Tailwheel Tip: Positioning Flight Controls During Taxi

When it comes to landing, a pilot’s golden rule is to fly a stable approach to landing, especially when landing in a cross wind. Tailwheel pilots must be especially attentive to avoiding an unstable approach because tailwheel airplanes do not have directional stability during taxi. When the wheels touch down upon landing, the airplane is not flying, it is taxiing. Tailwheel airplane instability at touch down leads to loss of control during roll out after landing (taxi).
When it comes to landing, a pilot’s golden rule is to fly a stable approach to landing, especially when landing in a cross wind. Tailwheel pilots must be especially attentive to avoiding an unstable approach because tailwheel airplanes do not have directional stability during taxi. When the wheels touch down upon landing, the airplane is not flying, it is taxiing. Tailwheel airplane instability at touch down leads to loss of control during roll out after landing (taxi).
You probably remember the lesson in pilot school with reference to correctly positioning the flight controls during taxi in windy conditions. Most pilots I have asked can recite memory aids that direct the proper positioning of control surfaces. Most pilots know how to position the controls during taxi; or maybe not.

Take a moment and have fun with the following quiz. Assume you are taxiing a tailwheel airplane. Answer True or False:
1. As you taxi the wind blows from ahead and from the right. Your right aileron should be up. True or False
2. As you taxi the wind blows from ahead and from the right. Your elevator should be up. True or False
3. As you taxi the wind blows from behind and from the right. Your right aileron should be down. True or False
4. As you taxi the wind blows from behind and from the right. Your elevator should be down. True or False

In pilot school, we are taught to position the controls with the objective to reduce lift on windward wing and hold the tail down during taxi; therefore, your correct choice would be True for all four questions.

The problem with memory aids and rote memory is that our reliance on them might cause us to relinquish our process of analytical thinking. Reread the questions with reference to “the wind blows from”. That phrase has meaning to you, but an airplane does not recognize wind. An airplane knows relative wind; therefore, the questions are nonsensical. They do not offer enough information to develop a meaningful answer.

Reconsider question #4:
As you taxi at 10 mph, the wind blows from behind and from the right at 20 mph. Your elevator should be down. True or False
The correct answer would be True because the relative wind is a tailwind; however, consider this change in relative wind:
If you taxi at 20 mph, and the wind blows from behind and from the right at 10 mph, your elevator will be down. True or False
The correct answer is False. The relative wind is a headwind so you would want the elevator to be up.

Airmanship is using the control you need, when you need it, as much as you need it. How do you know when you need a control? The answer is situational awareness, another element of airmanship. You must understand what is going on around you.

This month’s featured video, Look, See and Avoid, reviews other examples of situational awareness. Click to view

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