Taildragger 101: Lessons Learned from Lisa Martin

Here’s an update from lady taildragger pilot Lisa Martin ….. and a lot more…

Update with Lessons Learned

LLT pilots Deni Whitsett and Lisa Martin

Two thousand fifteen arrived as a breath of fresh, cold air…literally and figuratively. LLT’r Deni Whitsett and I met in person, for the first time. We did go for a gorgeous winter flight in my 7ECA Citabria (on skis) around the Swan Valley. Then we proceeded, in LLT and OBP T’s to Flathead Lake where we steeled ourselves in frigid 19* f air for a Polar Bear Plunge into 32* f water! From that point on, I was ready to take on the promises of the New Year, sans baggage left from the old. The old had lessons. In April of 2014, I bent our Cub. There were so many lessons learned that I surely will forget to mention some:

  • 1. Trust a gut feeling. It was my husband’s turn to fly front seat, but I got the front instead. Dressed up for the backseat, it’s cold in the back of the Cub when it’s below 20*F, I thought I should change into front seat attire and flying shoes, but we were in a hurry to get going, and winter gear had worked fine all winter while flying on skis (this was the first day back on wheels). I should have taken time to change.
  • 2. Consider what is on my feet. I’d been flying on snow ski’s since about November of the previous year and in the cold mountains of NW Montana, in full winter garb. Winter hat right down to wool socks and snow boots. The boots also happened to be 3 sizes too big, because they’re just boots, right? Hindsight, when on snow skis I can’t tell if I accidentally hit a brake, there is no brakes. In a tailwheel airplane, with heel brakes, it sure doesn’t hurt to be able to feel my heels, so I’m flying in flat, thin soled shoes now. Since, I’ve even had very experienced instructors tell me if a student shows up in hikers or boots, he’ll make them fly barefoot.
    Update with Lessons Learned3. Situational Awareness. In a SuperCub, I often find myself landing in places with no margin for error. In those places I better be ready to react to anything in an instant. Landing on a ranch strip, that is most often used as a road, with large ditches on either side and an inch or two of snow over shallow mud ruts from the day before, I aced the landing. I was sooo pleased with myself! Shortfield, three point, exactly where I wanted to touchdown. I was on a short flat spot on top of a hill, I still had to go down, up, down, up to get to the tiedown spot at the end, so I keep taxiing at too high a rate of speed, like I had many times before. This time, after about 100’ of rollout the airplane started to go slightly left. Little right rudder. Nothing happened. Little more right rudder. Nothing changed. With no wind indicators, it felt like maybe a light quartering breeze pushing the tail right/nose left, could have also been the tailwheel caught in a rut. I gave it a shot of power, for air over the rudder and more right rudder. At that point the nose of the airplane jerked 45* to right in an instant, with only about 2 ft to the ditch, rolling about 30 mph, I gave it full power to go around. I must have caught the brake with the big waffled notches in my boot and with the combination of cold and wet conditions, the brake stuck.KCOE and 53U
  • 4. Airplane Specific Go Around Procedures. I had just finish getting a CFI certificate practicing Practical Test passing go-around after go-around in a 172RG: Full power/carb heat cold, retract a notch of flaps, etc. When I retracted a notch of flaps, I lost enough lift that the airplane, which was just lifting, settled back and the right main gear hit a slope going up from the ditch along the right side of the landing strip. I shut the airplane down on the grass on top of that hill. It sat crooked because the cluster fitting at the right gear attach point was bent. If not for the 3” extended gear, the Cub likely would have flipped onto her back. If I would have left full flaps on, in the Cub, I would have flown away. FAA PT standards are written for trainer airplanes taking off and landing at airports.Update with Lessons Learned
  •  5. It Takes a Long Time to Fix an Airplane. We were unscathed and the insurance was fantastic! Within a week I had a check from insurance and the Cub hauled to our mechanic. It was going to be a quick spot fix, but the fabric was old so we decided to just have it all done, and some other improvements too, like the STC for 2000 lb Gross Weight. It ended up being Dec 25th of that year, before the Cub flew again. A lot of people said, “At least you weren’t hurt. Airplanes can be fixed.” That’s true, but it still doesn’t make the wait, to fly a favorite airplane again, feel any better.KCOE and 53U6. AOPAs Pilot Protective Services. Get! I have a lot of resources that other pilots may not have, because my husband has been a 135 pilot in several different states for about 30 years now. But, being a new CFI, I decided I wanted to go through the FAA processes like most GA pilots would. It was a nightmare. At my first onset of panic, AOPA helped me find a lawyer and I keep all records of all communications, which as much as possible I tried to keep in email format. It’s too long a story, but if anybody is getting steam rolled by the FAA please give me a call and I will tell you everything I learned. I did give up and call on FAA friends in three different states to guide me through the process because I did want to get through it without a big fight, but I kept an AOPA lawyer as a backup just in case. The friends confirmed that what was happening was not right, I was being bullied, and told me exactly what to say to the rep I was dealing with. A different FAA rep gave me the checkride, he was very professional, and with him everything went exactly as I expected and there was no stress. It was my first bad experience with the FAA, and it was a really bad few months.

KCOE and 53UA lot of lessons. It almost broke me (made me quit), but I couldn’t stand the thought of that, so now I’m stronger. I am a much better, more proactive and more aggressive pilot now than I was before. That, of course, all happened in 2014. Two Thousand Fifteen, started with the Polar Bear Plunge and two flying airplanes: the Cub and the 7ECA Citabria. I spent a lot of time flying on snow skis again, when caught up on shoveling snow. My husband John and I flew the Cub to Arizona this spring. Amazing flight, low and slow. I added Single Engine Sea to my pilot certificate in May, John too. We trained for it with Glenn Smith and Hunter Horvath, Coeur d’Alene Seaplanes PA12, and DPE Mike Kincaid. So much fun! We’ve been working in the CdA area for Panhandle Helicopters on wildfires since March, and also got to squeeze in some awesome north Idaho flying this summer, but still are Montana residents. Our airplanes call 53U, Ferndale, MT home. We’ll be heading back to Montana in November to put the floats we bought this summer on an airplane and hopefully squeeze in some water play before it’s time to put the snow skis on again!

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