The Ground Game of a Taildragger and Why It's Worth It
Landing and Taxiing aircraft used to be much harder than it is today. Before planes were equipped with the current tricycle wheel landing configuration, early aircraft had what is called a Taildragger. The landing gear of a Taildragger is located ahead of the aircraft’s center of gravity with a steerable tailwheel in the back that keeps the tail from touching the ground. This tilts the nose of the plane up and the tail down. On the other hand, tricycle gear, with its center of gravity behind the landing gear, sits an aircraft evenly on the runway, making it easier to taxi and land. It takes a pilot with sharpened skills and a special technique to land and taxi a Taildragger because of its offset center of gravity and here’s why.
Most of the difficulty involved in operating a Taildragger happens close to or on the ground. The first obstacle is caused by a Taildragger’s tilted nose which obstructs a pilot’s forward view of the taxiway and runway. Because of this, pilots are forced to look out the side windows to see ahead and navigate safely. When landing a Taildragger, it is important to keep the nose higher than the tail and land the tailwheel first. A slow landing speed and proper pitch/altitude control are a pilot’s go to adjustments in this scenario. If you attempt a three-point landing at high speeds or touch down too hard, the airplane will bounce back into the air. In addition to limited cockpit sight and a tricky landing, mother nature plays a part in the form of cross-winds that make taxiing a Taildragger a challenge all its own. If the tail is not kept down during taxiing, or kept straight during take-off, weather vaning can occur and make it difficult to control the direction of an aircraft.
It’s worth it to fly a Taildragger despite its difficulty if you are planning a career in aerobatics because these types of aircraft are predominantly used. Taildraggers are also less expensive than nose wheel aircraft and cheaper to maintain and repair. Another advantage of learning to operate a Taildragger is the huge advantage of launching from short fields or when bush flying. Once in flight, there is no real difference between a nose wheel plane and a Taildragger. Much like a grappler, its the ground game that counts.
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