The Tailwheeler’s Journal #17
“Hold the Stick Back” or “prop-smacking, one more time”
When all those airplane manufacturers started building tricycle gear airplanes they accomplished their main goal: They made airplanes a lot easier to fly, thus increasing the number of pilots and the corresponding number of aircraft sales. But that nosewheel did something else for the budding pilot population: It kept their props out of the dirt. Up ’til then, grizzled flight instructors beat it in to the heads of their students to “keep the stick back when yer taxiing”. Inattention to the elevator could result in the tail popping up and the prop hitting the ground.
In two of the preceding Journals, I talked about prop-smacking but I think I left out the importance of keeping the stick back when we’re taxiing. I’ll make up for that now.
As I teach tricycle-trained pilots to master the tailwheel airplane, I find that I, too, have to repeat that old flight instructor’s admonition.
In your first flight lesson, your instructor may have noted your tendency to attempt steering on the ground with the control wheel. He then pointed out that rudder is for steering on the ground and that the control wheel doesn’t do anything. Not so fast, Mister Instructor. Not only is the aileron important when correcting the airplane’s position on the runway when we’re landing and taking off (it helps the airplane turn and avoids screaming tires), but the stick or control wheel should be held back to keep the prop out of the ground and the tailwheel on the ground when we’re taxiing or rolling out.
Taxiing downwind is the trickiest situation for the tailwheel pilot. If your stick is back and the tailwind is greater than the prop wash, there will be an upward force on the tail. You will always need to weigh the affect of the tailwind with the force you can apply with power. I once saw a very experienced airshow pilot stick the prop of his Pitts in the ground while taxiing downwind. At that moment I realized that if it could happen to him it could certainly happen to any of the rest of us.
Here’s the bottom line: Don’t neglect elevator and aileron inputs while on the ground. Make “stick back” your default position unless wind force and direction dictate otherwise.