A TASTE OF TAILDRAGGERS
Flying|August 2020
Will flying with a tailwheel make you a better pilot?
Rob Mark

A Champion 7ECA Citabria was my first taildragger as well as my first airplane. The first few hours of tailwheel instruction chronicled in my logbook made the score pretty clear— Citabria: 2, me: 0. My instructor always managed to add colorful comments to my logbook to illustrate the at-times agonizing progress—“Crash and Dash,” he called many of our sessions. But by hour three, my grasp on runway dancing improved once I realized I’d been letting the little Champ lead me around on the ground rather than the other way around.

That checkout eventually taught me the value of subtle inputs to an airplane’s flight controls. Being able to understand what the airplane—any airplane—is telling me through the vibrations I felt and the noises I heard is a skill I don’t take lightly, especially in an era of general aviation cockpits chock-full of labor-saving automation. By the time I’d logged 100 or so hours in the Champ, I felt confident handling the rudder dance my taildragger demanded, even in relatively strong winds. My airplane infused me with a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of flying, like the need to manage an attitude, an airspeed and a flight path, habits that remain with me 40 years later.

“Why bother with the extra efforts of a taildragger?” It’s a question my nosewheel-trained friends often ask. Even during my early training, as wildly zigzaggy as it became at times, I never thought of my efforts as work, but really more of a challenge—one I willingly accepted because it seemed a natural progression to my role later in life as a professional pilot.

But the desire to understand the airplane beyond minimum standards is not the only reason to spend some time with one of these machines. Plenty of people today are buying CubCrafters and Aviat Husky tailwheel airplanes that demand these skills. As an instructor, I also initially took it for granted that pilots knew how to move their feet on the rudder pedals when necessary. Aircraft builders that added links between the rudders and ailerons to help counteract adverse yaw haven’t helped improve a pilot’s understanding of the messages their airplanes are trying to send them.

In a September 2015 Taking Wing installment in Flying, columnist Sam Weigel wrote: “Every landing [in a taildragger] is a challenge when you fly an airplane with fundamentally unstable ground handling. Flying taildraggers gives you instant street cred, a presumption of competence that opens up new opportunities.”

A Little Ground School

The challenge begins by understanding that the center of gravity is what sets tailwheel and tricycle-gear airplanes apart. The CG is an airplane’s balance point where the vertical, horizontal and longitudinal axes all meet. In a tricycle-gear airplane, with a nosewheel, that CG sits along the longitudinal axis in front of the main landing gear roughly halfway back from the nose. That’s why the nosewheel wants to quickly fall forward on its own after touchdown. Once down, that nosewheel handles most of the steering chores.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

RELATED STORIES

Back to the Skies

United Airlines leads the way to the safe rebound of air travel.

6 mins read
Global Traveler
January/February 2021

Impossible barriers are made to be broken

Few technologies have had such a rapid development and such a powerful impact on mankind as the invention of the airplane.

4 mins read
Flight Journal
March - April 2021

A Carbon Trading Market Perks Up

Sixteen years ago, Europe introduced a market based on what was then a revolutionary notion: forcing companies to cut greenhouse gas emissions by issuing credits that allow them to pollute up to a certain level. If they spew out more, they have to buy allowances from other companies. If they pollute less, they can sell their extra permits and bank the cash.

3 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 25, 2021

UAS TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT The Key to the Future of Drones

In 2012, Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which established a deadline for the agency: achieve full integration of drones into the airspace by 2015. As the calendar rolls over into 2021, this begs an obvious question: “Are we there yet?”

10+ mins read
RotorDrone
February/ March 2021

LiDAR MAPPING A GOLD MINE

When Consolidated Gold Mine in Dahlonega, Georgia, wanted to open more of its areas to public tours, they asked Inspired Intelligence, a family owned and operated drone business in Buford, Georgia, to help. Inspired Intelligence CEO and founder Nir Pe’er explained, “Besides drone technology, we also used new, amazing cutting-edge technology called LiDAR.

3 mins read
RotorDrone
February/ March 2021

A Colossal Challenge

Photographing Salem’s Oregon Pioneer

9 mins read
RotorDrone
February/ March 2021

CREATIVE TOOLS

How four master builders defined the path of the 2021 BMW R 18

3 mins read
Cycle World
Issue 4 - 2020

WAITING FOR PASSENGERS, AMERICAN PUTS BOEING MAX IN THE AIR

American Airlines is taking its long-grounded Boeing 737 Max jets out of storage, updating key flight-control software, and flying the planes in preparation for the first flights with paying passengers later this month.

4 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #475

The Prodigy

Yoyo Chang turned a hunch born in an English high school cafeteria into a next-generation payments app backed by serious, well-heeled investors

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Markets
December 2020 - January 2021

The Fintech Revolution Is Finally Here— And So Are the Regulators

SPEAKING IN OCTOBER to his banking brethren at the world’s biggest payments confab—the annual Sibos conference— Jamie Dimon didn’t mince words.

4 mins read
Bloomberg Markets
December 2020 - January 2021