With flying, it’s often the small things that will hurt you, and this is doubly so in a taildragger. In the past several years, I have seen certain common mistakes that are imperative to avoid. Tailwheel aircraft can be unforgiving and challenging machines to fly, and perhaps this is the reason why I enjoy flying them so much. There is something extremely gratifying in mastering the art of flying a taildragger.
The 3 Mistakes
The mistakes are all fairly simple but do require the pilot to pay attention to the small details. Let’s get started:
#1. Keep your heels on the floor and feet off the brakes. This is vital for takeoffs and landings. It sounds easy enough, but in taildraggers with toe brakes, it is surprising how difficult it is to do; even slight brake pressure will make directional control difficult. Having full brakes applied while landing is a sure way of nosing over. Also note if your aircraft has full duel controls, you must brief your passenger as they may inadvertently apply brake pressure.
#2. Relaxing on rollout. Boy have I seen this a lot, the pilot makes a perfect 3 point landing and immediately relaxes as the aircraft rolls down the runway. I think this must be human nature as it happens so often, and even an experienced tailwheel pilot must be on guard to avoid this mistake. As the aircraft slows, airflow decreases over the control surfaces and they become less effective. Slight aircraft deviations now require more control movements to correct. In turn this can lead to some challenging directional control issues especially if there is a crosswind. The tailwheel pilot must always be vigilant and continue to fly the aircraft at all times.
#3. Not overshooting. This is something I have to drill into most of my students; if the approach or landing is not going well, overshoot. For some reason, pilots hate to overshoot and will do everything they can to save a landing. This may work most of the time when flying a trike, but trying to save a bad approach or landing in a tailwheel aircraft can lead to disaster. Good experienced tailwheel pilots know it is always the best choice to go around and try again. I start judging whether an overshoot should be completed when turning onto final and continue to do so until a successful landing is completed.
How to Overcome
A great way to avoid these mistakes is to verbalize what you are doing. For example, before turning final, state out loud “heels on floor, feet off brakes”. After turning final and periodically throughout the approach, say something like “approach looking good”, “a little high correcting” or “approach way to high, overshooting”. After touch down, verbalize “continue flying the airplane”. Stay alert, practice for perfection and enjoy the experience.
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