How To Fly a Taildragger: 201

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Wheel Landing IllustratedHow To Fly a Taildragger: 201 

We pick up where we left off in 101 and venture into more of the nuances of conventional gear aircraft. If you haven’t read How To Fly a Taildragger: 101 go there first.

One area not mentioned in 101 was how gyroscope precession, spiraling slipstream, p-factor and torque effect a taildragger.

The physics are the same as a tricycle gear airplane for all these. A key difference is you MUST correct for it and I would add, anticipate it. If you know when the tail comes up the airplane is going to turn left, you can anticipate that by putting in more right rudder. The bottom line is keep the airplane straight no matter what forces are acting on the airplane!

There are two types of landings employed by the taildragger pilot; wheel landings and three-point landings.


Wheel landings are when you land on the main gear first and then let the tail down on rollout – sort of the opposite of what you do in a tricycle gear airplane. With the three-point landing, as the name implies, you land on all three gear at once in a nose up attitude like a tricycle gear airplane.

wheel landing illustrated

This Pitts demonstrates a wheel landing

Wheel landings examined

A wheel landing sets up the same as a three-point landing. The only difference is the speed at which you touch down. The object is to be as slow as possible and arrive at the runway with zero sink rate on the main gear. This should result in a slightly tail-low attitude. You then hold the tail off with increasing forward pressure until it settles onto the runway. Remember the tail going down will induce a gyroscopic force so anticipate left rudder during the transition. Once the tail is down – keep the stick full back!

a three point landing illustrated

Sometime on a 3 point landing you land slightly tail first.

Three-point landing examined

By definition a three-point landing is a full stall landing just like in the trike world. Exceptions are certain airplane designs make a full stall difficult depending on gear geometry, angle of incidence of wing and tail, and elevator authority. For the sake of the discussion lets assume an airplane with none of these constraints. Three-point landings are generally straight forward, although not as elegant as the venerable ‘wheeler.’ Don’t forget to keep the stick full back once on the ground!

grass runway

Less references available for your sight picture

You hear talk of grass versus paved runways among taildragger pilots with some regularity , why? Because grass can cover up a whole multitude of sins that pavement will not tolerate. Personally, I wouldn’t give someone a tailwheel endorsement unless they were competent on both. Grass will let the airplane slide or drift due to the lower friction coefficient. Grass has the added benefit of being easier on tires. The only reason grass could be tricky is some grass fields do not have dedicated edge markings so you can sometimes lose the visual cues you had on a paved runway. I haven’t found this to be a show stopper but its something to be aware of.

paved runway

Notice how well-marked. Easy to pickup visual cues.

Flying tailwheel aircraft is both fun and rewarding. I highly recommend you explore it even if you have no plans in the future to fly one.

Please comment below if you have questions or experiences you would like to share.


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