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Tailwheel Endorsement §61.31


As a pilot, you may start to fly a variety of aircraft. The two types of landing gear configuration on a land airplane you might run into are tailwheel or tricycle gear. Tailwheel is also known as conventional landing gear or tail dragger. An example of a tailwheel airplane is the Piper Cub. An example of a common tricycle gear trainer is the Cessna 172.

In order to act as a pilot in command of a tailwheel airplane, you need to have a tailwheel endorsement.

The applicable federal aviation regulation is 14 C.F.R §61.31 (I)


§61.31 Type rating requirements, additional training, and authorization requirements.

(i) Additional training required for operating tailwheel airplanes.

(1) Except as provided in paragraph (i)(2) of this section, no person may act as pilot in command of a tailwheel airplane unless that person has received and logged flight training from an authorized instructor in a tailwheel airplane and received an endorsement in the person's logbook from an authorized instructor who found the person proficient in the operation of a tailwheel airplane. The flight training must include at least the following maneuvers and procedures:

(i) Normal and crosswind takeoffs and landings;

(ii) Wheel landings (unless the manufacturer has recommended against such landings); and

(iii) Go-around procedures.

(2) The training and endorsement required by paragraph (i)(1) of this section is not required if the person logged pilot-in-command time in a tailwheel airplane before April 15, 1991.


Tailwheel Endorsement Example

To act as PIC in a tailwheel airplane: section 61.31(i)
I certify that (First name, MI, Last name), (pilot certificate), (certificate number), has received the required training of section 61.31(i) in a (make and model of tailwheel airplane). I have determined that he/she is proficient in the operation of a tailwheel airplane.
 
/s/ [date] J. J. Jones 987654321CFI Exp. 12-31-05


What does a tailwheel airplane mean?

It is exactly as the name suggests. It is an airplane with the two main wheels in front of the CG, with a wheel on the tail of the plane. This is typically called a tail dragger or conventional gear type airplane. The other type of landing gear; which most pilots are probably used to, is the tricycle gear type where the two main wheels are behind the CG, with the wheel on the nose of the airplane. The picture below shows a common example of both.

Landing Gear Types

Tailwheel airplanes exhibit slightly different operational and handling characteristics compared to a tricycle gear style airplane. The biggest differences are noticed during ground operations such as taxi, take off, and landing. Other things may be noticed while flying, such as the need for better “stick-and-rudder” skills, and perhaps more adverse yaw where using the rudder in a turn is an absolute must, but that may be partially attributed to older design styles.

Tailwheel and Tricycle Gear Commonalities

As different as they are, there are a lot of operational things that are in common between the two landing gear styles. Pilots should taxi with their heels resting on the floor with the balls of their feet on the bottom of the rudder pedals, only using the brakes to stop. Brakes should always be tested immediately after taxi has begun. Power and brakes should always be applied in a smooth and gentle manner. The tail wheel may be steerable or castering, just like the nose wheel on tricycle style planes. The rudder is used to steer the aircraft while on the ground. Airflow over the rudder and the use of differential braking can effectively steer the airplane.

Tailwheel and Tricycle Gear Differences

The tailwheel airplane is a lot more unstable on the ground for various reasons. Imagine pushing a shopping cart backwards really fast and let go. You will most likely see it go straight for a very short period, and quickly turn around. This is because the center of gravity is behind the wheel pivoting point.

Weathervaning

Proper taxi technique is essential when taxiing a tailwheel airplane. This is because of the increased risk of weathervaning. On a tailwheel airplane, there is a much larger amount of fuselage surface area behind the wheel pivot point as compared to a tricycle gear airplane. This will create a tendency to weathervane, or turn into the wind.

Weathervaning

As a reminder on proper taxi technique in winds, the following picture shows proper control placement.

Control Placement for Taxiing

Ground loop

A tailwheel airplane has a much greater chance of ground looping during any ground operation as compared to a tricycle gear airplane. This is because the CG is behind the main wheels. A ground loop is a loss of directional control; an aggravated, uncontrolled tight turn on the ground.

CG Effects on Tailwheel Planes

My example above about a shopping cart being pushed backwards and suddenly spinning around is essentially a ground loop. A tailwheel airplane will do this also, if proper directional control is not maintained. Often, a ground loop will cause the plane to tip to one side, damaging a wing or causing the pilot to go off the edge of the runway, possibly collapsing the gear.

Taxiing

Directional control during taxi is essentially the same as control of a tricycle gear airplane, but for the reasons stated above, it is more important to use proper techniques. As stated above, proper control placement for crosswinds is extremely important.

One characteristic of a tailwheel airplane is that, the tail hangs low, and the nose and engine sits high. This often severely restricts the pilots view of what is in front of him. In order to see, a tailwheel airplane pilot may need to execute slow and gentle S-Turns. This will allow him/her to see past the nose of the airplane. If doing a high-speed taxi where the tail is off the ground, it is extremely important to brake in a very gentle manner, so that the airplane does not nose over.

Takeoff

As with any takeoff, proper flap use and setting the correct elevator trim is extremely important. Always consult your POH for proper use of flaps. Power should always be added in a smooth and gentle manner. Adding power too fast may cause the airplane to swerve due to engine torque while on the takeoff roll, possibly leading to a loss of directional control and ground loop. When the elevator trim is set for takeoff, the airplane will normally assume the correct takeoff pitch attitude on its own. The tail will rise slightly. This can then be maintained with proper use of the elevator. If the elevator control is pushed forward during the takeoff roll to prematurely raise the tail, its effectiveness will rapidly build up as speed increases, making it necessary to apply back-elevator pressure to lower the tail to proper takeoff attitude.

Another thing to consider during the takeoff roll in a tailwheel airplane is precession. Precession will be noticeable during takeoff if the tail is rapidly raised from a three point attitude to a level flight attitude. The abrupt change tilts the horizontal axis of the propeller forward. Rapidly raising the tail would be as if a force was applied pushing on the top of the propeller arc from behind, and due to precession, the resultant force occurs 90 degrees ahead in the direction of rotation from where the force is applied resulting in a forward force on the right side of the propeller arc trying to yaw the airplane to the left.

Landing

As with any landing, the airplane should not be forced onto the ground. This can lead to an uncontrolled bounce or porpoise. The airplane should also land with the longitudinal axis of the airplane aligned with the runway as much as possible to avoid having excessive side loads on the landing gear, and reduce the risk of ground looping. In cross-wind landings, a sideslip (or wing-low method) is preferred because it keeps the airplane’s longitudinal axis parallel to the runway. There are two main types of landing in a tailwheel airplane. They are the 3-point landing and the wheel landing.

As mentioned under the taxiing paragraph, when applying brakes to slow down during a landing roll-out, it is important to apply them in a smooth and gentle manner and to not brake too excessively as it may cause the airplane to nose over. Imagine riding a bicycle down a steep hill, and suddenly slamming on the front brake. This may result in the rider going up and over the front of the bike.

3-Point Landing

A 3-point landing is when all three wheels touch the runway simultaneously. This is done by rounding out and touching down with the engine idling, at the minimum controllable airspeed such that the airplane touches down at approximately stalling speed. As the airplane settles, proper landing attitude must be attained by applying whatever back-elevator pressure is necessary such that the three wheels touch at the same time.

Wheel Landing

When landing in turbulence or strong crosswinds, a wheel landing should be performed. This is typically done by landing at a slightly faster airspeed than the 3-point landing, in a level flight attitude. This allows you to have more effective control surfaces with the increased airflow. In a “wheel landing”, the airplane should settle to the runway in a level flight attitude, touching down on the main wheels first, retarding the throttle and allowing the tail to settle slowly to the ground.

The Tailwheel Checkout

When transitioning to a Tailwheel airplane, a structured syllabus and a qualified flight instructor who is competent in the airplane should be used.

CFI Darren Smith has an example syllabus for reference here: http://www.cfidarren.com/r-tailwheel.htm

The checkout for a tailwheel airplane will consist mostly of ground operations, such as taxiing, takeoffs, the different landing methods, and go-arounds. Airwork will likely consist of improving stick-and-rudder skills. There most likely aren't any new systems to learn, as alot of tailwheel airplanes are very basic VFR airplanes, such as the Piper Cub.

As odd as it sounds, simply getting the endorsement does not necessarily mean you can rent the airplane. Often times, insurance requirements require a higher amount of time in make/model and/or a certain amount of time with a flight instructor. After getting the endorsement, and meeting insurance requirements, it might be a good idea to fly solo for a few hours, or enough to feel comfortable before pushing the envelope with weather or passengers. In fact, depending on the aircraft, and insurance policy, you may be required to have so many hours of solo time in the make/model before being allowed to carry passengers.

Logging time during a tailwheel checkout

This is a question that’s asked and debated very often. As a private pilot, for a category/class rating, you are most likely rated for a single-engine land airplane. That means, you are “rated” for any single-engine land airplane that doesn’t require a type certificate. You are not qualified to ACT as the pilot in command of a tailwheel airplane during the checkout, because you are not endorsed, however, you are still able to LOG the time as PIC by being the “sole manipulator of an airplane you are rated for”.

There was a letter written to the FAA Office of the Chief Counsel by a Jason E. Herman asking for clarification of a similar question. His question was regarding complex/high performance airplanes, but the same logic applies.

See the Legal Interpretation here: Herman – 2009

Conclusion

Learning to fly a tailwheel airplane is not necessarily any more difficult than a tricycle gear airplane. There are distinct differences as mentioned above. Make certain to use an instructor who is very experienced and competent in tailwheel airplanes, and afterwards, tricycle gear airplanes will seem even more simple. Learning to fly a tailwheel airplane can be a very rewarding experience. This page is not meant to be a replacement of a good flight instructor. This is merely meant to give you a few of the basics to know what to expect and to get your mind thinking of the right questions to ask when you begin flight training.

 

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Andrew Stoner
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Andrew@ASAviationServices.com
 
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