I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. I realize I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I can usually figger out when a ringer has been sent to take my tailwheel course. I’m not sure who sends them, but I recognize one when I see him, or in this case, “her”.
“Do you have ANY tailwheel time?” I asked before we took our first flight together.
“Nope”, she answered. “I’ve got about two hundred hours and it’s all in a one seventy-two”.
So I set about teaching her the wonders of good old, seat o’ the pants, old-fashioned, taildraggy, fundamental flyin’. I started with some air work to tweak up her coordination: Quick Turns, Sky Doodles and Portuguese Rolls. Then I introduced the basic three-point landing. She did fine, never trying to flare too high and only rarely touching the ground before the “payoff” or stall with the control wheel all the way back. On the way back to our home airport, I had her drop in to one of my favorite little airports, Lake Billy Chinook. She did a nice approach and on short final I pointed out to her that there is a slight rise to the runway. It kinda rises up to meet you. As she got closer, I noticed that the usual flare was not starting. I put my hand on the control wheel in case I needed to help. I was thinking about urging her to start the flare, but I didn’t do or say anything because the sink rate was really slow. I decided to do nothing (I’ve always thought that a good flight instructor does nothing for as long as he possibly can). The runway rose up to meet us and the main wheels kissed the ground like powder on a baby’s ass. And then she betrayed her “ringerhood”. She pushed the elevator ever so slightly, planting the mains on the chipsealed runway causing the pitch attitude of the airplane to remain unchanged and the mains to stay planted on the runway. There was no bounce. And then her feet kept that little Cessna running true as you please down that centerline. I waited until she let the tailwheel down and was rolling out to the end.
“You’re a ringer, aren’t you,” I quietly accused, my voice dripping with that “you can’t fool me” tone.
“Huh?” she puzzled.
“You’ve done this before”, I pointed out knowingly. “What kind of a landing was that? You only know how to do three point landings, yet you just performed a nearly flawless wheel landing. You really shouldn’t have done that. You just gave yourself away. You’re a ringer. Who sent you?”
She laughed, making it even worse. She claimed that it was just a fluke, that it seemed like the thing to do at the time, that she had never flown a tailwheel airplane before.
But I know the truth. I know that someone sent her. Maybe it was the FAA. I say bad things about them all the time. Maybe they sent an experienced tailwheeler to me just to see what I’m doing when I teach those tailwheel courses.
There is one other possible explanation. It’s possible that the overwhelming majority of people who come to me for a tailwheel endorsement do so because they all have something in common. They all care about improving. They all have incredible motivation and love of the flying arts. They are inquisitive and will never settle for doing something simply because “we’ve always done it that way”. Those are the kind of people who tend to come to me, making my little niche of tailwheel endorsements a special endeavor that enables me to fly with only those people who have both talent and motivation.