced tail wheel instructors, so you may have to spend time finding a location and qualified instructor.

Once you find a school and instructor be sure they have some type of curriculum for your training. Your first lesson should consist with of an introduction to tail wheel flying just to get the idea and demo as to what the training is all about. Next comes a ground session, which will lay the foundation of tail wheel aerodynamics, gyroscopic precession, ground looping, and tendencies that lead to directional problems.
Like any other airplane all flights begin with ground operations. A tail dragger is directionally unstable on the ground because the center of gravity is behind the main gear. This results in a tendency for the tail to want to swap ends or commonly called ground looping. Last week I landed the Citabria on a strong windy day. After landing I tried to turn left with the control stick back and aileron into the wind, even with using differential braking. I could only turn in one direction. This is known as weather vaining tendency. This is remedied by positive wind and control inputs of aileron rudder and sometimes brakes. With taildraggers this means that you must always be flying the plane from start up to shutdown until you tie it down.

In the first hour of flight a new pilot is introduced to tail wheel transition, with emphasis on ground and taxi operations. A good hour is spent taxing around making turns, figure 8's, stops and high speed taxi, with the wind coming from all different directions. Learning to handle the airplane on the ground is half the battle to mastering directional control problems. On takeoff one must maintain directional control by keeping the tail wheel on the ground with elevator and rudder. Next skill is a lesson on gyroscopic precession, which occurs on takeoff when the tail rises. As the tail rises, it causes the airplane to yaw to the left due to the gyroscopic precession and the engine torque. This left turn tendency must be corrected with judicious and immediate use of rudder control. A good example of this is, the Twin Beech 18 and DC-3 are so directional control critical on takeoff that they have a tail wheel lock to help keep it aligned on the ground until enough airspeed could be attained and the tail raised. You can just imagine what a directional control problem one can have if an engine failed during the takeoff roll right after the tail was raised. The reverse is challenging landing on a single engine. Yes, I had the challenge or misfortune of landing a Beech 18 single engine at gross weight and the left engine out and a left cross wind once on the Big Island of Hawaii. After takeoff there are still many aerodynamic maneuvers to review, starting with

coordination exercise such as dutch rolls to get the hands and feet moving. Next comes steep turns, slow flight and stalls. When reviewing stalls we practice what is called an oscillation stall, where the airplane is held at the critical angle of attack and walked around in a stalling coordinated turn. This type of stall practice allows the pilot to feel the shuttering in the stall; additionally most tail draggers do not have an aerial audible stall warning. At the same time during one of the air work session's pilots can practice EMT Emergency Maneuver Training, Unusual attitude recoveries, recovery from inverted flight and spin recovery. This is sometimes called upset training. Upset training can only be practiced in an airplane that is certified for aerobatics and with parachutes. This type of training can save your life should you ever get rolled inverted because of wake turbulence.
The next phase of tail wheel training presents the biggest challenge of them all. Learning and mastering landings. Everything starts to come together, as landings require the utmost skill in rudder, elevator airspeed control and especially recognition of wind. Tail dragger pilots must always know what direction the wind is coming from as it directly affects directional control.

Not too long ago I was watching closely at a new CJ jet pilot attempting to land in a stiff crosswind as he was having a hard time keeping it straight because of lack of aileron and rudder control. I couldn't help but think that if only he had some crosswind practice in a tail dragger first, he most likely would have solved his problems before getting in to the jet.
When it comes to wind correction on approach and landings pilots will need to be proficient in both the crab and slip method.
Additionally, most tail draggers do not have flaps so a side slip is used to lose altitude, (another skill that you probably haven't used since your private pilot days). A good deal of time is spent perfecting Landings or should I say arrivals (a fancy name for not so good landings). The first type of landing is the preverbal three-point full stall landing where all three wheels touch down at once. One of the advantages of the three point landing is the touchdown is the slowest, and not having to transition from the tail wheel (what I call flying the tail) in the air to the tail wheel touching down after the mains touch. Additionally the three point allows immediate ground contact of the tail wheel for positive directional control steering.

The next type of landing is termed the wheel landing, and is the preferred technique in a crosswind. The wheel landing's touchdown is on the mains with the tail in a level flying attitude. The wheel landing seems to require the most practice to perfect. A word of advice if you find yourself porpoising during a wheel landing it's best to add the power and go around.
The last phase of training is usually spent reviewing any deficiencies and completion of the FAR sign off 61.31(I) which is required to fly as Pilot In Command in tail wheel airplanes, and believe me, all the work and fun makes it all worth while. You maybe wondering how long it usually takes before a pilot attains proficiency in the tail wheel. To checkout in the front seat usually takes approximately ten hours. For the rear seat usually takes an additional five hours. The rear seat takes extra training especially in landing as the pilot must use peripheral vision to judge the ground.

Other benefits of tail wheel training
Besides all the basic new and old skills that you have refreshed. Think about the new adventures and places tail wheel airplanes will go that bigger and faster airplanes will not go. In places like the back country and Alaska where the tail wheel airplane is the main mode of transportation. And don't forget that these airplanes go on skis and floats just as well.

Want a challenge and at the same time build confidence plus improve your overall flying skills and bring back the fun in flying? Then take a lesson in a taildragger, and you too will be hooked and say, taildragger flying is really what flying is all about.

Robert J. Crystal
CFI of the year 2007
Simulator & Instrument Training Center Van Nuys, Ca.
Ph:. (818) 988-7224
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