Lesson 116
24 July 1999
.8 hours
Tailwheel Lesson 1

I had my first taildragger lesson this morning, in a Citabria.  Compared to all of the talk I'd heard about how tricky taildraggers are, it seemed like a piece of cake.  Of course, the wind was light, steady, and straight down the runway, so I guess it should have been a piece of cake.

The instructor, Carmine, said he normally takes people out to the practice area the first time to let them get the feel of the airplane, but it was so hazy today that we couldn't have found the practice area.  The AWOS said 4 miles, but it looked more like barely 3 to me.  (How humid was it here this morning?  I drove 0.8 mile from the house to a gas station with the air conditioner on, and when I got out of the car my sunglasses fogged up.)  So we stayed in the pattern and did takeoffs and landings.

The Citabria was fun to fly--much more like flying than in a Cessna 172 or even a 152, but a lot cozier than in a Pitts.  The visibility is much better than in a 172, too, with big windows and a greenhouse roof.  Even the view over the nose is better than in a 172.  That puzzled me for a while, and then I decided that the engine is mounted lower in respect to the pilot in the Citabria because with the tail down on the ground there's plenty of clearance for the prop.  I think the prop is shorter--smaller diameter--too.

That Citabria takes a whole lot of rudder.  You have to just about stand on it to get a coordinated turn going, and then put in some aileron and then take most of it out again once the turn is established.  That was harder for me to get used to than the taildragger stuff.

Carmine demonstrated a take off and let me have it when we were about 15 feet off the ground.  Then he demonstrated a three-point landing--how you just hold it off until it settles down on the runway.  Then it was my turn, and I managed 4 three-point landings without smashing anything.  They might even have looked smooth  from a distance--although I was surprised at how the airplane suddenly seemed to drop the last few inches a couple of times.  On those landings, the tailwheel touched down first and the mains just plopped down afterwards--so I suspect that I was maybe a little too high--or fast--or slow--or, well, not quite right.  It was stalled, but maybe it would be better to be just above stalling speed when you touch down.

Next Carmine demonstrated a wheel landing.  It settled very gradually and smoothly, with was no abrupt transition between flying and taxiing  But I bounced while trying it.  At the top of the bounce, Carmine took it--to show me how to recover properly--and then he bounced it a couple more times before giving up and stalling it in on all three wheels.  It was an interesting demonstration, and I think it hinted at what kind of trouble you can probably get into if you don't do things just right.

Carmine wants the tail a lot higher on both takeoffs and wheel landings than feels "normal" to me--whatever normal might mean.  He says you can't get the tail high enough so that the prop strikes the runway.  But I think he was exaggerating to counter my tendency to keep it lower than he wanted.

I get a second chance to try groundlooping it tomorrow.

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