Recently I decided to take the plunge and get my tailwheel endorsement. Normally it would make more sense to get this closer to my first flight, but as I am now a CFI and have been flying with some of my friends in the RV community – it makes sense for me to try and log as much tailwheel and RV PIC time as I can. Doing so will increase my proficiency for that first flight and reduce my insurance rates as a bonus!
Finding a tailwheel instructor isn’t as easy as you’d like it to be. I had to make many calls to find ones in my general, but not immediate area. Most were never returned, but the folks at Freeway Airport got back to me quickly. They had an instructor, Joe Gauvreau, who did instruction in a Super Decathalon. I touched base with Joe and we were off and running in no time. Joe has more than 13,000 tailwheel hours, and was an excellent instructor. If you’re in the Baltimore DC area, I highly recommend him. You can see his website here: http://www.aerosportlimited.com/index.php/about-joe
Before starting, he also recommended two books:
- Stick and Rudder by Wolfgang Langewiesche (The rather famous quintessential tome on flying)
- The Compleat Taildragger Pilot by Harvey S. Plourde (Some say compleat is misspelled – but its actually a nod to The Compleat Angler by Izaac Walton. Compleat has come to be synonymous with a “full set of skills”)
Flying a tailwheel for the first time is a humbling experience, to put it mildly. Takeoff and landing aren’t just new – your tricycle gear instincts will scream in defiance. After the first flight – in which I did nothing right even when I knew what I was supposed to do, I asked Joe “Is it easier to learn to fly a tailwheel airplane as a new student than with all the habits acquired in a tricycle aircraft?” Joe believed it absolutely is easier if you are starting fresh and don’t have to overcome your time honed instincts. As a singular data point, I have to agree with him. The reptile part of my brain simply didn’t not want to push the nose forward on take off. Conversely, stopping that same reptile from trying to flare was just as difficult.
By the end of the first day I felt like I had the takeoffs fairly well down, but landings were still a completely different matter. We did all wheel landings and for good reason. The reasons and opportunities for doing three point landings aren’t as strong as some would have you believe. Joe is a huge proponent of focusing on, and doing mostly wheel landings. Harvey Plourde would agree – and provides some excellent in-depth reasons why.
By the second session landings were starting to make sense even if I couldn’t really translate that into success. At this point we introduced some three point landings – which weren’t really more or less difficult just a little different attitude. What I will say is this – three point landings do give more opportunity to get in trouble. Joe never canceled our flights for high winds or high cross winds. In fact on half of the days we flew none of the other flight instructors, in tricycle gear airplanes no less, were flying. I was skeptical at first, but after the thorough work out this resulted in, I’m extremely glad I got that experience.
Finally, I was able to get both wheel and three point landings. I wouldn’t, by any measure, say I mastered these, but in ok conditions I can do ok landings. Joe also gave me some excellent instruction in basic VFR pattern work. In about 9 hours I got a tailwheel endorsement. Am I proficient? Well I can take off and land the plane – sure. I think it would take a hundred hours before I would call myself proficient. Like many ratings, the endorsement is really a license to learn.