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#128 The Bare Bones of Flight Training

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(posted on 4-24-15)

Learning to fly is an incredibly complex process.  There is simply so much to learn and, for the CFI, so much to teach.  The feds don’t help with their Practical Test Standards written in predictably obtuse “fed-eze”.

A student pilot at Tailwheel Town heads for home, the Sisters Airport 6K5.


I’ve long felt that the student and teacher need to divide this process in two parts.  One is to satisfy the reg requirements.  They don’t always make sense, but they are the idiots in charge of the asylum, so we have to know what the regs require.  The other is to actually learn to fly.  That seems to be what we specialize in here at Tailwheel Town.  Increasingly, I find that I’m working to teach a person to simply avoid rolling that cute little tailwheel airplane into a ball of scrap metal with accompanying damage to the pilot’s soft, pink body.  Here’s where it can get a bit simpler.  Since damage to airframe and pilot normally occur with impact with the ground, the landing is the operation which requires most of our attention.  Here’s what I think can do the most to keep you out of trouble:

Keep it straight.  Ground loops and other losses of control are usually the result of failing to simply touch down with course, heading and runway heading all identical.  Just remember that where you look is really important. Keep those peepers focused on infinity from short final on.  Remember all that work on coordination that the ol’ Head Squirrel did with you?  Wad it up and throw it out the window on short final. At that point, rudder is used for heading control and aileron for position relative to the center line. If a crosswind requires a slip, it’ll be automatic.

If you’re doing a three-point in a tailwheel airplane or a full stall in a trike, learn to control a bounce without depending on power.  Hold it off, not allowing the mains to touch the ground until the stick or control wheel is all the way back.  If you should touch down prematurely and bounce, the odds are that you already have an excess of speed, so use that instead of power in order to control the bounce and turn it into another touchdown without the landing-lengthening use of power that they taught you at Acme (and if you ever wondered why I place so much importance on the dead-stick landing… think about it).

Keep it close to the ground.  I teach everyone to swoop that plane to five feet above the numbers, then gradually get that altitude lower as you work on the flare for a three-point or the sink rate for a wheelie.  Never, never, never allow that jerking on the elevator to result in a zoom up to more than that original five feet.  If you do, you’ll experience every flight instructor’s nightmare:  the stall at thirty feet!

There are more, but these are the basics.  I haven’t even mentioned the wheel landing!  All tailwheelers should master it.  Come to Tailwheel Town for the details!

Many of my students have heard me say that a particular landing style is “simple in explanation but incredibly complex in execution”.  That’s because we’re doing several things at the same time.  But with practice, it’ll become easier.  And practice is the key to so much of what we do as pilots.