Tailwheel Training – The Yoke is not a Steering Wheel

Pilot induced aircraft oscillation (over-control) commonly occurs on short final. In this photo the aircraft is not aligned with the runway. The cause could be cross wind effect, or more likely P-factor; but the cause is not relevant in this comment. The lesson behind this photo is how the pilot has used the yoke (or stick) as if driving a car. By turning the “steering wheel” to realign with the runway, the pilot has banked the airplane to the left and started a series of over-control events that creates an unstable approach.
Pilot induced aircraft oscillation (over-control) commonly occurs on short final. In this photo the aircraft is not aligned with the runway. The cause could be cross wind effect, or more likely P-factor; but the cause is not relevant in this comment. The lesson behind this photo is how the pilot has used the yoke (or stick) as if driving a car. By turning the “steering wheel” to realign with the runway, the pilot has banked the airplane to the left and started a series of over-control events that creates an unstable approach.
Tailwheel skills are best understood as aircraft handling on the ground and in the air. On the ground, tailwheel aircraft are typically unforgiving of pilot error. If the pilot allows the aircraft to touch down misaligned (at an angle) with the center line, allows the airplane to drift across the runway, or if he fails to control the windward wing, tailwheel aircraft will react in accordance with Newton’s laws of motion. The landing and roll out will be unstable and could result in loss of control.

The thoughtful aviator understands that the key to consistently good landings, especially in a tailwheel aircraft, is a stable approach. Controlling a tailwheel airplane in the air, as when making a stable approach, is dependent on making the same control inputs as when flying a tricycle gear aircraft – both “fly” the same. If you practice good stick and rudder skills when flying a tricycle gear, you will have good stick and rudder skills when flying a taildragger – you will be known as a “great stick”.

Many pilots suffer a lack of those basic stick and rudder skills and never understand why they struggle when faced with the challenge of an unforgiving tailwheel airplane. In most cases, the challenge of stick and rudder relates to the rudder. The following are “rules to live by” when a pilot seeks to understand and correctly use the rudder:
• Rudder controls aircraft rotation on its vertical axis.
• Ailerons rotate aircraft on the longitudinal axis, and the use of aileron generates adverse yaw (rotation on vertical axis).
• Rolling moments and yawing moments are linked. Movement on one axis will generate movement on the other.

I have noticed pilots who struggle with skill maneuvers share a trait – they use the yoke (stick) like they drive a car. Too move the nose laterally (left or right), they turn the wheel. They use a rolling moment (aileron deflection) to accomplish a yawing moment that is best done with rudder deflection. This is a big deal! In my book Flying the Tailwheel Airplane, I commit a lot of print to Newton’s Laws of Motion – when you do stuff, other stuff happens. These universal laws are not optional. In the case of a pilot “steering” the airplane on short final, misuse of the controls to rotate the aircraft on one axis will cause the airplane to move in some other and unexpected manner. That unanticipated movement will cause the pilot to further over control, chase airspeed, adjust power and induce even more reactions. The final approach to landing will not be stable.

If you want to fly a tailwheel airplane you should first master the proper use of the rudder and generate a stable approach to landing every time. I encourage pilots to develop rudder skills by using the rudder, and practice the following:
• Level turns using fast roll rates will teach you about adverse yaw.
• Climbing and descending turns to the right and left will teach you about p-factor yaw.
• To learn about aileron and rudder linkage, fly hands free, using only your feet to bank and turn the airplane. Most pilots are amazed to learn that when properly trimmed, the airplane will maintain pitch (airspeed) while the pilot using rudder pressure controls bank and yaw.

A pilot must use the rudder correctly to fly a stable approach. A good tailwheel pilot will go-around if the approach is not stable.

This month’s featured video, Pilot Induced Instability, is a good review of the all too common issue of over control. (click here)

Don’t stall, control yaw and keep the blue on top – Jim