"Taming the tailwheel" was the catchy title for an all-day seminar I attended recently. The program, a FAAST (FAA Safety Team) sanctioned event, was sponsored by EAA Chapter 146 at the Kline Kill Airport (NY1) in Ghent, New York. There were perhaps 40 of us in attendance, and almost all flew conventionally configured airplanes with the little wheel at the back end. As a FAAST program, the seminar qualified as an FAA Wings program, and, as an extra bonus, the EAA chapter provided a barbecue lunch.
The presentation team included Doug Stewart, who is a designated examiner and provides tailwheel training, and Cliff Allen, who works with Mike Goulian's Executive Flyers Aviation at Hanscom Field, Bedford, Massachusetts, and at the service and support facility at the Lawrence Municipal Airport in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Allen trains students in an Aviat Husky.
With the help of Avemco Insurance's history of claims for accidents and incidents involving tailwheel airplanes, Allen managed to make the accident record interesting and, dare I say it, entertaining. He talked about "moose stalls" (low and slow flights to scope out moose) and "predator stalls" in which airborne hunters attempt to rid the range of marauding coyotes and other predators that threaten ranchers' livestock. The most amusing section of his talk involved "Darwin Award" winners. The idea is that the "winners" were pilots who did something so stupid that their potential genetic contribution will never contaminate the evolutionary gene pool.
According to Allen, many of the Darwin accidents were "performed" for friends on the ground and, as a result, were frequently witnessed. Many also began with the pilot saying "Watch this." That should be a warning to all of us … if you're with a pilot who says "Watch this!" you want to do what you can to abort the demonstration!
After lunch, Stewart initially picked up where Allen left off and presented the facts — and some speculation — of what had caused a recent accident near Kline Kill airport. It seemed that, before the accident, several people felt the pilot was "an accident waiting to happen." More about that later.
After the short discussion of the local accident, the tailwheel pilots got down to operational questions about "taming the tailwheel." Asked to suggest subjects for discussion, the pilots quickly made a list: takeoffs (when to bring the tailwheel up), crosswind landings (slip or crab?), wheel landings or three point landings?, preventing ground loops, and hand propping, among other concerns. I was impressed by the give and take between the attendees and the presenters and the way knowledge — and operational experiences — were shared. Many of the answers depended on the type of airplane and the comfort and experience of the pilots.
I had learned about the seminar from an e-mail I received from FAAST. I've registered on the FAAST website (faasafety.gov) and indicated the geographic area in which I want to be alerted of safety seminars, courses and other activities that are being conducted within a reasonable distance of my home base. It's free to register, and I get an e-mail alerting me when and where a seminar is being held. If I plan to attend, I can register online. By registering beforehand, the presenters have my information, so it's easy for them to arrange for me to get my Wings credit for attending.
It was refreshing to know that at least these tailwheel pilots were interested enough in the safe operation of their airplanes that they gave up a summer Saturday to participate in the meeting. On the other hand, the fact that they attended indicated they were probably predisposed to improve their aviating ability. It would seem that all too often we're preaching to the choir. It's the pilots who don't attend that typically end up earning Darwin Awards and giving general aviation a black eye.
It's a good bet that the pilot flying a Diamond DA40 in Texas hadn't attended any of the recent seminars that highlighted the dangers of maneuvering flight — including buzzing! The pilot, with two passengers, buzzed Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula, near Galveston, Texas, during a Jeep rally. He wasn't looking at moose on the ground or trying to control predators, but he was trying hard to qualify for a "Darwin." He was prevented from that dubious honor when the FAA issued an emergency order of revocation and pulled his pilot certificate.