Flying Tail Draggers

On Flying Taildraggers

Differences between Taildraggers & 'Nosedraggers'

 On Flying Taildraggers

The landing phase is the most challenging (and fun!) part of tailwheel flying. Managing the airspeed. Battling the wind. Judging the touchdown point. And above all, actively working the controls to keep the airplane straight during and after landing. That means learning to use the rudder continuously to keep the tail behind you, where it belongs.

Pilots must, of course, become proficient in all of these elements to fly any airplane safely, but they are especially important in tailwheel airplanes in order to maintain directional control and to avoid an ego-deflating ground-loop.

What exactly is a groundloop, anyway?

Any unwanted curving of the airplane's path when you're operating on the ground is a ground-loop. The tendency to ground-loop, however, is greatest while rolling out after touchdown. Ground-loops can be either controlled or out-of-control maneuvers. The out-of-control kind can be rather benign--the airplane drunkenly meandering off the runway, for instance. Or they can be severe--a tight pirouette, with the airplane veering hard off the runway, poised precariously on one main wheel, wingtip dragging across the ground as everyone on the airport watches. High-speed ground-loops can collapse the landing gear, can bend metal and tear fabric, and might include carving up asphalt with the propeller before the dust settles.

Pilots can and do ground-loop tricycle and conventional gear airplanes alike. But the legend of the taildragger is rooted in its willingness to ground-loop with minimal provocation. The relationship between the airplane's centre of gravity (c.g.) and the main landing gear makes this so:

For example, in properly loaded tricycle gear airplanes, the c.g. falls ahead of the main landing gear. This configuration is directionally stable on the ground. Consequently, tricycle gear airplanes inherently track nose-first. Properly loaded conventional gear airplanes, on the other hand, wind up with the c.g. located aft of the main landing gear. As a result, tailwheel airplanes will more readily swap ends on the ground unless the pilot continuously intervenes with corrective rudder inputs.

But this groundlooping tendency isn't necessarily a negative. The fact that the taildragger doesn't cut the pilot any slack during the landing phase is what makes the tailwheel transition so rewarding. Every good landing in a tailwheel airplane is due solely to piloting skill. Neither luck nor airplane stability can take any credit for it. The objective of tailwheel training, of course, is to learn to make more good landings than bad!

What do the terms 'three-pointer' and 'wheellanding' mean?

Takeoffs and landings directly into the wind in conventional gear airplanes come in two basic flavors: three-point and two-point. These terms refer not only to the airplane's attitude, but also to the number of wheels in contact with the ground as the airplane rotates on takeoff or as it touches down on landing.

The three-point attitude is identical to the attitude the airplane has when it's parked on the ramp. All other things being equal, the three-point attitude allows the pilot to operate at slower airspeeds: on takeoff, the airplane levitates into ground effect sooner; on landing, the airplane touches down slower, resulting in a shorter ground roll. Soft field operations usually call for a three-point or tail-low attitude during takeoff and landing. Three-pointers may be prescribed for short field landings, too. (Three-point landings are sometimes referred to as full stall landings, yet the airplane might not actually be stalled when the wheels contact the ground.)

The three-point attitude does have potential disadvantages, though. One is reduced forward visibility during takeoff and landing in some taildraggers. Another may be a false sense during takeoff that an under powered airplane (or one that is operating at high density altitude) is capable of climbing out of ground effect while still in the nose-high, low speed, high drag, three-point attitude. Some airplanes may only be able to wallow along in ground effect in this configuration.

The true two-point attitude, by comparison, corresponds to the attitude the airplane assumes in level cruise flight. Pilots transitioning to tailwheel airplanes might initially fear that the two-point attitude would bring the propeller precariously close to striking the ground. This apprehension can be alleviated, however, with a simple demonstration: With the prop of a parked taildragger positioned vertically (be extremely cautious when moving any propeller!), have your instructor pick up the tail of the airplane until it's in a level, two-point attitude. Check out the clearance between the ground and the prop.

All other things being equal, two-point takeoffs generally allow the airplane to accelerate quicker and offer improved forward visibility. They also permit the pilot to gain more speed--and hence, have better control authority--prior to becoming airborne in gusty wind conditions. A short field may command the use of a two-point attitude during takeoff.

Two-point landings are commonly referred to as wheel landings. In fact, any landing during which the tailwheel is held off the ground--even if it's only an inch or two--qualifies as a wheel landing. Wheel landings in certain airplanes may offer better forward visibility during the landing roll. Some pilots also argue that a wheel landing is preferable to a three-pointer when encountering gusty crosswinds. Others claim that quirks in a particular taildragger's design may necessitate the use of wheel landings for better controllability. Pilots of Stardusters and Swifts, for instance, swear by the wheel landing.

But the two-point attitude has its disadvantages, too. Forcibly raising the tail on takeoff, for example, adds a sometimes-significant gyroscopic component to the left-turning effects of torque, P-factor, and spiral slipstream. The pilot must anticipate the need for additional right rudder as the tail rises. On the other end of the pattern, the wheel landing occurs at a higher ground speed than a three-point landing. Consequently, wheel landings tend to use up more of the available runway. It's also easier to instigate a pilot-induced-oscillation (PIO) during a wheel landing. If not checked quickly, this can culminate in a prop strike, a ground-loop, or a little bit of both. Eventually, the wheel landing is transitioned into a three-point attitude. The possibility of a brief lapse in control authority is greater during this transition.

Keep in mind we're not necessarily restricted to the two- and three-point attitudes described above, either. We can set intermediate attitudes during takeoff and landing, too. And during takeoff and landing in crosswind conditions, we might choose a three-point attitude modified with the downwind main wheel raised off the ground (i.e.: aileron into the wind) as part of our crosswind correction. Similarly, we might choose a two-point attitude, but again with the downwind wheel raised off the ground.

Are taildraggers trickier to handle in windy conditions?

Trickier, no. Less tolerant of pilot inattentiveness, yes. The pilot must be acutely aware of wind direction and strength. Make it a habit to look at the wind indicators on the airport before taxiing, just before takeoff, and on short final. If the windsock is straight out, it's blowing at least 15 knots.

Taxiing into the wind? Think 'climb into' the headwind: elevator control full aft, with left aileron into a left quartering headwind, right aileron into a right quartering headwind.

Taxiing downwind? Think 'dive away from' the tailwind: elevator control full forward if the wind speed is faster than your taxi speed, and right aileron with a left quartering tailwind, left aileron with a right quartering tailwind.

And don't forget about the wind generated by the propeller, either. Be sure to hold the elevator control fully aft before adding run-up power; otherwise, the prop blast may be sufficient to raise the tail, possibly driving the propeller into the ground.

Be sure to adhere to the crosswind limitations of your taildragger as well. If the Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) fails to list a maximum demonstrated crosswind, use 20 percent of the airplane's calibrated stall speed in the landing configuration (Vso calibrated). Certification requirements specify that light airplanes shall have no uncontrollable groundlooping tendency in a 90 degree crosswind up to 0.2Vso in strength.

Can taildragger techniques be used in tricyclegear airplanes?

Not only can they be used, but they should be used. You should fly tricycle gear airplanes in the pattern as though they were taildraggers. You'll be pleasantly surprised how tailwheel techniques thus applied will improve your tricycle gear takeoffs and landings. Tailwheel techniques directly carry over to floatplane flying, too.

What are some of the common problems pilots have transitioning to taildraggers?

The biggest problem can be summed up in three words: rudder, rudder, rudder. Too many pilots have grown accustomed to being reactive with their rudder inputs--waiting for the airplane to do something, then responding--or worse, actually bracing their legs against the rudder pedals, especially during landing. The key in a taildragger is to be proactive with the rudder. To be light, loose, but active on the rudder pedals all the way through the takeoff and all the way through the landing.

The second problem concerns the elevator. Pilots flying tricycle gear airplanes tend to relax back elevator pressure instinctively during the landing roll out. In a taildragger landing in the three-point attitude, relaxing back elevator pressure reduces directional control, thus making it more difficult to keep the airplane straight during the roll out. The key in a three-point landing is to hold the elevator control fully aft during the entire landing roll while actively using the rudder to keep the airplane aligned with the runway.

The third problem appears during wheel landings. The key difference between the three-point landing and the wheel landing is sink rate. Successful wheel landings require minimum sink rate. If the airplane at all settles, falls, or sinks toward the runway in the last few feet, a wheel landing will be difficult or impossible. And if the pilot flinches and applies back elevator as the main wheels touch down, the airplane will rebound into the air. At this point, the pilot needs to react quickly and efficiently--either convert the landing to a three-pointer or add power and execute a go-around.

There is only one significant difference between a 'taildragger' and a 'nosedragger' and that is where the center of gravity (CG) is located relative to the main gear.

In the tricycle gear 'nosedragger' airplane the center of gravity (CG) is forward of the mains which gives it two endearing qualities. Firstly, when you land any harder than greasing-it-in on the mains, the CG wants to continue going down and helps to bring the nose down so that the airplane stays on the ground. Secondly, if you brake or rudder a little bit off center during the rollout, the CG wants to pull the nose of the airplane in the direction the airplane is rolling, thus straightening out the nose and helping the pilot to correct the mistake.

In the conventional gear 'taildragger' these same qualities work against you. In a 'wheel landing' where you touch down the mains first, the CG, now being behind the mains, continues going down which causes the tail to come down instead of the nose. Instead of helping to keep the airplane on the ground, you'll find yourself airborne again. This is frequently called 'bouncing it back into the air', but that's not really true. In actuality the CG going down increases the angle of attack which causes you to become airborne again. The 'Texas Taildragger' has a very heavy tail, making it particularly difficult to do wheel landings, but you can use a lot of brake without putting it on its nose.

Secondly, if you brake or rudder a little bit off center during the rollout, the CG wants to pull the tail instead of the nose of the airplane in the direction the airplane is rolling, thus adding to the mistake and causes the airplane to speed up the turn which can easily result in a ground loop and breaking parts of the airplane.

 The difference between a 'taildragger' and a 'nosedragger'

There is only one significant difference between a 'taildragger' and a 'nosedragger' and that is where the centre of gravity (CG) is located relative to the main gear.

In the tricycle gear 'nosedragger' airplane the centre of gravity (CG) is forward of the mains which gives it two endearing qualities. Firstly, when you land any harder than greasing-it-in on the mains, the CG wants to continue going down and helps to bring the nose down so that the airplane stays on the ground. Secondly, if you brake or rudder a little bit off center during the rollout, the CG wants to pull the nose of the airplane in the direction the airplane is rolling, thus straightening out the nose and helping the pilot to correct the mistake.

In the conventional gear 'taildragger' these same qualities work against you. In a 'wheel landing' where you touch down the mains first, the CG, now being behind the mains, continues going down which causes the tail to come down instead of the nose. Instead of helping to keep the airplane on the ground, you'll find yourself airborne again. This is frequently called 'bouncing it back into the air', but that's not really true. In actuality the CG going down increases the angle of attack which causes you to become airborne again. The 'Texas Taildragger' has a very heavy tail, making it particularly difficult to do wheel landings, but you can use a lot of brake without putting it on its nose.

Secondly, if you brake or rudder a little bit off centre during the rollout, the CG wants to pull the tail instead of the nose of the airplane in the direction the airplane is rolling, thus adding to the mistake and causes the airplane to speed up the turn which can easily result in a ground loop and breaking parts of the airplane.

Licence Renewal

More and more pilots are leaving their licence renewal process until the last few days in the month that it expires.  It would appear that they are worried about the validity dates of their licence changing. 

 Inevitably what happens is, for one reason or another, they cannot do their renewal flight test on their planned date and their licence expires, leading to all sorts of issues.

Quite simply put - you can do your renewal on any day within the month that your licence expires and the validity dates will remain the same! 

In other words, if your licence expires on the 31st day of March, you can do the renewal on the 1st of March (the same year!) and the validity dates will remain the same!

Don't leave your renewal to the last week of the month and then expect the school to work some kind of magic when it expires!  It is your personal licence and your responsibility to keep it valid!

Please also take time to read the preparation for flight review articles on this web site to ensure you come prepared for your flight review. Doing this will make the process less arduous for both you and your examiner and may even afford you the opportunity to brush up on your skills or lear something new. 

Airspeeds

Airspeeds, V-Speeds, Vx, Vy, Vs0, Vs1, Va, Vno, Vfe, Vne...

Airspeed Limitations, Manoeuvring Speeds and Performance

Alphabet Soup?
Aviation Acronyms can seem like Alphabet Soup!

With Airspeeds and V-Speeds, there are dozens of Aviation Acronyms for the student pilot to learn and remember.

Your Aviation Acronym Decoder begins with some talk about Velocity.

V is for Velocity
Important aviation Airspeeds are identified and defined using standard terms. Scientists and Engineers refer to Speed as Velocity. Therefore these standard Airspeeds (Velocity) are defined as V-Speeds where the V is for Velocity.

Aircraft designers and manufacturers perform flight tests to help determine performance limitations of aircraft. The resulting flight test data is used to help determine specific best practice speeds for safe operation of the aircraft. Recommended Velocity Speeds (V-Speeds) are published and these airspeeds are relied on for best performance and safety of the aircraft. Pilots should be knowledgeable about the published V-Speeds for each type and configuration of aircraft they fly.

Pilot’s Operating Handbook
Pilots should consult the Pilot’s Operating Handbook, or POH, for the aircraft they fly. These important V-Speeds will be published in the POH (Information Manual) for their specific Aircraft type and model. 

Airspeed Indicator Cessna 172Airspeed Indicator
Fortunately, the Airspeed Indicator in your airplane will have some of the more important V-Speeds highlighted or emphasized directly on the dial of the flight instrument. This helps the pilot to visually recognize these V-Speeds and easily determine how close they are to the V-Speeds while in flight.

General aviation aircraft depict the most commonly-used and most safety-critical airspeeds or V-Speeds on the Airspeed Indicator. These are displayed as color-coded arcs and lines located on the face of an aircraft’s airspeed indicator flight instrument.

White, Green, Yellow and Red
You will notice the colour-coded bands or arcs on the Airspeed Indicator. Pictured is a sample ‘Steam Gauge’ Airspeed Indicator. Let’s take a closer look, to determine some of these important V-Speeds. Remember, this is just an example, and the V-Speeds will differ based on the exact type, model and configuration of aircraft you fly.

The White Arc
The Flaps Operating Range is denoted by the White Arc. Flaps may only be used within this range of speeds.

Vs0
The beginning of the White Arc is the power off Stalling Speed with gear and full flaps extended, also known as Vs0. The Vs0 (Velocity Stall 0) represents the Stalling Speed of the aircraft configured for landing. (i.e. Gear Down and Flaps Down) An easy way to remember this is to think of the Velocity (V) of Stall (s) with everything hanging Out (0) or Vs0.

Vs and Vs1
Now that you are familiar with Vs0, it’s easy to remember Vs1. The beginning of the Green Arc is the power off Stalling Speed with the Gear and Flaps retracted. Vs is the Velocity (V) of the Stall (s), or minimum steady flight speed for which the aircraft is still controllable. As a memory aid, Vs1 is the Velocity (V) of the Stall (s) with everything Inside (1 looks like the letter i for inside). This is the Stall speed or minimum steady flight speed for which the aircraft is still controllable in a specific configuration.

The lower ends of the Green Arc and the White Arc depict the stalling speed with wing flaps retracted (Vs1), and stalling speed with wing flaps fully extended (Vs0), respectively. These Vs (Velocity of Stall) speeds are the stalling speeds for the aircraft at its maximum weight.

Vfe
The Top of the White Arc depicts the Maximum Flap Extended Speed. This is referred to as Vfe for Velocity (V) with Flaps (f) Extended (e). This represents the maximum airspeed at which you may extend the flaps, or fly with them extended. The flaps may not be used above this range (White Arc) or possible structural damage may occur to the aircraft.

The Green Arc
The Green Arc on the Airspeed Indicator depicts the normal operating airspeed range. As we have learned, Vs is the Velocity (V) of the Stall (s) and the Vs or Vs1 speed is denoted by the beginning of the Green Arc. At the top end of the Green Arc, is the Vno.

Vno
As the Green Arc is the Normal Operating Range, the top of the green arc is the Velocity (V) of Normal (n) Operations (o) or Vno. This is the maximum structural cruising speed. Operation of the Aircraft at the Vno speed, and lower, is within the certified range for operations within gusts. The aircraft is certified to withstand substantial wind gusts without experiencing structural damage. Operations above Vno move into the Yellow Arc on the Airspeed Indicator. Do not exceed Vno, except in Smooth Air, and only with caution.

 

Airspeed Indicator with V-Speeds DesignatedV-Speeds Designated
The Airspeed Indicator Flight Instrument shown here has some of the V-Speeds high-lighted. Standard colours and markings help pilots to immediately identify some of these very important V-Speeds. Click on the Airspeed Indicator for a larger view.

The Yellow Arc
Beyond the Green Arc, we see the Yellow Arc. The speed range marked by the Yellow Arc is the Caution Speed Range. The Airspeed range indicated by the Yellow Arc is for Smooth Air Only.

Operations above Vno (Top of the Green Arc) will bring you into the Caution Range of the Yellow Arc. Flight Operations in the Yellow speed range are to be conducted in Smooth Air only!

Vne
The Red Line at the top of the Yellow Arc is the Velocity (V) that you Never (n) Exceed (e). This is the Red Line of the Airspeed Indicator, and the Vne is the Maximum Speed the Aircraft should ever be operated in Smooth Air. Remember, the Yellow Arc is for Smooth Air Only. You should not exceed the Green Arc speed range unless the Air is Smooth and without gusts. Exceeding the Vne Airspeed can cause uncontrollable and destructive flutter, and cause serious or catastrophic failure of structural components on the aircraft. Aircraft designers include a slight safety margin, but do not risk or rely on this slim margin. The Vne is the Velocity (V) you Never (n) Exceed (e).

Other V-Speeds
There are other important V-Speeds, but they are not shown on the Airspeed Indicator Flight Instrument. The Pilot will need to be familiar with these other speeds, but they can’t simply look at the Airspeed Dial to determine these other V-Speeds.

Va
Manoeuvring Speed is found well below Vno. Manoeuvring Speed may be remembered as Velocity (V) of Acceleration (a) or Va. The pilot should not make full or abrupt control movements above this speed. In turbulence, you should always be at, or below, the Manoeuvring Speed (Va). The only way to ensure you will not damage the aircraft with full or abrupt control movement is to fly at or below this speed.

Retractable Gear Aircraft
Most student pilots will learn to fly on airplanes with fixed landing gear. However, if you fly an aircraft with Retractable Landing Gear, you will need to be aware of two more important V-Speeds. These are Vlo and Vle.

Vlo
Vlo is the Maximum Velocity (V) for Landing (l) gear Operation (o). Do not extend or retract the landing gear above this airspeed. When the landing gear is in transition, it is more vulnerable to damage from the effects of speed. However, once the landing gear is fully extended and locked, it may sustain higher airspeeds.

Vle
Vle is the Maximum Velocity (V) of Landing (l) gear Extended (e). Do not exceed this speed with the landing gear extended.

Garmin G1000 Glass Cockpit - Primary Flight Display - PFDGlass Cockpits
The newer Glass Cockpits are ideal for presenting tremendous amounts of critical data to the Pilot in an organized and familiar manner.

This Garmin G1000 Primary Flight Display (PFD) may not look too much like the older Six Pack of ‘Steam Gauge’ Flight Instruments, but there are still many similarities. For instance, the Pilot previously accustomed to the Airspeed Indicator Dial will find similar colour coding on the Airspeed Indicator Tape Strip. Click on the glass cockpit image for a larger view.

Tape Strip
The Airspeed is typically indicated by a Tape Strip (Left Side of Glass Panel) that moves up and down to depict the Airspeed. The current speed is shown as a digital number. However, you will also see the familiar Green and Yellow Bars. From this familiar colour coding, the pilot can easily visualize some of these critical V-Speeds. The Glass Cockpit technology is incredible, and the pilot will be provided with considerable additional information including Ground Speed calculations and True Air Speed (TAS) calculations. You’ll learn more about TAS as you continue reading below.

Vx and Vy
Two easily confused Airspeeds are Vx and Vy. The student pilot must have these important airspeeds committed to memory very early in their flight instruction. These airspeeds will be demonstrated and explained. They are Best Rate of Climb (Vy) and Best Angle of Climb (Vx).

Best Rate of Climb (Vy)
After takeoff, the aircraft should normally be configured for the Best Rate of Climb. This will provide the best climb for the maximum gain in altitude in the shortest time possible. You will get to your selected cruising altitude in the shortest time possible. Altitude is your friend, and particularly after takeoff, you want to gain the maximum height above the ground in the least time possible. Vy provides you with the Best Rate of Climb.

Best Angle of Climb (Vx)
Occasionally, it may be necessary to gain the maximum altitude possible over the shortest distance on the ground. To achieve this, the pilot would use the Best Angle of Climb or Vx. This would be applicable if you needed to clear an obstacle or obstruction on the ground shortly after takeoff. The pilot would configure the aircraft for the Best Angle of Climb to gain the maximum altitude possible before reaching the obstacle (i.e. Tree) located beyond the runway.

Vx is slower than Vy. This makes sense, as Vx will have a slower forward speed. The slower forward speed of the airplane will provide more opportunity for altitude gain before reaching the obstacle to be cleared. An easy way to remember Vx vs. Vy, is to ask yourself which letter has more angles? The letter X has more angles than the letter Y. As such, you will always remember Vx is the Best Angle of Climb, and Vy is the Best Rate of Climb.

We’ve already looked at quite a few V-Speeds, and there are dozens more for the progressing pilot to master. We’ve touched upon some of the most important V-Speeds in you early flight training. Now that we have considered some V-Speeds, let’s look closer at some other types of Airspeed.

IAS, CAS and TAS
When you read the Airspeed on the Airspeed Indicator Flight Instrument, you are reading the Indicated Air Speed (IAS). This is simple. What you see on the dial, is the IAS.

For instance, if the Airspeed Indicator Needle is pointing to 85 knots, then the Indicated Airspeed (IAS) would obviously be 85 knots.

Calibrated Air Speed (CAS)
The Airspeed Indicator is subject to slight errors. These errors are caused by factors such as the placement of the Pitot Tubeand Static Sources and flying configuration such as the degrees of flap extended. Your POH reference guide may be used to determine the amount of ‘Correction’ you need to calculate your Calibrated Airspeed. The difference between IAS and CAS may be slight, but your Aircraft Information Manual will outline the adjustments and assist you in determining your Calibrated Airspeed or CAS.

True Air Speed (TAS)
The IAS and CAS are still not your True Air Speed (TAS). To calculate TAS, you will need to factor in the Outside Air Temperature (OAT) and the Pressure Altitude. Some Airspeed Indicators have a moveable ring on the outer scale of the dial to assist with determining your TAS.

Air Density
At Sea Level, Air is very dense. This dense air helps the wings create lift, but there is also additional drag. As the aircraft ascends, the higher altitude air is less dense. This reduces drag, and allows the airplane to fly faster through the air. However, the less dense air does not ‘strike’ the Pitot Tube quite as hard, causing the Indicated Air Speed (IAS) to be less than the True Air Speed being flown through the less-dense, higher altitude air.

2% per 1,000 feet
For every 1,000 feet of altitude gain, True Air Speed (TAS) increases approximately 2% over Indicated Air Speed (IAS).

For example, if you were flying 10,000 feet above sea level, with an Indicated Air Speed of 100 knots, your True Air Speed (TAS) would be approximately 120 Knots. This is 20% faster than your Airspeed being indicated on your flight instruments. You simply take your Altitude above sea level (i.e. 10,000 feet) and increase your IAS by 2% for each 1,000 feet. (e.g. 2% times 10) This would result in a TAS of 120 knots, or a 20% increase of your IAS.

Your handy electronic Flight Computer and POH will help you accurately calculate your TAS for ground speed calculations.

As you can see, as a student pilot, you need to know quite a bit about Airspeeds, V-Speeds, IAS, CAS, TAS, and more.

 
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