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#105  Rudder Usage from Three Experts


If there is one control that the beginning tailwheel pilot has difficulty with, it’s the rudder.  I can’t tell you how often I hear a student say of the airplane, “It just doesn’t go the way I want it to!”

I’m sure that they feel that way, but the instructor never seems to have that trouble and can always bail them out and get the airplane straightened out again.

It occurred to me to take a look back at some of the advice I received when I was a student pilot. As I look back, three sources stick out in my mind. 

roll 334-6

Bill Warren

Bill Warren was a gifted instructor.  I’d forgotten this little hint from Bill, but Jim Boeckl reminded me of Bill’s technique of “Rudder Flutter”.  That’s the technique where the pilot simply keeps up a rapid back and forth or “fluttering” movement of the rudder and during that flutter, simply favors the direction that he wants the plane to go.  I don’t teach this technique, but I’ve seen it used and for some pilots, it works great.

Holberton and jump plane

George Holberton

When I took my first dual in a tailwheel aircraft, it was from George Holberton.  Known more for shooting off the kneecaps of misbehaving skydivers than for being a flight instructor, George was pretty good at the latter.  He pointed out to me that if, while on the ground,  the plane started moving in one direction, I should apply opposite rudder ONLY until the unwanted motion stopped.  At that moment, I should neutralize the rudder.  George’s technique makes a lot of sense because it tends to prevent that process of “correcting the corrections”.  It keeps the pilot from over-correcting and then having to apply the other rudder to stop the movement which he has caused.

Of course, Wolfgang Langewiesche’s great book, “Stick and Rudder” is the primary source that colored my thinking, not only about rudder usage, but many other aspects as well, particularly comparing an airplane’s “Gaits” to a horses.  Langewiesche is still the pre-eminent expert on the rudder and its proper usage.

Langewiesche and Cub

Wolfgang Langewiesche

So there you have it.  You may never hear these three aviation artists mentioned in the same breath again.  But you did here at the Tailwheeler’s Journal.

Happy Fluttering… and hang on to those kneecaps!


6 comments to #105  Rudder Usage from Three Experts

  • I’ve found Stick and Rudder to be pretty masterful, especially when explaining lift. How do you reconcile Langewiesche’s seeming disdain for the rudder? If I recall, (I don’t have the book in front of me), he discusses its use thoroughly, but seemed to see it as an appendage that was obsolete even in the 30s and would surely make its way out of practical aviation when all the pesky tailwheel planes were finally put to pasture.

    • brian

      Ryan, I think that’s an excellent observation and question. I’ve long been fascinated, no only by Langewiesche’s attitude, but also by the fact that Fred Weick designed both the Ercoupe (which I feel is a reasonable experiment but an abomination as a production airplane) and the Pawnee (one of my very favorite airplanes!). I accept Langewiesche for what he was, a brilliant aerodynamicist and excellent writer. Like many people I respect, there are some areas where I disagree with him. That’s okay. There’s really no point in arguing with the deceased… or many of the living, for that matter! If you care more about coordinated turns, don’t have the ability to feel the coordination yourself and have no desire to land in crosswinds or utilize a forward slip, then I guess the Ercoupe as praised by Langewiesche is for you!. Besides, most non-flyers love it because it’s “cute”. That’s my reconciliation.

  • I use rudder flutter on short final to wake up my feet. Works great.

  • Heavens no! Without a rudder you can’t do “sky doodles”, “forward slips”, “flat turns”, “slaloms”, “spins”, “stall turns”, “one wheel landings” and you could never signal the glider “here we go” from a tow plane!

  • Martin Tanguay C-FJAR C140

    I laughed when I red the explanation of Rudder Flutter. I don’t know if I still do it with my C140, but when I passed my flight test in 1991, the chief examinator told me he was surprised to see my feet dance back and forth on the pedals of the 172.
    I guess in my subconscious I was ready for the tailwheel. 🙂
    Great articles as usual…thank you!

  • Steve Oliver

    Rudder use, like the other controls is really pretty simple…just make the plane do what ever you want it to. The hard part early on is deciding who’s boss.


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