Should You Learn to Fly a Taildragger?

This railroad track is a helpful hint for aspiring tailwheel pilots. When your tailwheel airplane touches down during landing, become a locomotive engineer. What you see is a straight track. Use your feet as required to keep your airplane tracking straight as a rail. Do not go off the track. At the first sign that the nose is yawing get on opposite rudder peddle then release it. Do not hold rudder peddle.
This railroad track is a helpful hint for aspiring tailwheel pilots. When your tailwheel airplane touches down during landing, become a locomotive engineer. What you see is a straight track. Use your feet as required to keep your airplane tracking straight as a rail. Do not go off the track. At the first sign that the nose is yawing get on opposite rudder peddle then release it. Do not hold rudder peddle.
It is noteworthy that flying tailwheel airplanes develops pilot stick and rudder skills; however, I think that is because so many tailwheel airplanes where certified long before the more sophisticated airplanes of modern design. Aircraft of older design develop significant yaw when using the ailerons. A pilot’s ability to control adverse yaw is a major factor in the term stick and rudder skill, so in that sense an older tailwheel airplane will encourage the pilot towards mastery of stick and rudder.

Many aviation pundits and educators encourage pilots to earn a tailwheel endorsement. It is generally believed that tailwheel pilots are more skilled than pilots flying tricycle geared aircraft. Many pilots earn a tailwheel endorsement believing they will become “better” pilots. Some pilots think tail wheeled aircraft will teach them stick and rudder skills. Drawing such distinction between flying conventional gear and tricycle gear airplanes suggests that tailwheel airplanes fly differently than tricycle gear airplanes. Actually they do not. Tailwheel airplanes fly just like tricycle gear airplanes; also, flying tailwheel airplanes to a cross wind landing is just like flying a tri-gear airplane to a cross wind landing. There is no difference.

Confusion about flying tailwheel airplanes often stems from landing a tailwheel airplane, and the definition of terms. An airplane flies to a landing; however, at the moment of touch down the airplane is not flying, it is taxiing. This is important, because on the ground tailwheel airplanes behave (they taxi) differently from tricycle geared aircraft. The c.g. of a tailwheel airplane is behind the gear; therefore any acceleration (turning moment) is greatly exaggerated and the pilot could lose control. (Newton’s laws of motion provide complete explanation).

During taxi, tailwheel airplanes behave differently from tricycle gear airplanes. Tailwheel airplanes are unforgiving of pilot mistakes at moment of touch down during landing. Newton’s laws of motion predict how a pilot can lose control when a tailwheel airplane is unstable at touch down.

Suggestion: If you fly a tailwheel airplane and you are concerned about crosswind landings, master taxi and the Dutch Roll:
• Taxi all about the airport on very windy days (total two hours).
• The Dutch Roll during level flight is the definitive maneuver for learning how to control adverse yaw.

Should you learn to fly a taildragger? Maybe yes, or maybe no. Flying tailwheel aircraft demands airmanship skills on the approach to landing. With proper training you can learn airmanship skills in a tricycle gear airplane. (requires a training regimen that far exceeds the offering of a typical pilot school.)

Key Point: Tailwheel aircraft demand airmanship skills. On the other hand, tricycle gear aircraft are forgiving of weak airmanship skills. A perfectly stable approach and touch down to landing is not required, so many pilots flying tricycle geared airplanes don’t master use of stick and rudder.

This month’s featured video, The Bounce, explores one of a tailwheel airplane’s most dramatic characteristics. (click here)

My two books, in paper back or E-book, and Key Point videos are available from Amazon.com. Search “books/Jim Alsip” at Amazon or click here.