You’ve probably heard somebody say that only a “real” pilot can fly a taildragger. It might have come from an older guy at your airport who seems bitter about how stick and rudder skills are a thing of the past. They might complain about how the “new” guys only know how to push buttons and could never grease a crosswind landing the way everybody could back before all this technology.
Maybe you’ve met this guy, and maybe you’ve been annoyed at how they disapprove of your G500, or your Avidyne PFD, or whatever fancy gizmos you have in your panel. You can fly just fine, and your technology makes you safer after all. If that’s your thought, I think you’re totally in the right. New autopilots, blue buttons, huge screens with easy-to-see artificial horizons, synthetic vision, and all the other niceties are extremely helpful and create a safer flying environment than what existed in the past.
But, while this totally fictional old guy may be harsh about it, he has a point too. All the gadgetry that’s bolted onto many PA46s does allow a pilot’s stick and rudder skills to diminish, or never develop in the first place. And when the rubber hits the road, when the $#!+ hits the fan, when the going gets tough, you want to be able to fly and land your airplane with excellence.
The best way I can think of to improve your stick and rudder skills both in flight and on landing is to get your tailwheel endorsement. Taildraggers are unstable both statically and dynamically on the ground, and you must be “on it” at all times when landing, taxiing, and taking off. If you’re not, you’ll get a not-so-friendl y introduction to the ground loop. When you learn how to keep your longitudinal axis aligned properly, correcting for drift in the proper manner, you’ll find yourself greasing every landing in your PA46 from then on.
A lot of taildraggers are older planes (the ones we have are from 1940 and 1943), and so when you’re flying traffic patterns to work on landings, you’re flying with not much more than a stick, rudder, and throttle to manage. If you’re going to fly a nice, tight pattern, you’re going to have to be good at wiggling the stick. That stick-wiggling you work on in between landings will transfer easily to controlling your PA46 more confidently during the times you hand-fly.
So, with there being so many benefits to getting a tailwheel endorsement, we’ve decided to start offering tailwheel training to our PA46 clients (or to anyone else who’s interested in bettering their skills behind the yoke). Here’s what our format will look like:
$2,000 for a tailwheel endorsement, no matter how long that takes. It’s different for every pilot, but somewhere in the ballpark of 5-6 hours of flight time plus a little ground school on the history of tailwheel airplanes and the mechanics of why they’re so unstable. It’ll be two days most of the time.
Tailwheel endorsements are a critical part of earning your Master Aviator wings through MMOPA, and it’s an excellent thing to do to make yourself a better pilot. And, I think it’s just pretty cool to get to fly in a plane from the WWII era for a few days…it’s definitely a change of scenery.
Once you’ve mastered the art of the taildragger, I don’t advise you go picking on everybody who isn’t a “real” pilot like the old pessimist at your local airport, but you will get to have the benefit of knowing you’ve worked to hone your stick and rudder skills, and that you’re not just a “button pusher.”