Flight School: Tailwheel Training

Does it make sense to do primary training in a tailwheel airplane?

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.

Learn in a tailwheel airplane, or at least pretend you’re in a tailwheel airplane whenever taxiing, taking off and landing. Makes good sense to me.
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Kerry Hackney is vice president and director of training at Platinum Aviation, the largest Cirrus training center in the Cirrus Partner network and one of the first schools appointed by Cirrus Aircraft as a Cirrus Platinum Training Partner. A pilot for 29 years, Hackney is an ATP, a CFI-I, a former Master Flight Instructor and a Cirrus standardized instructor pilot (CSIP). He says:_

The argument is sometimes made that a tailwheel airplane is better for teaching basic stick and rudder skills. These skills can be learned in any aircraft, providing you have a good instructor who emphasizes the basics during the entire learning process. Learning in a tailwheel airplane makes you a better pilot in just that — a tailwheel aircraft.

I believe it makes the most sense to do your primary flight training in the type of airplane you intend to fly once you get your certificate. Many of our customers at Platinum Aviation actually start from zero time in the Cirrus SR22 Turbo and solo in that aircraft.

Our customers are typically learning to fly for a predetermined mission. Many are looking for an alternative to airline travel. Because of this, it is very important for us to teach far beyond the private pilot Practical Test Standards and teach real-world, scenario-based flying. Our customers need a solid foundation, including basic stick and rudder, but far beyond, to call upon once they begin using the aircraft for their personal and business transportation needs.

Conducting primary flight training in an advanced aircraft like the Cirrus, by necessity, emphasizes aircraft systems and the need to know how all of the systems are interconnected. Many times, systems understanding is overlooked by instructors teaching in simpler aircraft. We find that pilots who learn in technologically advanced aircraft, whether they learn at our facility or others, have a greater understanding of their airplanes than those who learn in simpler aircraft types at traditional flight schools.

The bottom line to this question is that things change with time, and so we as instructors must change. Traditional methods of flight instruction must be adapted to meet the needs of today’s flight training customers and the more capable aircraft they intend to fly.
Sure … you can learn in a tailwheel. Maybe you have a passion for flying antique aircraft?

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