TailDraggers and You
Come fly a piece of history. Learn why the Piper Cub is so ubiquitous in the American lexicon. It's like "Coke" and there is a reason for it. The Cub is a true stick and rudder airplane. It is made of steel tubes and fabric. There are no frills. Nothing extra. Minimal instruments. No electrical system. Just what you need to fly. It is a pussy cat -cub pun intended- when it comes to stalls. It needs attention to rudder throughout its flight and ground envelope. It will take your flying skills to a new and different level. Our instructors are all ATP rated with hundreds of tailwheel hours. Come learn new things with us. You will never be rushed, yelled at, or intimidated. We love to fly and we love to share it.
How It Works
Nose wheel equipped aircraft have their main wheels behind the center of gravity and they have the steerable wheel out front, just like your car. If you let go of the steering wheel in a car while in a turn the wheel magically returns to the centered and straight position. The rear wheels will nearly always follow the lead of the front wheel. The main wheels do not steer in anyway.
In a tail wheel airplane the main wheels DO steer the plane. If everything is perfectly aligned then the plane will track straight. Once the tail wheel is turned, the main wheels are now not going in a straight line and they will continue to tighten the turn unless a corrective action is taken with the tail wheel. At any kind of speed, this tightening happens very fast and can result in a ground loop. A ground loop is a rather scary maneuver that ends up with the tail in swapping ends on you and the airplane ends up going backwards. The transition that happens while this end swap is happening can lead to a wing striking the pavement.
Okay- so why would anyone build a tail-dragger? The tail wheel is simply more efficient from weight and drag perspectives. The main wheels of a tail-dragger are about the same size as the main wheels on a nose wheel airplane, but the tail wheel is nearly always smaller and lighter than a nose wheel. Nose wheels are also way more susceptible to damage from a rough or soft surface, which is why most bush planes are tail wheel aircraft.
What good will Tail wheel training do for the rest of my flying?
Tail wheel training teaches you to be ahead of the airplane and actively control it. Most pilots are reactive. They wait for something to happen and then deal with the consequences. They might wait until a turn is established and then try to fix it. This won't work in a tail-dragger. Once the turn is established you have a problem. If you actively control the airplane then the turn never gets established. This takes considerable attention. Once you get this level of flying proficiency then ALL of your flying activities will be more proficient. Tricycle gear aircraft are just more forgiving of our foibles. Learning tail wheel techniques will remove or at least minimize them. We learn to anticipate issues and be ready for them.
We fly a 1939 Piper J3 Cub. It began life as a trainer before the war. It even spent time as a floatplane. It has been through various owners through the years and trained tons of pilots in the fine art of aviating. It is a basic tube and fabric plane with no electrical system. The only electrons are busy firing spark plugs and running the intercom for the Bose Headsets. The plane is typically flown with the doors and window open, unless the weather is on the chilly side. It has a stick for the elevator and the ailerons and a steerable tail wheel, actuated by the rudders.
A tail wheel endorsement really depends on how competent you are with controlling the airplane. This will vary from individual to individual. Three hours is probably the minimum that you should count on. If you don't have it under control by 10 hours, this may not be your cup of tea. Our current rate is $275 (Cub) or $375/hr (Super Decathlon) an hour for flight time (instructor included). We will spend around an hour on the ground learning the basics and getting to know the airplane.
We are here to broaden your horizons and introduce you to a world without the clutter of instruments and radios. This is a world of pure flying. We aim to make you a better pilot.
The tail wheel endorsement (FAR 61.31(i)) will allow you to act as PIC in tail wheel airplanes that you would otherwise be rated in. If you have a multi-engine rating you would then be legal to fly multi-engine tail wheel equipped airplanes. If you have a single engine rating you will be legal to fly single engine planes with tail wheels.
FAR 61.57) To keep current in tail wheel equipped planes you must accomplish 3 landings to a full stop every 90 days. Outside of the 90 days you will need to get current before carrying passengers.
What is a ground loop?
A ground loop is a maneuver that can happen in ANY type of airplane. It is much more common in a tail-dragger because of the placement of the main wheels in front of the CG of the airplane. A ground loop can even be an intentional maneuver. Basically the ends of the airplane swap places. It can be a slow speed happening where the tail comes around in a reasonable controlled manner or it can be a high speed, tire screeching, metal bending, wing scraping, fabric tearing event. The key to avoiding the second type of event is to keep the plane pointed straight down the runway. Directional control is the main element. Being keenly aware of any deviation from straight ahead and immediately arresting and correcting the turn. This is good practice in any airplane, be it a nose-dragger, tail-dragger, seaplane, or glider. When you master this ALL of your take offs and landings should improve.
Owning and Flying the J3 Cub
I started flying in 1980 in a Piper Tomahawk (PA38), which is a really long way from a Cub. I have always known what a Cub was and knew much of it's history. I flew in a TaylorCraft in 1981, and the experience was totally lost on me at 17 years old. As I recall, the doors were closed and it was just a noisy slow airplane that you had to hand prop. My first Cub flight was on floats trying to get seaplane rated. It was cold and windy and I had a very ornery instructor. This particular Cub was very poorly maintained and was blowing a ton of oil into my face through the open door.
Ten years went by before my next Cub exposure. I finally got my seaplane rating and became an instructor. I am very used to little slow airplanes, as my Cessna 150 on floats cruises at 85 knots, but I still had no clue why someone would fall in love with a Cub. My nine year old daughter started talking about them and how cute they were, and I have a friend who does an aerobatics act in a Cub, and another friend who bought an L4 Cub. My interest was piqued.
A guy called me up from Alexander City where I keep a hangar. He was looking to sublease my hangar for a Cub he was about to purchase, and we decided to partner on one. It was a cheap way to get into a plane that I could teach tailwheel in. I had no idea how intoxicating the plane would be. This was a plane that cruises at 65kts, has only two seats, no baggage capacity, limited fuel, no heat to speak of, no radios, limited crosswind capabilities, and limited braking capability, no night options, limited climb.
My partner and I looked at one plane which seemed like a good candidate, a 1941 65 hp version that had mediocre fabric and was living in a very wet hangar. We then learned of a plane in Greenwood, MS with only 500 hours on the 85hp engine. We hopped into my Twin Comanche and headed for Greenwood. The man who had owned the plane for the last 25 years obviously had loved the plane a lot and had taken pretty good care of it. He was decidedly nontechnical if not anti-technical. Quite different from myself. I am a computer programmer and I love technology and widgets. We agreed that he would fly the plane to our then home base of Bessemer, Alabama for an annual inspection before closing the deal. The first mechanic that I had look at the plane was not a Cub guy, but he had a Cub expert look at it and he came up with all kinds of issues, which on the surface looked bad. I had another mechanic do the annual and had all the stuff fixed that the first guy found. It was much cheaper than expected after caring for a twin for years. Finally we were ready for a flight. I used a tail wheel expert who had me doing competent landings in surprisingly little time. I thought this was supposed to be tricky. I found it easy and fun. I guess the seaplane time helped, since it does not have a nose wheel either and requires deft rudder and pitch control.
The J3 Cub is a pure unfiltered airplane. It put me in touch with the true aerodynamics of flight. You feel EVERYTHING. I noticed stuff on the ground that I have been flying over for 20 years. You can even smell the environment around you. Flying over stands of wisteria I could actually smell it. You can also feel every aspect of the runway environment. The wind. The surface. Get in touch with your inner pilot.
-Cubs are slow Verified. This is one of the features of the plane, not a detractor. You get a chance to smell the roses and see stuff you have been missing by flying along in a plastic bubble at 100 knots at 8000 feet. Enjoy the ride, build the time. I find that I even drive slower and more relaxed after a cub flight.
-Cubs are drafty Verified. Again this is a feature. Flying in the summer is a pleasure. There is always plenty of air. Flying in the winter, you should layer up. This is a plane best flown with the doors and windows open. The view is incredible without looking through plastic aircraft windows. We are so used to flying and seeing through Plexiglas, it's amazing the clarity of the real world. The open door coming up is actually the best indication of an impending stall.
-Cubs are hard to start X Busted. In warm weather, I pull the prop through 3 or 4 times and it fires. Simple... Never a low battery, or bad alternator, or bad contactor. Cold weather can take a few more pulls. I have had way more trouble with weak batteries than I have with weak arms. Our cub has been modified with a battery and a starter to eliminate even this issue.
-Cubs are dangerous to start X Busted if procedures are followed. Never get complacent. Always assume the mags are hot and think about your actions. Adding a starter is often an option as well.
-Cubs have to be hand propped X Busted. One winter when I was having shoulder surgery I had a starter and a battery installed. My cub starts with the push of a button now. Blasphemy? A little. Nice on a cold morning? Yep
-Cubs are expensive to buy Verified. These planes are popular which keeps the prices up. This makes them a decent investment. I expect prices to continue to climb with copy cat Cubs from American Legend and Cubcrafters running at over $150k. As cheap as these planes are to operate with fuel prices sure to rise they should remain a good value.
-Cubs are antiques and tough to maintain X Busted. There is huge support for these planes. You can buy just about every part new from Wag-Aero or Univair. There is just not much to it. This is a simple plane. It is cloth and deserves a hangar.
-Cubs are hard to land X Busted. Tens of Thousands of pilots got their start in a Cub. This is a trainer. It has a long fuselage which makes it less quirky than a Pitts and it lands very very slow. Learn to land it well and ALL of your landings will improve, no matter what you fly. Respect the wind.
-You have to fly it from the back Verified. This is a good thing however. The view is better from the back, because you can see out the open window and door. The view out the front can be limited while on the ground or with a passenger up front.
-Cubs are limited in range Verified. Cool. You get to land more often and have more people gawk and ogle.
-Cubs have no baggage capacity Verified. Learn to be efficient in packing. There is a Walmart everywhere for whatever you forgot or could not bring.