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#128 The Bare Bones of Flight Training

(posted on 4-24-15)

Learning to fly is an incredibly complex process.  There is simply so much to learn and, for the CFI, so much to teach.  The feds don’t help with their Practical Test Standards written in predictably obtuse “fed-eze”.


A student pilot at Tailwheel Town heads for home, the Sisters Airport 6K5.


I’ve long felt that the student and teacher need to divide this process in two parts.  One is to satisfy the reg requirements.  They don’t always make sense, but they are the idiots in charge of the asylum, so we have to know what the regs require.  The other is to actually learn to fly.  That seems to be what we specialize in here at Tailwheel Town.  Increasingly, I find that I’m working to teach a person to simply avoid rolling that cute little tailwheel airplane into a ball of scrap metal with accompanying damage to the pilot’s soft, pink body.  Here’s where it can get a bit simpler.  Since damage to airframe and pilot normally occur with impact with the ground, the landing is the operation which requires most of our attention.  Here’s what I think can do the most to keep you out of trouble:

Keep it straight.  Ground loops and other losses of control are usually the result of failing to simply touch down with course, heading and runway heading all identical.  Just remember that where you look is really important. Keep those peepers focused on infinity from short final on.  Remember all that work on coordination that the ol’ Head Squirrel did with you?  Wad it up and throw it out the window on short final. At that point, rudder is used for heading control and aileron for position relative to the center line. If a crosswind requires a slip, it’ll be automatic.

If you’re doing a three-point in a tailwheel airplane or a full stall in a trike, learn to control a bounce without depending on power.  Hold it off, not allowing the mains to touch the ground until the stick or control wheel is all the way back.  If you should touch down prematurely and bounce, the odds are that you already have an excess of speed, so use that instead of power in order to control the bounce and turn it into another touchdown without the landing-lengthening use of power that they taught you at Acme (and if you ever wondered why I place so much importance on the dead-stick landing… think about it).

Keep it close to the ground.  I teach everyone to swoop that plane to five feet above the numbers, then gradually get that altitude lower as you work on the flare for a three-point or the sink rate for a wheelie.  Never, never, never allow that jerking on the elevator to result in a zoom up to more than that original five feet.  If you do, you’ll experience every flight instructor’s nightmare:  the stall at thirty feet!

There are more, but these are the basics.  I haven’t even mentioned the wheel landing!  All tailwheelers should master it.  Come to Tailwheel Town for the details!

Many of my students have heard me say that a particular landing style is “simple in explanation but incredibly complex in execution”.  That’s because we’re doing several things at the same time.  But with practice, it’ll become easier.  And practice is the key to so much of what we do as pilots.

3 comments to #128 The Bare Bones of Flight Training

  • John

    Snow finally off the ground here in New England brought myself and instructor friend Rene out to fire up the dormant 180 up for the first time in months. I feel rotten not to have even visited the old girl. But spring was in the air and with help from the boost pack we had Silly Monkey roaring to the fuel pumps. While fueling myself and Rene were commenting on reading Brians flying tips and the question of dead stick landings came up in the 180. This method is totally understood in a lighter airplane such as a 140 or my Supercub but is it realistic in a heavier 180 performing standard patterns in the busy Northeast. So off to KPYM we went to use the longer runways for landing practice. At times we were #3 in the pattern with one jerk doing Heathrow base turns. The gurus at the 180 185 website touted 70 MPH patterns and in a quartering wind we carried an extra 100 rpms for directional control. It worked out great but what of our opinionated TT expert Brian. Were myself and Rene just succumbing to the ACME method because we did not want to ignore the foundation of our training our proverbial security blanket. So with this and reverence to Brian’s methods and since we are yet to be swoopers can we ask you Brian for your thoughts and guidance.

    • brian

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for this very good question. It’s one that comes up all the time. I know what the conventional wisdom is. I’ll give you my opinion: Yes, I think that airplanes like 180s, 210s and others can and should be dead-sticked for practice. Obviously, it’s a maneuver that should be approached cautiously. We want to do plenty of power-off approaches for accuracy and then to plan for the usual 20% or so increase in glide range with a stopped prop. Secondarily, we want to avoid shock cooling. I know that this is an issue which divides some fliers. Personally, I believe in the hazards of shock cooling and believe that if we manage power settings, we can do dead sticks without getting close to that critical speed of cooling. Also, be advised that many whuffos consider it a hazardous operation and will actually consider a violation of FARS for doing it. They are morons. Never say “dead stick” on the radio. Use “simulated engine failure” instead. I think it could save you some issues. Personally, I never do dead sticks in other people’s airplanes. It’s a liability issue for me and I hate that it is. Finally, let me say (once again) that I feel that the “tried and true” gradual power reduction approach and landing creates a wreck just waiting to happen. Unless you practice power off approaches and landings as your default technique, you will never be properly prepared for an engine failure. That’s just my opinion. Thanks again, John. It’s always great to hear from you!

  • John

    Thanks Brian
    myself and Rene need to give it a try in calmer winds. I thought of you today when I saw a youtube of a jump plane doing a deadstick. The great thing was a classic Brian landing in a turn.

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