How to fly the T-Bird II Taildragger
By Phillip C. Esch

The first thing I do to start the training session with the student is to ask the student to slow-taxi the plane up and down the runway a few times until the student can taxi the plane in a straight line with the tailwheel down taxiing at a maximum speed of 15-20mph. Once that's accomplished ask the student to increase power to get the tailwheel up from ground contact at about 30 mph which requires full throttle and yoke fully forward. Once the tailwheel is up pull back the throttle and reduce power just enough to keep the tail flying and continue a fast taxi on the mains with the eventual goal to hold the plane in a straight line using rudder control. This exercise also teaches the student how to handle the plane in transition between losing rudder authority and tail wheel contact. As the plane slows down, the rudder begins to lose ground control authority. With the yoke fully pushed forward, the natural transition time between rudder control and tail wheel contact is around 5-8 sec.

(As a preface to the subsequent paragraphs pertaining to tricycle and taildragger landings, light planes of 1400lbs and under require forward yoke pressure as the dominate operating factor. Instead of thinking of "back pressure" when for example "flaring" heavy planes on landings, light planes (except for very short field landings) require only LESS forward yoke pressure virtually flying the plane to the ground. A phenomena called ground effect will be the principle natural factor responsible in bringing up the nose when the main landing gear touches down.)

The idea is to learn to land on the main landing gear first and then to determine when the tail can be brought down at a slow enough speed. I will train students not to pull back on the yoke but rather maintain forward yoke pressure as you allow the tail to settle on it's own by virtue of decreasing airspeed once the main landing gear has touched down on normal longer landing strips. This will give the student a lot of meaningful rudder exercise as the plane transitions from rudder to tail wheel. If the student gets too far behind the transition, the instructor's job is too intercede with rudder and not allow the plane to get too far behind and veer off the runway usually to the right due to engine torque. There have been a few times when I have used the ailerons to slightly tip the wing to the left to pivot on the left main wheel to keep the plane on the runway. This technique is also used to bring the plane to a sudden stop by actually inducing a ground loop. This technique should be practiced with an experienced instructor first before attempting this on your own.

Many like 3 point landings. Even though this is permissible on fair weather days, if you either find yourself in a good crosswind(I find crabbing is more manageable than slipping) or on rough fields, landing on the main wheels first maintains a better forward thrust to keep the plane stable. Also the tail wheel assembly won't receive as much of a beating if you can settle the tail wheel down at speeds of less than 30 mph on the 2 place.

To practice short field landings, start from 250 feet agl at about 600 feet back from the beginning of the runway surface. Pick a point at about 300 feet back from the beginning of the runway surface as the virtual runway start. Begin your rollout or nose up at the 300 foot start point at about 50 feet agl. This means you will lose 200 feet in 300 feet of ground distance which is considered a relatively "high" landing approach. By the time you get to the actual runway surface, your plane will be only 2-3 feet off of the ground. This will require that you to hang on to some power; somewhere arouund 4000-4500 tach rpm. As you approach the 2-3 foot point, pull back power to about 3500 tach rpm and increase back pressure on the yoke as the nose up attitude will begin your stall. As the plane slows, the yoke-back-pressure should feel increasingly "heavier". Again, be patient with the plane and allow the plane to settle in naturally. As you anticipate the touchdown point or before, push the yoke forward. You are now on your mains. As the plane slows, relax on the yoke and then deliberately pull the yoke back to get the tail wheel down in the safest but shortest time possible. To practice short field landings on long runways, mark your virtual start on the runway surface, track your touchdown point and observe the landing distance from the virtual landing start when you come to a full stop. The T-Bird II taildragger can land and takeoff on fields as short as 500ft.

On longer runways, practice flying the plane as low to the runway surface as possible without the main gear touching giving yourself ample runway lead time to power up to go around again and again. See if you can fly the plane 2 feet off the surface with a consistent speed of 50-55mph. Practice feeling the sink rates and ballon rates and see if you can correct quickly enough with increased throttle on "sinks" with little or no yoke back pressure. Push yoke forward on "balloons" with less throttle. If you do touch on the mains push forward on the yoke and use it to your advantage to stay on the mains as if it were practicing a fast taxi. Its good to know what this feels like. If you balloon too high, 10 feet or more you can either add power and go around or if you have enough runway distance, "push" the plane back down to the 2-3 foot mark again while flying uniformly off the runway surface.

This exercise will also help you to recover from "bouncing" or "skipping" on landings, only then to add power and level the wings to try your touchdown again further down the runway. I recommend that you not try to recover a bounce by "riding it along". Believe me, when you bounce and you freeze at the controls allowing the yoke to do whatever or even worse pull back on the yoke with no added power, you are guaranteed landing strut replacement. When you bounce just think throttle and add power to either go around or recover for another landing further down the runway. You can actually wheel land the plane by virtually flying/"greasing" the plane to the ground at 50-55 mph. If you ever find yourself in heavy winds this will keep the plane from slowing down too soon and losing ground control.

I train students with the idea that repetition is the main learning tool. I believe in consistent positive experience even if it means to recover the student "prematurely" (by some opinions). To so-call "learn from mistakes" at that moment in time is not only unrealistic but produces a regression in learning. Things are moving so quickly in "time compression", that to identify an error by the student is impossible. The better way is to identify the situation and the method of recovery later as I debrief the student after the flight session. Again repetiton is the key. It's not to say that I won't allow the student certain moments of "falling through". I verbally talk the student through the flight constantly, teaching him/her to self-talk when they fly solo. I will encourage the student to talk aloud to me and eventually to themselves even on the most common of procedures such as reading out approach airspeed, altitude, identifying wind conditions etc. Pilots who talk out loud have a better chance of keeping themselves psychologically in tact especially in an emergency or high intense situations.

I remind students to keep monitoring the airplane and not get distracted by outside weather conditions in times when turbulence can be rather disconcerting to the student (and instructor). This teaches the student what control movements are meaningful as a necessary response to keeping the plane stable/safe/strong such as identifying when the nose is too high in a turn. I have had students become intimidated by the "flapping of the flag" on the ground before takeoff only to say that after they got down that it wasn't that bad after all. I warn against not so much excessive wind, even though there is such a thing as too much wind(max wind speed rule is 5 mph below half of stall speed) but more dangerously, wind gusts. If wind gusts are exceeding 5 mph of the wind speed, I stay down.

The single seater is a lot of fun to fly. On takeoff, I allow the tail to come up by virtue of forward airspeed and a modest forward push on the yoke. Once the tail is up, it's not much more time than the plane is buoyant. When you feel the buoyant point, just release forward pressure on the yoke slightly and allow the plane to fly to gain airspeed. Once at 50mph, climb at 40mph to get your best angle of climb. Best rate of climb would be 45 mph. Of course this may vary depending on the load you're carrying; pilot weight etc. I weigh 200 lbs and the figures above work for me given a calm day. As for landing with the single place T-bird I, I like to touchdown at 30-35mph to minimize chances for wheel bounce. However, if you practice "grease" landings at higher speeds, just taxi on the mains as you slowly pull back power and apply the techniques described above.

When I make steep turns greater than 40-45 degrees, I will hedge for more throttle to keep the plane at 50-60mph or even 65mph with nose level depending on outside flying conditions. Only on descending turns, will I reduce throttle. Ascending turns should be made with throttle as the primary altitude control, not yoke. If you get into turbulence that is rocking you about, give up the climb for the moment by lowering the nose of the plane. Hedge nose up with yoke and throttle when the plane stablizes again. When you get into variable winds, increase your stall speed by 5mph. If 35 was OK in still air for landings, increase your safety margin and land at 45mph in crosswinds.

It is always incumbent upon the pilot-in-command to keep monitoring "outside the cabin" for other air traffic especially while in flight patterns. It is a good rule to establish at least a base leg from a 45 degree angle as you approach any ultralight/light sport aircraft field or airstrip even if you are on final approach from a distance so that you are more easily seen by other traffic. The standard pattern altitude for small ultralight/sport airstrips is 300-500ft AGL(above ground level). Downwind/base pattern legs are spaced out hortizontally 300-500ft from the runway establishing a high approach landing from pattern altitude of the same distance of 300-500ft. Watch the T-Bird landing video clip on this page.

Finally, I cannot stress enough that in power-failure/engine-out situations especially on take-off, consider your aircraft expendable. I'm always amazed when pilots of all categories try to save their plane on an attempted 180 degree turn only to slip-in, crash and burn. Consider your plane as a crash cage and keep the wings flying with nose down and airspeed up. Also keep the wings level to avoid "cart wheeling" and slamming the cockpit into the ground. Crash landings can be survived well even avoiding explosions and fire if you keep the following rules: nose down, airspeed up and wings level. (When asked what were the three most important things to remember when flying, Chuck Yeager responded, "Airspeed, Airspeed, Airspeed!"). I would rather suffer head-on crashes into obstructions on the ground than to fall out of the sky. Of course to avoid any catastrophe, pre-flight your aircraft including adequate engine run-up time before take-off...

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T-Bird Taxi Ground Control
Pressure Back on Yoke/Stick a little(elevator up)
to keep Tail Wheel in good contact with ground.
Steer with Rudder Pedals.

Always be aware of Wind Direction and Speed.
Turn the Yoke or Point the Stick into the the direction of the Wind
to keep Main Wing from lifting
on a Windy Day.

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T-Bird Take Off
Pressure Yoke/Stick Forward
to get tail up quickly.

Once you feel the Main Wing beginning to Lift
just Release Forward Pressure a little
and Plane will Lift Off.

"Throttle Forward, Stick Forward to Lift the Tail
and Ease Back to Clear the Ground"

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T-Bird Landing
Keep the Nose Down
when Reducing Power to 3500rpm to Land.

It's virtually impossible to tip the plane
forward into the ground because center of gravity
is almost behind the main wing
which is compensated by
large horizontal stablizer wing surface.

When just a foot or less off of ground,
You may Pressure Yoke/Stick Forward
to make Wheel Contact sooner.
while pulling back the throttle to decrease power.

Notice Rudder Movement after Touchdown
to Prevent Ground Loop.

T-Bird I Single Place Specifications