Does it make sense to do primary training in a tailwheel airplane?
(September 2011) Rich Stowell has been instructing full time since 1987. He has logged 32,000 spins, 23,000 landings and 8,300 hours of tailwheel time. Stowell was the 2006 FAA National Flight Instructor of the Year and is a seven-time NAFI Master Flight Instructor and charter member of the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE). He says:
As airports evolved from rough patches of ground to manicured grass fields to ramrod-straight, hard-surfaced runways, tailskids yielded to tailwheels, which in turn yielded to nosewheels. Yet in spite of the improved stability suggested by our nosewheel-dominated fleet, loss of directional control remains a top factor in landing and takeoff accidents. The advertised stability has apparently made us complacent regarding the art of deft footwork. Could returning to tailwheel basics reconnect pilots to the rudder, thereby reducing loss of directional control accidents?
Let’s perform a simple thought experiment: Consider a flight school owned and operated by twins who are competent flight instructors. They are identical in all respects but one: One twin not only is proficient in “tailwheel techniques,” but also integrates those techniques throughout primary training; the other twin has no tailwheel experience and employs only “standard nosewheel techniques.” Imagine that these instructors are simultaneously teaching identical twin students in Cessna 152s, and that the airplanes are identical except one sports a tailwheel conversion.
Although one of the students learns to fly in the tailwheel 152, both now take their check rides in the nosewheel 152. Does anyone believe that both will demonstrate identical precision in their directional control during taxi, takeoff and landing phases? Does anyone believe that both will be able to perform the same aesthetically pleasing landings with equal consistency under myriad wind conditions? And does anyone believe that the nosewheel student could have simply switched to the tailwheel 152 for the check ride?
A student trained in proper “tailwheel technique” from the outset will possess superior directional control skills and rudder awareness. Additionally, that student will be able to transition more easily to nosewheel- and float-equipped airplanes. The “nosewheel technique” student, however, will have to undergo relearning in order to manage taildraggers and floatplanes.