To paraphrase and mangle the famous Robert Oppenheimer quote, “I have become a taildragger bigot, maker of dreams.” There is simply no other way to describe the somewhat out-of-body reply I sent to a polite reader asking for guidance in picking the best of three light sport airplanes.
The candidates: The Vashon Ranger, The Flight Design CTLS and the newer Texas Aircraft Colt. These are worthy, well-designed airplanes and the reader was merely asking me which I would choose. In no order, the CTLS is the best flyer of the bunch, even though to look at its snub nose and waspish tail, you wouldn’t think so. It also has a Rotax engine which, even though I don’t like the exhaust note, exactly, I do like the engine for its modern ethos.
The Colt flies more like a bigger airplane. In fact, it flies and feels a lot like a Cessna 150. Spacious, although a shallow sill when getting in. It does have the Rotax engine, but the wrong one—the carbureted 912 ULS, not the fuel injected 912 iS. It’s 2020. My three motorcycles have fuel injection, so do my car and truck. I want fuel injection. Period.
The Ranger is a nice piece of work, but it has a Continental O-200-D. Again, carbureted, not to mention old school. If it had the IO-240, I’d pick it in a heartbeat. But that engine is 79 pounds heavier and in a world governed by the it’s-as-silly-as-it-ever-was 1320-pound LSA limit, it’s a non-starter. Some day soon, that weight limit will go away, but it hasn’t yet. When it does, some already great airplanes like the Ranger will be greater yet.
So where does that leave me? The CTLS flies the best and has the engine I want, so that’s my first pick. But given my choice of anything, I wouldn’t pick any of these three because they aren’t tailwheel airplanes. Now that sentence kind of surprises me as much as it might you. So after I emailed the reader, I popped open a beer and pondered what I have become: a taildragger bigot.
This is an odd turn of events because I don’t believe—and have never believed—that only real men (or women) fly taildraggers or that they are somehow better pilots. They’re just tailwheel pilots. Nor do I believe that people who have flown gliders have somehow been visited with steely eyed skills mere mortals could barely imagine and that blesses them with the ability to land on the Hudson River and walk on water. They’re just glider pilots. However, say this for taildragger pilots: Many will have had their characters stiffened and cauterized by enduring gales of laughter after hearing, “You want to insure who in a Super Cub?”
What it is about taildraggers is this: They’re just more interesting. Interesting to look at, interesting to fly, interesting to tell people about and they somehow just look right squatting on the ramp in a way that few nosegear airplanes do. I’m not a vintage airplane expert nor even an aficionado, so when I see a Funk or an Interstate or some damn thing, I have to get up close to identify it. My friend Berge has actually flown a Funk, so he has no such limitations. He also owns two taildraggers, a Champ and a Citabria for high-speed dashes to the Illinois state line.
The other thing about taildraggers is their uniqueness for having two discrete species of landings: the three-point and the wheelie. And as you stooge around the pattern, you get to decide which it will be. Within these two are numerous subspecies, such as the water-filled ditch tour, the runway light clip over, basic, intermediate and advanced groundloops, the crosswind right/left wheel hop and the brake-induced noseover to name just a few.
Nosegear pilots mostly careen down and occasionally off the runway, but that third wheel up there tends to muscle things back into line before the pilot has a chance to do anything if, indeed, he has any idea what can be done, other than to revisit why he wanted to become a pilot anyway. In a taildragger, by contrast, you get to do a whole lot of stick and pedal pushing and throttle jockeying before coming to rest tail first in the ditch after watching the windsock spin by three times. It’s altogether a more satisfying process and, well, not just everyone can do it. These kids today, they don’t want to do it.
There’s a tendency to want to strut a little when dismounting a taildragger, but between lumbago and arthritic knees, getting out of one appears little different than crawling out of a pile of wreckage and the hoped-for bad ass power walk across the ramp becomes a shambolic crab-wise limp to the café bathroom which is, inevitably, out of order.
Am I gonna give all this up for a Cirrus? I don’t think so. At this juncture, the airplane I would want, by the way, is CubCrafters’ X-Cub, the best sorted out taildragger it is possible to imagine—except maybe it needs fuel injection. Did I mention that I like injection because I prefer ice in my Coke Zero, not my (carburetor) throat? If I didn’t, you can imagine I’ll get around to it.