Taming the Taildragger – Part 2 [The Flying Gourmet]

Jim Jellison - The Flying Gourmet

Taming the Taildragger Part 2

The infamous tail wheel

In Taming the Taildragger – Part 1, I mentioned that the primary difference between the tricycle gear aircraft and the taildragger is the placement of the landing gear (wheels). Tricycle gear aircraft have the center of gravity (CG) in front of the main wheels and the taildraggertaildragger has the CG behind the main wheels.

On takeoff three forces are at play, P Factor, Torque, and Gyroscopic. All three of these forces want to turn the aircraft to the left as power is applied. The same forces act upon any single engine, propeller driven, aircraft but they are tremendously mitigated by the placement of the landing gear (CG) on a tricycle aircraft. Logically one would think that these forces can be counteracted by the application of the right rudder, and that of course is true. But, in a taildragger the question is, how much and exactly when? It turns out that you must be sort of psychic because you must anticipate the use of the rudder and the force that must be applied as it needs to be applied.

The Citabria

The Citabria

On my first takeoff, upon application of full power, the aircraft started a turn to the left, I countered with a hefty amount of right rudder which then turned the aircraft to the right. Then, I countered with left rudder which turned the aircraft back to the left. All this was taking place while the aircraft was accelerating with the tail wheel off the ground (the aircraft was up on the two main wheels). Weaving at this attitude caused the aircraft to tip to one side and then the other on each one of the main wheels, YIKES! This all happened in a matter of seconds and then I heard a voice from the back seat saying “I have the controls”. During the course of my training I have heard those four reassuring words, from my instructor, Steve, more than once!

Landings are another story; there are two types, a wheel landing and a three-point. The three-point is the easiest of the two to master. Approach at 70 mph, put the aircraft in proper attitude (so that all three wheels will touch the ground at the same time) hold the aircraft off from landing as long as possible, to reduce speed, and keep the nose perfectly straight. Upon touch down, hold the stick all the way back.

Taming the Taildragger Part 2

A tricycle Cessna 172

Wheel lands are a little scarier, approach to 80 mph at a level attitude fly the aircraft right down to the ground just kissing the pavement with the main wheels. At the exact second that the main wheels touch you reduce the power to idle, push the stick forward and keep the nose straight. When the tail comes down, pull the stick all the way back and keep the nose straight.

As a private pilot with 2,000 plus hours I have found the taildragger experience humbling. I feel certain that a taildragger endorsement is in my near future and I believe the experience will make me a better pilot no matter what type of aircraft I fly.

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