A challenge for airplane people that write and fly for a living is that we never know when inspiration will come. You hope it comes when you aren’t too busy. This piece started while I was facing backwards (in the backward facing seat) of an air ambulance on a steep climb.
Safe? Statistically no. Not compared to the airlines. Am I typing, thinking and breathing comfortably? You bet. Aside from the turbulence from the wind rushing over the Sierras to our West and the sliding out of my seat from the rather steep deck angle, I’m fine.
Let’s admit that all taildraggers are different. Some way way different. Some are easy and some are mean. I have not landed a Douglas DC-3, but I bet it is easier than a Super Cub on a cross-windy day.
Regarding the cult of the Skywagon and related 185 / 180 obsessors, I can offer this from 47 years of breathing, 25 of which I’ve spent teaching flying things: The Cessna 180 / 185 Skywagon is an easy thing to land, to land well, with grace and aplomb, when you master key principles:
Some new or aspiring pilots know what they want: Big tires, a tailwheel and being “off airport” just as much as “on airport.” If you land on the water, or are a helicopter, you’ll get used to the tower saying “land at your own risk.” This is music to the ears of those who chose a slightly unconventional learning path.
What do you seek? (In your aviation dreams?)
The cookie cutter flight school program? Or do you value critical skills early on that are often not taught until you fly your first seaplane or gravel bar landing tundra tired Super Cub?
It wasn’t too long ago that we all learned to fly a tail dragger in a field somewhere near a bigger airport. Most also turned out to be really good pilots for the simple reason that they had to use their feet (i.e. rudder) and an intuitive connection and approach to much of their flying. Just ask Sully.
The beauty of mnemonic devices is that they allow the tail wheel, seaplane or helicopter pilot do a checklist without the use of both hands. While there are checklist purists out there who may disagree with my methods, let me offer this: If you fly many different aircraft, whose checklists can be absent, inappropriate, out of date, etc. it is best to develop your own. A good way to build that base, for everything from a J-3 Cub up to t Beech 18, is to use, what I’ll term, “the classics.” CIGAR TIPS and GUMPS (more on GUMPS in another post.)
I’m near certain that umpteen zillion posts have written about this subject. Nevertheless, here I go with my addition to the pile.
How do you teach students to land safely, who didn’t know how to fly a mere 10 hours ago?
The answer, to me, is 100% about feel, energy management (à la glider teaching), looking, sensing and adjusting as necessary. A trap that I, and many of my colleagues, have fallen into is thinking that landing is something a student will embrace if they are given firm numbers, power settings, checkpoints etc. Any type of recipe that emphasizes standardization exclusively does two big disservices to the student: