Tailwheel Training – The Ground Loop

The tailwheel airplane is a pilot’s airplane. The tailwheel pilot enjoys using the entire flight envelope and flies with reference to the sight picture on a real horizon.  Flying a tailwheel airplane has been described as being one with the airplane. Many tailwheel airplanes are slow and best enjoyed when flying low over scenic terrain. Other tailwheel airplanes are high-performance thoroughbreds capable of high speeds and incredible maneuvers. Whatever the mission, the tailwheel pilot is in control and able to elicit maximum performance from the airplane.
The tailwheel airplane is a pilot’s airplane. The tailwheel pilot enjoys using the entire flight envelope and flies with reference to the sight picture on a real horizon. Flying a tailwheel airplane has been described as being one with the airplane. Many tailwheel airplanes are slow and best enjoyed when flying low over scenic terrain. Other tailwheel airplanes are high-performance thoroughbreds capable of high speeds and incredible maneuvers. Whatever the mission, the tailwheel pilot is in control and able to elicit maximum performance from the airplane.
On the ground, tailwheel airplanes are unforgiving of mistakes. In my book, Flying the Tailwheel Airplane, I discuss the Force Equation, Newton’s third law of motion. I liken “Force” to a “Big Gorilla” and explain how a pilot’s casual attitude during a landing might cause the pilot to lose control and experience a ground loop. Experiencing loss of control during the roll out portion of a landing is essential to developing a pilot’s confidence when learning to master a tailwheel airplane. We learn from mishaps and call it experience.

If you “mess with the Big Gorilla”, and experience the beginning of a ground loop, you should be proactive. When you see and/or feel the nose moving, react without hesitation.
• Apply rudder against the turn
• Add power to increase rudder authority.
• Use brake: Brake the wheel opposite the direction the airplane is turning.

I think that a decision to recover from a ground loop or departure from the runway poses a conundrum to an inexperienced tailwheel pilot. If a pilot applies the techniques mentioned above,
• the effects could add energy to the impending crash,
• the airplane could begin flying again at a very dangerous attitude.
Either outcome might cause injury; whereas, the original ground loop or departure from the runway would not have posed a threat of bodily injury. Insurance would cover damage to the airplane.

Being pilot in command is about making choices that manage risks; however, a good choice of action is not helpful if the pilot does not have the skills to perform the action. Developing stick and rudder skills in a tailwheel airplane offers the pilot choices of action in an emergency. Add situational awareness to a pilot’s good stick and rudder skills, and he or she will be better able to avoid emergencies or escape from them in a worse-case scenario.

Key Point: During a loss of directional control on rollout, increasing power will increase rudder authority and help straighten the airplane’s track.

The featured video this month is titled The Big Gorilla. (click here) It talks about Newton’s third law of motion and explains why tailwheel airplanes are susceptible to loss of control on the ground. Remember adherence to Newton’s Laws of Motion is not optional.

My books, Flying the Tailwheel Airplane and Artistry of the Great Flyer, are available from my web site or from Amazon.