WHAT CAN A TAILWHEEL TEACHÂ THAT A NOSEWHEEL CAN’T?
by Baron Ray Klaus
If a person is taught correctly in a C152, he or she will be nearly as good as someone taught in a tailwheel airplane. That is if the person is taught correctly. That means that the student will be taught to coordinate with the rudder at all times and that he or she understands adverse yaw. It means that when landing, the airplane is put down gently on the main gear, nosewheel clear of the runway and it rolls out that way. A crosswind landing will be with zero drift, on one main gear. Takeoffs will include gently lifting the nosewheel clear, then letting the letting the airplane run on the mains until it fly itself off. If that is the way you fly, than the only thing the tailwheel will give you is quick feet.
The reason most pilots don’t fly like that is that the nosewheel airplane doesn’t require that kind of skill to be satisfied. Adverse yaw is minimal, so the instructor must work hard to get the student to use their feet in the air because the need for coordination is subtle. In landing, it is not critical for the airplane to be straight on touchdowns so crosswinds are no sweat. Just get it down and the geometry of the gear will sort it out. Takeoffs can be anything you want it to be as long as you have speed. Finesse, coordination have to be forced upon the nosewheel student by a dedicated instructor who teaches students to fly properly.
With the tailwheel airplane, the pilot quickly learns the airplane simply will not go where he wants it to unless he or she masters things like coordination, speed control, attitude and directional control. These skills are absolutely necessary to keep the airplane from becoming a crumpled ball of fabric and tubing on the side of the runway. Getting up and down isn’t hard, but to do it consistently means that you have mastered means that you have mastered the basic skills of aviation. Even if it means learning all over again.
In the air, it doesn’t make much difference which end the little wheel is on. But, push the stick sideways and the nose of the tailwheel bird neatly moves in the other direction unless the rudder is used properly. It moves a lot, and you quickly get tired of sliding around in your seat, and you get your feet into the game for survival. Long before the tailwheel becomes into play on the ground, the pilot is learning to coordinate simply because he has to. His butt is telling him what the airplane is doing. Adverse yaw is strong enough that side pressures on the pilot’s rear-end are noticeable and provide valuable input for proper coordination.
Basics of a proper landing are the same for any airplane. It should be landed as slowly as practical. The nose and tail should be in line in the direction of travel; and it shouldn’t be drifting sideways. On a tailwheel airplane, let any of these factors get out-of-wack, and the landing will be an adventure. The inertial energy of the CG tries to bring the tail around – backwards. Not a good way to end a landing. With the tail directly behind the nose and no drift, the airplane will roll straight except for gently trying to weathervane into the wind. If it is put down with drift it will start swerving the instant it touches. The airplane will tell you it is a good idea to do it right. You’ll actually see what the nose is doing just prior to touchdown.
Does the tailwheel airplane produce a better pilot than a nosewheel airplane? Not really. However it takes an enormous effort for a nosewheel instructor to produce a student as good as any which come out of tailwheels. If a pilot gets comfortable with the tailwheel, he will have raised virtually every part of his flying skills several notches without realizing it. It will make you a better pilot in any airplane you fly.
by Baron Ray Klaus