Tail draggers and rudder control


New Member
Hi all!
I don't have a tail-dragger endorsement, in fact I have never flown a tail dragger. I was readying Flight Training last night and there was a discussion on tail draggers and how they teach good rudder use.
I realize that rudder coordination during takeoff and landing is very challenging in a tail dragger. However, I have seen many articles that say that rudder control in a tail dragger is a real challenge in "all phases of flight". What difference does a wheel make once you are in the air? Am I missing something?
Is it because tail-draggers tend to be old models and they are not as easy to fly as the newer aircraft?
Can someone shed light on this? Thanks!

I realize that rudder coordination during takeoff and landing is very challenging in a tail dragger.

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Its not coordination thats difficult. Coordination is the same as any other airplane- step on the ball. Its directional control that keeps you busy. As far as taildraggers being harder to fly once in the air? I've only flown 3 (Super Cub, J-5 Cub, and Aeronca Champ) and they're pretty damn easy to fly actually. Lowwww and slllooowwwwwww.....
Ha ha ha! I'd love to fly one some day! I too was thinking that once you are in the air, it doesn't make a difference if there is a big wheel in the front or a little wheel in the back. I'm not sure what the articles mean when they say "all phases of flight".

I've got about 1000 hours of tailwheel time, most of it in a Beech 18 and in the air it flies no different than any other airplane. During the takeoff/landing phase and on the ground is challenging. I've also flown a couple Citabrias and Stinsons. All fabric-covered and I did seem to notice that the rudder is a bit more sensitive in those airplanes. Especially in the Stinsons- they've got larger rudders.
All of my Tailwheel experience is in the Super Cub, Great Lakes, and Pitts so my answer only reflects those particular aircraft. The latter being more difficult and costly to fly I will base my answer upon the Super Cub, which most likely what you would first experience. First off, yes the Super Cub is more demanding of rudder control than an ordinary trainer in flight and it has nothing to do with the tail wheel. There are four factors that create turning tendency in an aircraft; torque reaction, spiralling slipstream, Gryroscopic precession, and P factor. Typical trainers have built in means of counteracting all of these forces to some degree in all stages of flight, but mostly the designs are for straight and level cruise flight. The engine in your trainer is most likely not pointed straight ahead, it is built to have "cant," a slight degree of displacement so that the thrust line of the propeller points to the right. This is to counter act the left turning tendencies during all stages of flight. The left wing may not be equal to the right, a slight degree of increase in the angle of incidence will increase the lift of the left wing to counteract left tendency. If this has been done then the vertical stabilizer is going to be offset to the left to compensate for the additional lift of the left wing in order to keep the nose straight. The Super Cub has no such corrections desgned into it, so rudder control becomes much more important in all stages of flight. When doing Dutch Rolls or Falling Leaf stalls this becomes very appearant. Without proper rudder control the nose travels to the outside of the deflected aileron in Dutch Rolls and in a Falling Leaf stall the aircraft will quickly spin if your not proactive with rudder control. In my opinion typical trainers teach you to be more reactive with rudder inputs and the Super Cub will teach you to anticipate the need for it. If you get the chance I highly suggest you take a ride in one, they are a hell of alot a fun!
However, I have seen many articles that say that rudder control in a tail dragger is a real challenge in "all phases of flight".

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You're not missing anything. A taildragger only handles different when you are using the wheels. In the air, it flies like anything else.

I highly recommend a tailwheel endorsement (if you kind find someplace to do it). I have about 35 hours in Piper J3 and a couple of hours in a C150 Texas Taildragger. It definitely makes you more aware of your rudder pedals.

I had one student in particular who had a lot of difficulty learning to land a C150. After earning his private license, he got his tailwheel endorsement in the 150 TT. When I flew with him again, it was like night and day. His control had improved dramatically.
Heck, get a tailwheel endorsement in a Decathalon, that way you can do some aerobatics too. Both of these will make you a much better pilot, plus the Decathalon is very easy to land and a joy to fly.

I'd even say it's easier to land than a J-3, and ground visibility is much better.

Also, I found that with the J-3 and Stearman I've flown that you have to use the rudder much more for coordinated flight than you do in other, more modern planes - don't think it's b/c it's a taildragger, but because of the older design.
As some of the posters have said, taildraggers DO take more coordination on the rudders. I noticed a few of the posters didn't. The ones that didn't were flying retractable taildraggers like the Be18. Fixed gear taildraggers are another animal. If you ever get a chance to compare like airframes. Like a trike C152 and a tailwheel converted C152. I have (same N# before and after), and there is a huge difference.

The nosewheel on an airplane acts like another vertical stabilizer under the plane. It helps damppen the yawing moments. When you take the nosegear off, the side to side movement is no longer dampened. Thus requiring more "dancing" on the pedals in flight. Although mostly on windy days. On a calm day there is not much difference. Keep in mind also, that a lot of trike gear airplanes have a rudder/aileron interconnect that can mask poor rudder technique.

I love tailgraggers, and currently fly one. I have flown C152T, C170A/B, Luscombe 8E, J3s, Baby Ace, Super Cruisers(Widebody J3), and soon to be RV8.

Never stop flying them 'til they are in the chocks!