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Landing Tail Draggers
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Written by Michael Mullis
Coweta, OK
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There are two ways to land a taildragger. The first (and easiest) way is the full-stall landing where the pilot makes a stabilized approach to within a few inches of the runway, closes the throttle, and then "holds the airplane off" by applying progressively more up elevator as the airplane slows until, at the stalling speed, the airplane settles onto the surface with no flying speed left. This is commonly called a 'three-point landing'. The advantage to this type of landing is that you land at a much slower speed and the tailwheel is on the ground at or before the mains and acts to stabilize the airplane directionally during rollout.

The other type of landing is often called a 'wheel landing'. To perform a wheel landing, fly the airplane to the runway at a slow cruising speed, then level off a few inches above the runway and ease the mains onto the surface and "pin" the airplane to the ground by immediately applying some down elevator to raise the tail slightly and kill the wing's lift. As soon as the mains are on, close the throttle and hold the tail up by gradually applying more down elevator to hold the tail up as the airplane slows until the elevator is fully down and the tail settles onto the runway, at which point you should apply full up elevator to keep the tail down as you complete the rollout. If this sounds a lot more difficult -- it is! However, there are situations where the wheel landing is the safest option, such as crosswinds and/or gusty conditions. Remember -- during a wheel landing, the airplane is moving considerably faster than during a three-point landing, and you must be quick on the rudder to maintain a straight ground track while also correcting for any crosswind by lowering the upwind wing to stop sideways drift. While you are doing this, you can impress your friends by standing on one foot and whistling the national anthem!

All kidding aside, both landing techniques are used by conventional-gear pilots. The three-point landing is the easiest to master and as your skills grow, you should progress to wheel landings which will add more versatility to your flying. If you use any technique that falls between the two described above, you will likely encounter porpoising, or "hopping" as you try to get the airplane onto the ground. If you are travelling faster than a three point attitude, but slower than required to execute a safe wheel landing, the airplane will touch down tail-low, but not in a three point attitude. Since the center of mass in a conventional geared airplane falls behind the main gear, the downward momentum at touchdown will cause the tail to drop after the mains touch, but, since you still have flying speed, the airplane will immediately climb back into the air. When you see this, your first reaction will be to lower the nose more which will start the airplane back toward the ground, and when the mains touch again, the momentum drives the tail down again, which increases the angle of attack again, and the airplane climbs back into the air again...hop..hop..hop..boink! Get it? Aaahh!!! the beauty of the taildragger! If you get all this figured out, you will certainly be a better pilot because many of the skills you perfect here will apply to other flying. The conventional geared airplane certainly adds another dimension to the mundane task of landing an airplane! Let the other guys fly the training-wheel airplanes and let the REAL pilots fly the taildraggers!

Careful experimantation and lots of practice will pay off big time! Good luck and happy flying!
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Updated November 4, 2003