Tailwheel Landings

Here is a great article on tailwheel landings from Bill White.

The highest percentage of accidents occur in the landing phase of a flight (37%). There have been a couple good articles in the past discussing three point (full stall) landings. Club members have been doing a good job keeping us informed about aircraft maintenance information, but not much is said about what you have to do every time you fly i.e., land the airplane. From the many pilots I've talked with (I have over 300 180/185's insured). Most say they use a three point (nose high attitude) full stall technique for the majority of their landings. They indicated this is the way they were taught. Set up the airplane, full power and flair a few feet AGL, hold the yoke back until the airplane settles on the runway. For wheel landings carry a little extra speed and pin it on the runway. Nothing could be further from the truth. Neither procedure is the "best" way to do it.

I believe many of you were never initially trained to do wheel landings the right way, I wasn't. Most are told you  only do wheel landings in strong cross winds. Some are afraid of them.

Except for soft field landings, I believe a wheel landing is actually the preferred way to land, it's easy. I'll briefly discuss why. Many of you know of the "MAF" Missionary Aviator's Fellowship out of Redlands, CA. For over 20 years they have been training their pilots to fly C180/185's and 206's in countries all around the world and still have over 40 180/185's in service. Their training consists of hundreds of classroom and flight hours with several training flights to Idaho to fly the back country. They have instructors with over 10,000 hours of 180/185 time alone. I know there are other training facilities, but for my money these guys are the real experts. They have to fly these aircraft for a living in all conditions. Obviously they had to develop, standardize and use procedures and techniques to insure consistency and safety.

Guess What? They use the wheel landing 98% of the time, except on soft surfaces.

Landings depend on feeling, reaction, and response. You want each landing to be as "predictable" as possible and a wheel landing is the most "predictable". Landing on wheels allows you to

  1. better see the approach, touchdown, and rollout. 
  2. puts all the weight on the main wheels for most effective braking (a three point landing puts 500-600 pounds on the tail, this weight is now "free wheeling"), 
  3. eliminates more lift because the angle of attack is less, keeping you on the runway, 
  4. there is less chance for floating, or drifting in cross winds, and 
  5. better directional control on a bounced or a bad landing.

Misconception: Wheel landings are done at a higher approach speed. Truth: A typical good wheel landing approach is at 60 knots IAS unless conditions require differently. Yes you saw it correctly 60 knots. Remember a 10% increase in approach speed equals a 21% increase in landing roll! That's a lot folks!

Misconception: You should "pin it on" the runway at touchdown. Truth: If done correctly you never pin it on, you fly it until the wheels 'touch', then chop the power and apply the brakes and there is very little or no bounce. With this approach you have to resist cutting power until the wheels
touch. It takes practice.

Here's the technique: Get established on final. At 1 mile out you should be at 60 knots IAS (depending on wind conditions), 500 feet above the runway and descending at 500 FPM carrying about 13"-14" MP with full flaps. Trimmed to hands off. The aircraft should come over the threshold almost level. Do not flair and do not pull your power until you 'feel' the wheels touch (resist the temptation). This has to be learned because your natural instinct is always to pull power. Almost simultaneously when you pull power at wheel contact, come on with as much brakes as you need and hold neutral yoke. The torque from braking will help keep the tail up. Then as the speed is reduced and the tail settles come back with the yoke. Power controls rate of descent, if you reduce your power your descent rate will increase (even at 2'), then you'll have to flair to compensate and you'll be chasing the airplane. You want as few changes to correct as possible. This technique takes out the guess work - if you're low add power, if high reduce. Never change attitude or trim, it's simple. A full stall landing has everything changing at the same time which includes: power, speed, attitude, yoke, visibility and pitch. This is not as predictable because you're waiting for things to happen, you're chasing it.

This wheel landing technique is near bulletproof if learned correctly. It is being used all over the world by pilots much more knowledgeable than I. "MAF" uses wheel landings at all the airports in Idaho they fly into. That includes Soldier's Bar, Allison Ranch, Bernard, Krassel and more. All you do is cut power, brake and turn off the runway.

Until you learn it correctly, stick with the technique you're most comfortable with if it works for you. I recommend you practice this with a CFI that really knows the technique. He can better see your mistakes. I took several hours of training from "MAF" a few years ago. It really improved my proficiency. Once correctly learned, you'll wish you had known this years ago. Happy Flying!

Bill White