Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Taildragger Reborn

All-metal airframe, side-by-side seating, 65-year-old GA company: classic!

Rolling to a stop, I feel like I've taken a turn in an old friend. The P92-TD is such a pleasure to fly, with solid, smooth handling, plenty of climb power and 20 years of refinements on its airframe.

Taildragger-loving pilots now have a real LSA alternative to those fabric-covered short-field and pleasure-cruising airplanes. TD, for taildragger...and touchdown!

Why Fly A Taildragger?

Most aircraft at the dawn of aviation came with skids or wheels under their tails. It was easier to design and build aircraft that way, given the aerodynamic knowledge and materials technology of the day.

After World War II, tricycle airliners and military and civilian planes changed all that. It's now uncommon to see a new taildragger like the P92-TD debut in any aircraft market. So what, beyond the usual, "Makes a better pilot out of you!" are the advantages of the beast so many pilots remain intimidated by?

Avemco Insurance offers a Safety Rewards credit to any pilot who gets a tailwheel endorsement. Hundreds of accidents, each year are laid at the nose of loss of directional control at slow airspeeds, i.e. on takeoff and landing. Most are crosswind accidents but cobbing the power such as for go-arounds is another major cause. Cost to insurance companies: millions of dollars per year. The conclusion: Avemco knows taildragger pilots have better control over their aircraft in the slow-flight speed regime.
Taildragger flying requires better skills, such as effective use of aileron and rudder—together—at slow speeds where control effect typically falls off.
Tailwheel airplanes can handle worse adverse wind conditions. Flight controls are more effective in stronger winds, such as making turns into the wind by deflecting the ailerons and weathervaning into the wind.
For rough-field bush flying, some nose gears aren't as beefy as they need to be. Off- field landings can mean extensive, expensive repairs that are less likely to even happen in an out-landed taildragger.
The two main wheels on a trigear airplane are behind the CG. On takeoff, the tail must be forced down for pitch up, which requires more ground speed for elevator effectiveness and thus a longer run. A taildragger's natural stance at rest already offers a high angle of attack. As soon the tail flies, the perfect lift-off angle is pitched to, making for shorter takeoff runs at optimal speed.
One wonderful exception I've flown that overcomes the trike gear's inherent disadvantages is the fabulous Peterson Katmai STOL, a Cessna 182 mod that adds a canard, longer wing and other bush-worthy beef-ups.
Tailwheel aircraft do hone more precise stick-and-rudder skills. Anything that keeps your head in the game and in sync with your airplane's flight-handling aerodynamics makes you a better pilot.
Tailwheel aircraft are a great conversation starter for modern pilots to commune with "old-timer" tailwheelers.
Nostalgia appeal: New pilots and passengers have seen pictures most of their lives of tailwheel classics and warbirds.

Labels: LSAsPiston Singles


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