A Good Trainer Does All the Teaching

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One of the things I've noticed about aviation journalists is that we don't tend to run against the grain much, probably for fear of being perceived as wild-eyed lunatics. You know, the whole opinion leader thing. But I'm quite comfortable with my own wild-eyed lunacy and I like to think I pull off hysteria with class, a cynical critical eye and occasional tasteful restraint. Conformity makes a warm Petri dish for accepted truths to flourish. Some examples: Engine failure is most likely to occur at the first power change after takeoff; there are those who have and those who will land gear up; the only time you can have too much fuel is if you're on fire; taildragger pilots are the only real pilots. Being a contrarian, I've never believed any of these but I confess, I'm rethinking that last one, the taildragger thing.

Now that I've been doing some primary instruction in the Cub, I'm beginning to wonder if it's true. To be honest, I never liked doing primary that much. I always tilted toward instrument instruction because I like the challenges of flying real weather and the arcane esoterics of divining your position in space solely from five or six gauges. But then I'd never instructed in a Cub. So I now find myself astonished to be thinking it may be the best trainer ever built. And not just for primary students. Given the Cub's faults—and they are many—this shouldn't be so, but it turns out that the faults really are attributes. Its pathetically low power loading forces a pilot to plan ahead and really think through takeoff capabilities on a short runway. And you'll embarrass yourself with a hands-of-stone coaxed rotation before it's ready to fly. Gobs of adverse yaw and a glacial roll rate requires use of a rudder whose response is, at times, temperamental. The brakes offer little but nodding acknowledgment to friction so you learn to fly without them, thus never acquiring the gratingly stupid habit of riding the brakes during taxi. From the instructional perspective, this has resulted in something I didn't expect: I don't do much in the Cub. The other day, my 16-year-old student, Jordan, and I were pottering over the Intracoastal Waterway doing rectangular patterns. He lined up the Cub's wheel with the shoreward side of the waterway, cranked in some angle and we watched as a brisk easterly drifted us off the line. I don't think I said a thing; he watched the drift, carved into it a little and knew what to expect on the opposite leg. Later, during some landing workups at Buchan, a lovely little grass patch south of Venice, I luxuriated in silence in the Cub's expansive front seat while Jordan applied the necessary angles in the pattern and on final. In any airplane, but especially a Cub, the metric of emerging success is a rail-straight roll down the centerline with aggressive rudder inputs before the nose begins to sway to either side, not after the excursion starts. Jordon was doing that, so I guess he and the Cub were talking because I sure wasn't. This reinforces another lunatic notion I've always had: Just about anyone who wants to can, with sufficient motivation and time, teach themselves to fly. A CFI's job should be little more than keeping the airplane from cratering and knocking the sharp edges off whatever insurmountable learning barriers arise while this process progresses. Otherwise, shutting the #$@% up isn't such a bad thing. I recognize everyone learns differently and some students need more than others, including motivation. I've never been much good at that, having been blessed almost entirely with motivated students, many of whom I recruited because they were motivated. There are some things we can't do easily in the Cub. When I Googled around for some samples of pre-solo quizzes, I was a little shocked to see how many instructors build these things around regulations, airspace and especially radio work at towered fields. (Admittedly, the FARs push this.) With our iffy radio, I think I'll pass on trying to operate into a towered field. We'll get to that later. Several of the quizzes I found were structured as though the flying is assumed, as though radio operation is the real art and stick and rudder is just a means of putting the radio where you want it. I'll concede the point, for that is what we have become. So if the J-3 isn't the universe's best trainer, what is? For my money, it just might be either a Legend Cub or a maybe a Sport Cub from Cub Crafters, with a simple glass panel. Yes, glass. These airplanes fly almost like the original—a little better—have just enough additional power to gin up the performance—but can be flown on the wing, just like a J-3. The glass panel provides a useful link to the modern world of flight without giving up the extraordinary benefits of the old. When you get tired of watching the phony horizon on the glass, switch it off and watch the real one. If that's not the best of all worlds, I don't know what is. (Wonder if there's a used one out there I could afford…)

Comments (69)

Aside from the absence of a tailwheel, I wonder how closely the new Cessna 162 will match your ideal training machine.

Posted by: David Bunin | October 4, 2010 3:15 AM    Report this comment

I started learning flying in an Aeronca Chief in 1977, without intercom, and was happy it was a side by side plane, so the instructor could yell some information in my right ear about the use of rudder at roll out. The weight of the tailwheel in level position of that aircraft was 120 lbs, in 3 point position it was even more. It was a hell of a job to keep the aircraft straight after landing, sideslipping was a routine (no flaps) and when there was wind enough we used to take off, climb to 1000 ft, reduce to stallspeed, and land again at the take off position...

Posted by: Rene Van Campenhout | October 4, 2010 4:38 AM    Report this comment

As a J3C-65 owner with more than a couple of hundred hours in them, I wholeheartedly agree with you. My dad always said if you could do a good job flying a J3, you could get in almost any light plane and fly it. If you have been "driving" about in faster planes it can initially be a humiliating experience to fly one.

Posted by: Jake Jacoby | October 4, 2010 5:02 AM    Report this comment

The AA-1B is also an outstanding primary trainer. It's also underpowered (so READ the POH before takeoff), forces you to fly the airplane, and best of all it teaches FUEL management. AA-1B's are also a lot cheaper than a classic Cub...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | October 4, 2010 7:05 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I'd add that the J-3 also teaches you attitude flying, since you can't see the airspeed indicator from the back with an adult in front of you....or the compass, or the ball, or the.... . Really, the only instrument(s) that I crane my neck to see are the oil temperature and pressure gauges. I could not tell you my takeoff speed or my landing speed and have learned to fly by feel and use my feet, a lot. The J-3, and other tail wheel aircraft, have taught me a lot about airmanship and control. I love flying our Cub, despite some of it's old-time handling and ergonomic deficiencies. It makes me work and keeps me sharp.

Posted by: Mark Mayes | October 4, 2010 7:11 AM    Report this comment

I think you're on to something - some seasoned CFII's agree. See "Flythecub.com" - Joe Gauthier is a past New England CFI of the Year, and he likes to put people in the PA-12, the biggest of the Cubs. Same thing for Doug Stewart out of Great Barrington - CFI of the Year and he flies the PA-12.

Posted by: PRESTON B KAVANAGH | October 4, 2010 7:19 AM    Report this comment

While I am not sure about the need for the "Flat Glass" everyone is so keen on these days, I totally agree that flying a taildragger for primary instruction instills habit patterns and skills that will serve you well your entire flying career. I do tailwheel check outs in our Citabria, and this summer my daughter earned her private in it. She took her checkride in 25-30 kts winds, and aced it. A generation ago I flew 7AC Aeroncas out of Torrance, CA ($10 and hour wet, tach time!). Regardless of the type aircraft I flew from then on, from jets to antiques of all stripes, I knew the little Airknocker had taught me well! I am definitely of the school that values stick and rudder skills as of primary importance while learning to fly. Master that, then the electronic gizmos later.

Posted by: BILL MCCLURE | October 4, 2010 7:25 AM    Report this comment

I have a little flight school and use Remos GX light sport aircraft for training. The aircraft are real stick and rudder machines with room inside for really large people. The useful load of 650 pounds allow me to accommodate large flight instructors and students. The problem with a conventional gear aircraft is the obscene insurance rates and the number of days that you cannot fly because of wind here in Northwest Arkansas. The great dispatch reliability of the Remos and the low maintenance costs of the all carbon fiber airframe make it an excellent choice for flight instruction.

Posted by: tommy Lee | October 4, 2010 7:38 AM    Report this comment

The most common advice I give pilots during or after a flight review or ICC is get some tailwheel time and preferably an endorsement. I agree with Paul B., and have been saying for years, that all student pilots should get their primary instruction in a taildragger at least through solo. At that point the skills are there that will make them better pilots no matter what they fly next. Problem is,instructors like us with significant tailwheel time and access to a taildragger to teach in are few and far between.

Trust me on this one Paul, the only people that would disagree with you have no tailwheel time!

Posted by: John Martin | October 4, 2010 7:49 AM    Report this comment

Learning to fly a super decathlon is also a humiliating experience, but in a different way from the cub. There is no shortage of power in the 180HP model and thus the rudder becomes even more essential. In addition, it is a lot more 'twitchy' than the 172 I learnt in and you really need to fly the plane as opposed to sitting in it. Any power changes require rudder and trim and of course the tailwheel gives you good lessons in landing and ground handling.
As an 80 hour post PPL student who thought I knew how to fly, the 8KCAB taught me a lot about how to feel the plane and what aeros were all about, as well as giving me the confidence to recover from unusual attitudes, which was the original intention of getting into the plane in the first place.

Posted by: Tim Fountain | October 4, 2010 8:34 AM    Report this comment


Unfortunately I didn't learn to fly in a taildragger -- I was a Cherokee 140 person. Hershey bar wings and gear that would let it stay on the runway almost no matter how you screwd up the landing.

Then, when I had 650 hours (I've been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time several times) I was offered a copilot's job in a Westwind IIIB mod of a Beech 18. Long Pinochio nose and PT-6 engines, but still a tailwheel. I will forever worship the pilot that took me as a Cherokee driver and made a taildragger pilot out of me!

I made captain and eventually accumulated over 1500 hours in various version of the Beech 18 -- all tailwheels -- and a bit of DC-3 time. Interestingly enough I have no single engine tailwheel time.

The one thing that sticks in my mind is that if your feet are not moving when you are on the ground, you are about to come to greif. You had to know which way that old Beech was going to go before it figured it out itself.

I totally agree that primary training should be done in a tailwheel airplane. You have to keep flying those until they are tied down.


Posted by: Linda Pendleton | October 4, 2010 8:36 AM    Report this comment

Great article, Paul. I've got a Champ and am closing in on having my CFI ticket. I really want to start instructing part-time. I learned in a Citabria and some of the most satisfaction I've ever found in flying is landing a tailwheel airplane perfectly. Those rare occasions when it happens always set you right for the rest of the day.

A previous poster commented on the Decathlon's "twitchy" nature. Balanced and responsive would be my description of this superior airplane. I guess it's all perspective, though. One Cessna CFI I took up in the Champ immediately released the controls after I gave the airplane to him. He said it was far too sensitive for his experience. Even when compared to a Cessna, the Champ's controls aren't terribly responsive, but he really didn't feel comfortable with them.

Posted by: Ryan Lunde | October 4, 2010 9:02 AM    Report this comment

The worlds most popular and prevalent trainer, in which many of us have learned to fly, is the tricycle geared C172. I have no intention of ever learning to fly taildragger, I'm scared of the possibility of 'groundloops' and propstrikes so I want nothing to do with them.
I side very much with Chris Heintz's trike-gear thinking when he designed the Zenith CH701; better ground handling, plus being able to see where you're going are GOOD things.

Posted by: Peter Sharpe | October 4, 2010 9:03 AM    Report this comment

"I have no intention of ever learning to fly a taildragger," Peter I feel sorry for you. Flying a 172 is a pleasure, flying an underpowered taildragger like a J-3, a Champ or a Callair from a grass strip on a summer evening is a joy.

Posted by: Richard Montague | October 4, 2010 9:35 AM    Report this comment

In 1954, I got my Private rating in an Aeronca Champ, at $4.00 an hour wet. Right after soloing, I flew a Mooney Mite and a Tripacer (both tricycles), just because I was young and the airport apparently thought I knew more than I did. The only thing in the Champ besides me were three steam guages and a throttle. In that rural area of California there were no controlled civilian airspaces and no radios. Learning in the taildragger was not considered at all unusual...everyone did it and the CFIs taught us one-wheel power on landings to handle crosswinds and spins to find out if we really wanted to fly. Flying a Champ was just flying, pure and simple.
At 82,I now own an Arion Lightning. It is slippery, quick and tricyle. I don't long for the old dragger days, but have no doubt that whenever I touch down the nose wheel isn't going to be first. The Champ training must still be in my genes.

Posted by: tom herbert | October 4, 2010 9:50 AM    Report this comment

While, I agree with the desirability of training in a simple taildragger, I wonder if a big part of the learning process is literally the stick and rudder. In the 172 where I usually teach, its all too easy to fall back upon habits formed during a life-time of driving tricycles, bikes, cars, etc. (Negative transference.) The unfamiliarity of the controls in a simple rag-wing break that loop.

'Course, if we really want to teach basic flying skills, I'd start them in a glider. I've had the opportunity to take a student thru his glider, ASEL and Instr airplane tickets - in that order - and he excelled at all 3, all the way.

Posted by: Merl Raisbeck | October 4, 2010 10:07 AM    Report this comment

"I have no intention of ever learning to fly taildragger, I'm scared of the possibility of 'groundloops' and propstrikes so I want nothing to do with them."


By making this statement, you have resigned yourself never to fly a J-3, a P-40, a Stearman, or a whole host of other planes. I realize that flying some of these planes are not all that realistic, but others are. There is an endless world of incredible flying machines and I want to fly as many of them as I can. Fear of a new experience can be paralyzing and that can lead to stagnation. To continue to grow as an aviator, there are always new things I want to try and new skills to master. Learning to fly a taildragger to the point of competence can be a tremendous way to grow and add more skills to your mental toolbox. The same could be said for learning to fly seaplanes, aerobatics, gliders, helicopters, or even skydiving. I would encourage anybody in aviation to never stop growing and never accept that they've become the best they can be.

Posted by: Ryan Lunde | October 4, 2010 10:27 AM    Report this comment

I'm a low-time CFI (2k hrs) and would like to get the tailwheel endorsement just to keep in the learning mode, and fly something different. Problem is, there are no taildraggers around here for training. Same goes for float training. Bummer.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | October 4, 2010 11:09 AM    Report this comment

While in the best of all possible worlds it might be a good idea to spend the first hours exclusively on ‘stick & rudder’ work in a less aerodynamically sophisticated bird, the realities of cost and time need to be considered. I think the best decision would be to “train as you plan to fly”. If your heart’s ambition is to spend sunny weekends at a quiet uncontrolled field enjoying the quirks of a low-powered tail-dragger just for the sheer joy of it, then fine, take your training in that type of airplane. But if your long-term plan is to do more with your license than just stir some air around, my feeling is you should pursue a well-integrated course of training that gradually works you into the “real world” of rules and controllers early on. Future BFRs are always a good time for trying out taildraggers & float planes.

Posted by: John Wilson | October 4, 2010 12:47 PM    Report this comment

I would love to get a tailwheel endorsement, but finding one for rent around here is next to impossible; my only time so far was at McCall in their Mountain Flying instruction (and I don't know if Amy is doing that in her 120 anymore). I think that's why so few pilots fly tailwheel--finding a rental to stay sharp is tough. And buying a capable 4 place aircraft means stepping up to a Cessna 180--expensive, and probably only VFR equipped. You can't find anything comparable to a 172 at a decent price, and you can't rent one around here at any price--and you're surprised pilots don't fly them?

Posted by: DAVID CHULJIAN | October 4, 2010 12:53 PM    Report this comment


Look at Piper Pacers, especially Tri-Pacers which have been converted to taildraggers. They are comparable to a 172 in performance and very fun to fly.

Posted by: Ryan Lunde | October 4, 2010 12:59 PM    Report this comment

And I forgot to mention that they're also much cheaper than a 172.

Posted by: Ryan Lunde | October 4, 2010 1:00 PM    Report this comment

Excellent points made on the rental situation. Because, let's face it, taildraggers & float planes are inherently more accident-prone, no one wants to rent them. I got my taildragger endorsement in 'loaners' from friends. And I recall with amusement the response of the seaplane training outfit when, after receiving my endorsement, I asked about renting: "Rent it to you? Are you crazy?"

Posted by: John Wilson | October 4, 2010 1:03 PM    Report this comment

Viva la Tailwheels! As an owner of many tail draggers, (in fact sold the 120 to Amy) I suggest that conventional gear pilots are WAY more aware of the take off/landing environment. Sadly there are so few CFIs with tailwheel experience it is difficult at best to find one. I owned a Piper Pacer after the C-120 that was quite challenging, what with the short wheelbase and all. I loved it and would own another in a heartbeat. Presently I have a pair of Skywagons in my hangar: A '54 180 and a '80 185. Wouldn't trade them for the world.

Posted by: Steven Garman | October 4, 2010 1:34 PM    Report this comment

I see many valid points on both sides of the table, here's my take on it, first off, I learned to fly in a 7ECA Citabria and went on the fly trikes and everything else I could pay for, now own a Pitts S1 and have had very easy transitions into trikes of all types, somehow the extra skills beat into my head while learning to handle the Citabria helped out with my overall flying skill set. Although not active much now, (paying for 2 college Kids) I remember renting Citabria's and Super Decathalons and being almost the only one who flew them on a regular basis. This brings up the topic of training, If you learn the real grass roots basics well in a taildragger, then you can pretty much fly anything else without the stress that you suffered during your taildragger training. In my opinion it will make you a better pilot, same goes for gliders, you learn to handle and understand the wind much better while flying these types of aircraft, everyone should go fly a glider along with a taildragger, you will be grinning from ear to ear. (Flaps ! We don't need no Flaps )

Posted by: Duane Cody | October 4, 2010 1:53 PM    Report this comment

One thing I did forget to mention in my previous post. I don't think those of us who fly or have flown tail-draggers should look down our noses at those who have not flown them. A good pilot is a good pilot, no matter which end the third wheel is on. I just count myself as fortunate to have flown a lot of my 40 years of flying time in tail wheel planes. I like flying a 182 or Bonanza too! Too often people are scared away from flying a tail wheel airplane. They are easy too, just a little different.

Posted by: Jake Jacoby | October 4, 2010 2:55 PM    Report this comment

For many years I've said that the smartest aviation thing I ever did was learn to fly conventional gear. Most of my PIC time is in the venerable PA-12, and I'm glad there is another PA-12 fan here on this thread. All of those finely-honed skills translate to trikes (well, maybe not the wheel landings).

How can you navigate a Champ by weight-shift alone without grinning from ear to ear? Correct, Duane, we certainly don't need flaps, and I for one don't want them either.

I can tell which airline pilots never flew conventional gear, just by watching them land. So far, I've yet to be wrong, though some tailhook pilots have come close.

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | October 4, 2010 3:25 PM    Report this comment

I have all ways loved the simplicity of Piper Cubs. ...The way not to ruin a great fun little flying machine is not to put any of that glass bull---- in it.

Even more fun to fly than the Cub is the Tiger Moth, ...used to train thousands of pilots all over the British empire during WWII.

Posted by: peter hirst | October 4, 2010 3:51 PM    Report this comment

"....everyone should go fly a glider...., you will be grinning from ear to ear. (Flaps ! We don't need no Flaps )" OK, no flaps. But Duane, can I keep the spoilers? :-)

Posted by: John Wilson | October 4, 2010 4:23 PM    Report this comment

Yep, you can keep the spoilers, I don't think you'd want to slip a glider when down close to the ground, good catch. I was doing a BFR a few years back with a freshly minted CFI and he about had a fit when I dumped the decathalon over for a full slip and then straightened out and touched down just at the numbers and did a smooth turn onto the 2nd taxi way. He was very new to this airplane and was busy looking for the flap handle.
;0) we had a talk once we got tied down and he learned something, at that time, I was wondering how he got his tailwheel signoff and in what type.

Posted by: Duane Cody | October 4, 2010 4:43 PM    Report this comment

I'm surprised how seldom I hear talk about the benefits of learning in an underpowered aircraft. If you learn in a Cherokee or Skyhawk (high powered by comparison), you don't feel the true necessity of nailing your V speeds.

Posted by: John Schubert | October 4, 2010 4:56 PM    Report this comment

I think one of the most important skills a pilot can have is constant awareness of the wind and what it's doing to the airplane. In a tailwheel, you have to pick that skill up early to stay straight and on the assigned pavement. I've flown with 1600 hour ATPs who have no real feeling for the wind. It's sad.

I also agree with Bruce that you can tell whether or not an airline pilot has flown a tailwheel by the way he lands. An experienced tailwheel guy will almost never put both mains down at the same time.


Posted by: Linda Pendleton | October 4, 2010 10:39 PM    Report this comment

While I have limited time in a tailwheel aircraft (65hp chief), I always teach my Cessna 172 students to fly the airplane all the way through the landing. Just because you can land it flat and sideways and not ground loop it doesn't mean you should. Give me a nice flare, work the rudders, always touch on the upwind wheel first. Don't chicken out and drop the nose for directional control - work those rudders and hold it off through the landing - then gently fly the nose to the ground as you slow down - just like the airliners do (most of the time!) Fight to keep the thing on the centerline all the time - don't accept just putting it on the runway in some indiscriminate place. Just because you can't rent a tailwheel airplane doesn't mean you can't work on basic airmanship.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | October 5, 2010 11:29 AM    Report this comment

Very Good Points Josh, the point allot of us taildragger types are making is when you learn your airmanship this way, just like your talking about your bound to be a better stick jockey. I'm sure we have all seen some just barely under control and very lucky pilot's out there who have either never learned the basics or just forgot all of it. I could tell some stories but were all in the same game here. So I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.
I have also seen some very poorly trained TD pilots who have forgot the basics and bent some nice airplanes. bummer. I better keep it short on the hanger typing stories lol. I'm not the type to look down my nose at non TD jockies, and some of my old timer instructors were old pro P51 jockies during the big one, so you get humbled real quick also thrilled to even be with some of these guys. And YOU WILL DO IT RIGHT ! RIGHT. Or they won't let you fly their birds anymore. I had the pleasure of a CFI many years ago who was one of the first busted for looping and flying under the golden gate bridge in a Stearman. Got some Stearman time also. Some very fun times there. Enjoy !


Posted by: Duane Cody | October 5, 2010 5:32 PM    Report this comment

I loved this line, Paul:
"[R]adio operation is the real art and stick and rudder is just a means of putting the radio where you want it." I learned in an 85 hp Champ with no radio or electrical system. I am restoring it now and plan to put them in, just for the luxury of turning them off and flying the airplane!

Posted by: Jim Spee | October 5, 2010 6:21 PM    Report this comment

Nose-wheel type aircraft support a host of aviators (both private and professional) with modest dexterity/ability and who probably wouldn't be in the game if tail-draggers had remained the order of the day, but they haven't and by a very long chalk.
Nor do I see them making a come back so its a bit pointless to poke the finger at those guys you know wouldn't fare well in them and even if they happen to be professional pilots - Nothing is going to come of it and it is most likely to be perceived in the industry as oneupmanship.

...Personally I very much enjoy flying tail-wheel planes for pleasure, but I think I would rather work in a nose-wheel type machine, ...especially on a dark rainy windswept night.

Posted by: peter hirst | October 5, 2010 7:05 PM    Report this comment


Of course! I'd rather WORK in a modern airplane, also, but one has to wonder if phrases like, "... a cross wind that was beyond the experience or training of the pilot..." would show up in an NTSB release if the guy had some tailwheel experience.

There are three things I believe a good pilot must know at all times -- which way is the wind, which way is downhill, and which way is better weather. This, of course, supposes that the pilot at all times knows where he is. I just think taildraggers, especially lower powered ones, help tremendously in developing those vital skills.

And you're right, Peter, the 18 was NOT a lot of fun on thse dark, rainy, windswept nights, but I was a young pilot and didn't know any better!


Posted by: Linda Pendleton | October 5, 2010 7:47 PM    Report this comment

...one has to wonder if phrases like, "... a cross wind that was beyond the experience or training of the pilot..." would show up in an NTSB release if the guy had some tailwheel experience.
How's that again?

Posted by: John Wilson | October 5, 2010 8:36 PM    Report this comment


That was in the NTSB's release on the December 2008 Continental takeoff accident. The airplane went off the left side of the runway in a heavy left crosswind. (Those might not be the exact words, but that's the gist of it.) Paul has a blog about it here I think.


Posted by: Linda Pendleton | October 5, 2010 9:01 PM    Report this comment

Hey guys and gals, just think back about what you know about pre and WW1 aircraft and how touchy, hard to control, underpowered, NO tailwheel steering, NO tail wheel, just a skid, limited structures (G's) no real throttle, mag was on or off, radial engine was turning on a fixed crankshaft, massive P forces.
And look how far we have come with our new machines.
The same flying forces and rules still exist and we still have flying oops's and worse. Nobodies busting chops here, just chatting about the skills that some understand and love and some that may not realy have an interest of learning the old school stuff, it's always going to be this way, so please don't start getting mean about it, were just typing from our hearts and minds about the good old days !.

Posted by: Duane Cody | October 6, 2010 7:09 AM    Report this comment

I have always felt that a good instructor can turn out as good a pilot in a tricycle plane as in a taildragger, by constant attention to the same mistakes that a taildragger makes obvious by itself. It just occurred to me that a mediocre instructor needs to be teaching in a taildragger, to make up for their own faults.

Posted by: Michael Bevan | October 6, 2010 9:04 AM    Report this comment


Posted by: Randal Grant | October 6, 2010 9:17 AM    Report this comment

It all depends. If you like to start off learning the easy way go with the modern nosewheel aircraft such as the Cessna's and if you stay there you will be able to fly most aircraft. However if you really want to be able to combat the air and ground try a J3 and your flying skills will be much higher.Our club members dubbed the J3 "the paper bag aircraft" as it is like trying to control a paper bag in the wind and that takes some skill. As tail wheels go its one of the toughest and requires thinking ahead by taking the rudder inputed direction control OFF before you get to the wanted direction or it will swing past that direction and then you will get into the scary zig zag direction situation. While my instructor could fly the J3 well he could not teach tailwheel control. One day after much Zig Zagging on my part I told him to fly the land part and I would watch what he did and found he was pedalling the rudder control and in effect sneaking up on the direction he wanted to go. I hope I have just taught people how to master the tail wheel. It takes some work.

Posted by: Keith WALKER | October 6, 2010 9:29 AM    Report this comment

I taught tailwheel and acro in Citabrias and 8KCABs a generation ago, and these days, I love to go out to my airport and just go around making very close-in patterns in my lovely RV-6 (Thanks, Van!) and as many touch and go wheel landings as I can, for at least an hour a week, just to keep my proficiency up so every landing is perfect. I love to make a perfect wheel landing just like I used to love to make a perfect ski run, leaving first tracks in deep powder down something conspicuously steep and tall, back when I was young. The feeling of doing something hard very well is something worth working for, in any sphere of endeavor.

Posted by: Jack Romanski | October 6, 2010 10:21 AM    Report this comment

Have you all heard about the training cycle loop. Those taught in whatever system tend to teach the same thing over and over and this keeps repeating. Note that Spins are not required anymore ! So with the current training programs, with the goal of getting students out the door with a very minimum of hours, 40-48 hours ? solo in 4 hours ? wow, I had 9 hours in a Citabria before I got let loose on the world, then hit about 80 hours of training total, aced my check ride. I was proud of what my instructor taught me, he was a pro all the way, from the grass roots of flying to DC3's. He made me work my tail off to do it the right way and be safe. Then I got told now I have a license to learn even more.
Note, for you folks wanting taildragger experience and training, you may have to build your own, look up the EAA org. You may be very surprised with how many homebuilt aircraft are still taildraggers, then while looking things up, check out the IAC, you will notice that all of the top aerobatic birds are STILL TAILDRAGGERS. You Figure it out. So they haven't gone away like someone mentioned. You just don't see them because your not in that part of aviation.

Posted by: Duane Cody | October 6, 2010 10:27 AM    Report this comment

Duane Cody said:

"...so please don't start getting mean about it, were just typing from our hearts and minds about the good old days !..."

I didn't think that anyone was getting mean here, but if I came across that way, I'm sorry, Duane.

Jack Romanski said:

"...just to keep my proficiency up so every landing is perfect..."

Oh, man you gotta teach me how to do that one!

I just think constant awarenss of wind is SO critical to safety and a taildragger will teach you that immediately. You won't care much what the tower says the wind is, cuz that's the wind someplace where you aren't.

One of the biggest dissapointments I had when I started teaching in jets was that pilots seem to decide that jets are no longer subject to aerodynamic forces and so they don't believe they need to position ailerons for taxi and takeoff!


Posted by: Linda Pendleton | October 6, 2010 10:57 AM    Report this comment

My, how times have changed. I learned to fly in a J3, owned an Aeronca Chief,and flew on and off for 65 years. I now have a 182. Every time the question of learning to fly comes up, the answer usually is I can't afford the money. You have to go 100 miles to find an instructor with an airplane. Most of these trips are canceled because the guy usually has a full time job and cant fit you in. If you are looking for light sport, forget it. The only solution seems to be finding an instructor, buying the airplane you would like to learn in, or can afford, and go from there. Your instructor will probably have a full time job, so you will be number two, but you will learn in the airplane that is yours and continue to fly for many years.

Posted by: Ken Kessler | October 6, 2010 11:09 AM    Report this comment

Probably time for me to bow out of this thread since I succumbed to snarkyness in my last post, for which I apologize.What I really meant to get across in the several postings I’ve made is the need for keeping a sense of realism in things. I’m a conservative, but I don’t automatically support every conservative utterance or notion that comes up because I recognize that a certain percentage of any group is made up of total whack jobs. In the same way, having an affinity for taildraggers shouldn’t mean either ignoring or glorifying the real problems they have. Yes, their quirks require that you concentrate more on certain aspects of handling, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a “better pilot”, any more than removing your airspeed indicator and flying by feel & sound would. Tricycle gear came into being specifically to address the real problems created by the inherent ground instability of conventional gear, which caused and continues to cause vastly more landing accidents on a “per capita” basis than with tri-gears. Conventional gear survives in new designs partly because of the fun offered by challenge & nostalgia, partly for the off-field/unimproved field advantages, but mostly because of the potential for lower weight, drag and design simplicity it offers, considerations particularly important for home-builts & aerobatics. So let’s keep flying whatever turns us on, but don’t fall into the “my way is the only real way” trap!

Posted by: John Wilson | October 6, 2010 11:28 AM    Report this comment

I agree with John Wilson. Both have strengths and weaknesses as trainers. My brother and I both got our private tickets in the mid-1970s. I started in the Champ and switched to the C-150. He flew 150s the whole time. After I got my ticket, we took the Champ up together. As we came in on final, he exclaimed "Wow, this thing really makes you use the rudder!" The 150 helped him out with less adverse yaw and less rudder sensitivity so he could get used to being in the air without overloading his brain. The Champ helped me learn because it made me aware of all three control dimensions right from the start. On the other hand, I never really liked making radio calls whereas he learned at a controlled field and made them right from the start.

Posted by: Jim Spee | October 6, 2010 11:46 AM    Report this comment

No offense at all, it's been a nice walk into a bunch of things we all love and that's the man made birds and the expertise we all try to maintain in flying the buggers safely. And keeping them in good shape so the A&P's don't get to take all of our money that we don't have anymore. Anybody got a P51 I can borrow for the weekend lol !..Enjoy and it's been a pleasure reading all this stuff.

Posted by: Duane Cody | October 6, 2010 11:51 AM    Report this comment

Hi Linda,
In my experience piloting skill and especially dexterity varies for all the colours in the rainbow and that is the situation amongst professional pilots - before you even begin to consider private pilots. As such training can only compensate for so much if you are working with mediocre dexterity and really I think for instance that you are unlikely to improve the xwind landing skills of an inordinately ham-fisted pilot by taking him or her flying in a tail-dragger. ...Just be a wearisome and risky exercise for both parties.

As I already implied modern aircraft tend to support a lot of pilots with modest dexterity and that is best not tested in more challenging aircraft types. ...Vintage aircraft and especially tailwheel types do after all have a lot of accidents and in fact their is much evidence of that even amongst well skilled pilots.
In our day and age I think that taildraggers are best left in the hands of enthusiasts and certainly not inflicted on anybody - even if that person happens to be an airline pilot with dubious xwind landing skill.

And incidentally optimum xwinding landing technique is essentially the same on both nose-wheel and taildragger aircraft excepting the latter comes with the threat of a groundloop if you stuff it up - How does the threat of a potential accident improve the training scenario?


Posted by: peter hirst | October 6, 2010 5:16 PM    Report this comment

I would be glad to pass on my secret for perfect landings every time to you, Linda, and basically, here it is: Practice. I try to go out there twice a week for an hour but hey, I truly love making a greaser wheel landing right on the numbers and centerline. It is one of my favorite flying moments, like popping out of an overcast at minimums to find the airport approach lights shining up at you, or stepping off of a cliff into powerful ridge lift with a hang glider. I fly taildraggers because they require and develop more skill, and are therefore more fun than noserollers, although I have owned and loved several of them too.

Hey, do you like Noseroller as a designation for tricycle-geared aircraft? I would like to see this term widely adopted.

Posted by: Jack Romanski | October 6, 2010 5:40 PM    Report this comment

after more than sixty years i finally decided to down grade myself to thew light sport category, sold my beloved PA12 and bought a flying experimental kitfox, still in the tail "wheely" group, also one who started in a J3, which incidently my partner and I have a nice one for sale, he doesn't like me hand propping its upgraded C85 that we put in it.

Posted by: JAMES NICKLESS | October 6, 2010 6:29 PM    Report this comment

Like I said on the 4th, most of the people who belittle the value of tailwheel training are people who have little or no tailwheel experience.

Groundloops occur because of pilot (driver) ineptness, and believe me, they happen in both tailwheel and noseroller ( I like that term, Jack ).

If I had a dollar for every sideloaded landing left or right of centerline tracking toward the grass from noseroller pilots during flight reviews etc... I could own a nice flat screen Cub.

By the way, I have over 5000 hours of tailwheel time in over 20 different types, but, over 7000 in noserollers. ???????

Posted by: John Martin | October 6, 2010 7:05 PM    Report this comment

I have been flying my grandfathers 8E Luscombe for almost 40 years and have pic's of me when I was 3 years old sitting on the wing strut. He taught me how to fly the Luscombe and I have great memories flying with him. He has passed on 23 years ago at to young of an age and miss him greatly. I have three boys who all love to fly in the Luscombe. The oldest is 18 and really close to solo. You truly need to make a treak to Blakesburg for the annual Antique Fly IN. Talk about a tail draggers dream it turly happens there!!! Thanks

Posted by: Bryan Chumbley | October 6, 2010 9:55 PM    Report this comment

I just finished reading the blog and all the posts, and I think I have the answer. A few years ago at a fly-in, I;m walking the flight line looking at all the cool airplanes and had to do a double take on an RV-6A. For any of you who don't know, that the trike version of the RV-6. Anyway, something looked really strange about it, and it took me a moment to figure out what it was. The builder had installed a tailwheel. Closer inspection revealed that it wasn't functional, but I had to ask the builder about it. He laughed, having a good time, and said something to the effect of, "Yup. It lets me land however I want to, no problem." I forgot to ask him what he called it.

Posted by: Tosh McIntosh | October 6, 2010 9:58 PM    Report this comment

Wow, that would be pretty funny, an RV with a spare tire !. Although we all know that the CG wouldn't be right for a taildragger in that configuration.
I would have made for a pretty good picture !

Posted by: Duane Cody | October 7, 2010 6:30 AM    Report this comment

I am a tailwheel instructor. The aircraft I use the most is an Aeronca Champ, but I have instructed in Cubs and PA-11s, Citabrias, C-140s and a Maule to name a few. I like tailwheel flying and wouldn't own anything without a tailwheel, so I guess I am kind of a tailwheel snob. I also like to solo primary student in the Champ, if possible, before I move them into aircraft with a radio, transponder, navigation equipment and a starter. That way we focus on just the actual flying of the aircraft before we move on to everything else. I am amazed at how a pilot with few or no hours can sometimes learn to fly the Champ in shorter times than very experienced "nosewheelers". I think is instills basic skills early in their flying that serve them well.

A person who is "scared of the possibility of prop strikes and ground loops" is a person who has no real confidence in their basic flying skills. This is a failure at the primary instruction level and is unfortunate. Instructing in tailwheel aircraft forces me to be very strict about aircraft control and coordination. Even if a student never flies tailwheel again they are better for it.

As for the J3, I would say all the early tailwheel trainers are as good...Champ, Taylorcraft, Porterfield and the Luscomb to name some. The C-120 and C-140 are also good, though not quite as demanding.

Posted by: Daryl Wade | October 7, 2010 8:29 AM    Report this comment

Daryl said:

"...I am amazed at how a pilot with few or no hours can sometimes learn to fly the Champ in shorter times than very experienced "nosewheelers". I think is instills basic skills early in their flying that serve them well..."

Isn't that neat, Daryl. It seems that new students haven't been schooled in what's supposed to be "hard" and what's supposed to be "easy." I usually talk my brand new students through the landing on their very first flight. Again, they don't know what's supposed to be hard AND they do everything you tell them to do and don't try to improvise. It's a great confidence builder.

I don't think that tricycle gear aircraft give you all the subtle clues about wind that a taildragger does. It's good to get that experience for new pilots before they start learning bad habbits.

I wouldn't give up those nights in the 18 for all the money in the world. (It should be noted, tho, that I don't think I'd go back to them for all the money in the world, either! Night freight is a young persons job.)


Posted by: Linda Pendleton | October 7, 2010 8:48 AM    Report this comment

I fly for pleasure and for a living, and for the last forty years, flew only nosewheel airplanes. Yesterday I got my tailwheel endorsement in a Top Cub at Andover Flight Academy in NJ. What a blast!
Airplanes all fly pretty much the same, but taildraggers land and takeoff differently. Mastering that part will improve every other aspect of your flying. The nosewheel airplane is very forgiving of many mistakes, the tailwheel less so. The tailwheel plane forces you to be accurate in your flying close to the ground. Highly recommended. No matter how much flying time you have.

Posted by: ed neffinger | October 7, 2010 9:24 AM    Report this comment

"I wouldn't give up those nights in the 18 for all the money in the world. (It should be noted, tho, that I don't think I'd go back to them for all the money in the world, either! Night freight is a young persons job.)"

I learned navigation and how to hold heading/altitude in the wee hours while helping keep the pilot awake in the Super 18's I maintained during the day in the 80's.

When I finally got a boss interested in me getting my pilot's ticket, I solo'ed in a Champ and transitioned to a Tomahawk for cross country/radio/controlled field work.

My instructor was whichever working pilot didn't have a trip that day and wanted to fly around with the mechanic...after I got my license, I seldom flew the same make/model plane twice in a row.

For me, having quality instruction in airmanship in two relatively challenging trainers (along with detailed systems knowledge) made transitioning between types a breeze.

Posted by: Mark McDougle | October 7, 2010 9:43 AM    Report this comment

"as though radio operation is the real art and stick and rudder is just a means of putting the radio where you want it."

Paul, I laughed out loud over my breakfast! Too true...

Posted by: MICHAEL KOBB | October 7, 2010 11:45 AM    Report this comment

Guess I don't mind the curious notion to change my homebuilt to a 'noseroller' from nosewheel aircraft, works better for me than the concept of dragging my tail behind me wherever I go...

Posted by: David Miller | October 7, 2010 1:15 PM    Report this comment

In regards to Duane's post about spins - I do spins with every primary student - as I was taught by my primary instructor (guess the training cycle continues!) As a student, I was practicing stalls and did a half-turn spin one day accidentally. I was sure glad to have seen the recovery for real instead of just reading about it. And just recently, after his spin & recovery demonstration, one of my students told me that he now understood why I insist on proper airspeed control and coordinated turns in the pattern.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | October 7, 2010 6:24 PM    Report this comment

Paul, you a answered question I had about the primary instruction I received many years ago. Why the question? My instructor hardly said anything and rarely touched the controls. The only time he touch the controls is when he was demonstrating a new technique. He was a laid back Californian who liked to teach and I don't think he was building time to move on the the airlines. After a rather bumpy landing I said, "so Ricky, when do take the controls?" He said, "well if you are going to bend the airplane, I'll assist. Otherwise, it's your airplane. It's the only way you will learn." I passed the checkride after only 20 hours of instruction.

I'm flying a Quicksilver GT-500 now and it's teaching me how to fly a an aircraft that needs the rudder and has slow speed high performance.

Posted by: DANA NICKERSON | October 7, 2010 7:44 PM    Report this comment

Back when I had more time than money and really wanted to fly, I bought a crapped out 170, fixed it up and learned to fly in it. I learned on a grass strip on top of an abrupt little hill in Central Texas, where the wind roiled around like boiling water in a pot. I was a little discouraged at how long it was taking me to learn to fly, but the hours were cheap, and the camaraderie at the airport filled with the flotsam from the local bizports was great. That experience, now 15 years and 1000 hours ago, has saved my bacon several times. The critical piece that I learned was simple. Land the airplane at stall speed, going and pointing straight down the runway.
By the numbers, if we are going to wreck an airplane, it's probably going to be RLOC-Runway Loss of Control. Tailwheel airplanes in flight instruction are like accurate rifles in shooting instruction, the precise tool that makes skill building easier and more productive. Bortelli is right, and so are those that bemoan all the devils that beset tailwheel availability, and the rarity of instruction therein. For those who are considering tailwheel instruction, it is my heartfelt belief that the benefits outweigh the costs by a substantial margin. In my case maybe by letting me not crash in at least a couple of instances. Not crashing is a very good thing. Should I have a little borrow ditch surfing expedition, my wife would use it as the final irrevocable nail in the flying coffin, and I'd be done.

Posted by: GARY GLICK | October 8, 2010 1:49 PM    Report this comment

I bought a J-3 in 2000 and then a PA-11 in 2003. In my first flight my instructor said "I'm going to sit on my hands and enjoy the view--you'll figure it out". A couple of minutes later I figured out what a rudder is for and life has been blissful ever since. Flying a tailwheeel airplane is not difficult; just different. And it will make you a better pilot. As for the social side of fun flying, just check out www.supercub.org to see how much fun tailwheel pilots have.

Posted by: Jeff Russell | October 11, 2010 7:34 AM    Report this comment

Hey Josh, Excellent, I know of a few instructors who still do this extra training also, who will ever know about how many saves this has contributed to or look at it another way, didn't need saving because of good training, either they (pilots's) don't get in that situation or if they do, it's an easy fix because of the excellent training they received while obtaining their license. I'm trying so hard to NOT Bash anyone here. I will tell of a few past instructors who would not or could not give me a BFR in a Super Decathalon or Citrabria, one said " no Gyro's " I'm not flying that thing, we need to get a more modern airplane, so we switched to a C-172, he was happy until we were flying, but the DG wasn't doing it's thing so he wasn't happy. I did just fine with the BFR. Also had ATP types that would visit our little airfield and want to get checked out in the 7ECA's used by the FBO, a few didn't want to fly the birds because of old radios and no Gyro's again. A common thing.I could go on but Don't want to restart this thread and burn anybodies little toes. Think about this issue, if you learn to drive with a manual transmission, it's pretty easy to convert to an automatic transmission right, but the other way around is not so true now is it, be honest here, I know a bunch of adult experienced drivers who can't drive a stick. Enough said as I may have stepped in it ! lol..........

Posted by: Duane Cody | October 11, 2010 8:25 AM    Report this comment

My first actual paying flying job was in a taildragger, a Lockheed Lodestar that once belonged to Lyndon Johnson and I sure was glad I had plenty "conventional" gear (as it was then called) experience. My first hour of dual was in J3 but I finished up my private in a Cessna 140 because my instructor thought it would be more challenging (it was because of its spring steel landing gear!) and it had the advantage of an electrical system. I was very fortunate to become a "part-time resident" at that little airport and over the next few years I was honored to be allowed to fly over a hundred and fifty different types of planes-including gliders- and many of which were antiques, homebuilts and several warbirds. I owned a PT-22 for a while and every time I think about it, I want to kick myself for letting it go.

Posted by: Karl Schneider | October 11, 2010 5:50 PM    Report this comment

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