I remember my first flight during my training to becoming a pilot. It was in a red Luscombe 8A, an absolutely gorgeous plane, completely refurbished. We taxied it for a while on the ground to get the feel of the tailwheel. "No problem!" My instructor took me up and we practiced just keeping it in a straight line by flying the orange field tree lines in south Florida. When it came time to land at Indiantown Airport, a very long and wide grass field, I thought that this was going to be a non-issue. Just bring her in, hold her off the runway as long as you can, and gently let her wheels touch. At least that's what all the books say to do. Didn't quite work out that way!
The day was a gorgeous day, blue skies, no wind, completely smooth. My approach to landing was perfect, guided by my instructor, I did everything he told me to do. At about 200 feet AGL he said to me, "get your feet ready on the rudders, keep the nose going straight, and if you can't hold it straight, use the heel breaks. I don't have any on this side, so at that point, you are on your own! Don't f*ck it up!"
OK, then! A fine thing to tell me at 200 feet on my first landing.....EVER! If ever sheer terror was to set in, this was the time. The approach continued nicely all the way to the ground. In the flair, I held it off the runway as long as I could and when the plane finally stopped flying, it gently touched it's wheels on the turf for the most beautiful landing I could have imagined. I grinned, but only on the inside. No sooner than the tailwheel touched the ground, the plane started darting to the right. I slammed the rudder to the floor, but nothing happened. I heard the instructor scream out loud, "Hit the brake, hit the brake.....THE OTHER BRAKE, THE OTHER BRAKE!!!". Ooops!
The plane tilted to the left and started bouncing on the left main as we were careening off the runway to the right. My heel was frantically trying to find the brake, and push it forward. I finally got the brake pressed and the plane straightened out, heading straight for the cow fence that surrounded the airport. I slammed on both brakes now, and the plane came to a skidding stop, about one foot from the fence.
My heart was pounding so hard, it was difficult to breath. I could only think to myself, "I almost destroyed my instructor's beautiful red plane." I finally looked at him, embarrassed. The sheer look of terror on his face was finally subsiding. He looked at me, took a deep breath, and said confidently, "Well.......that sucked! Ready to go do it again?"
"NOOO, and not only NO, but HELL NO!!! ", I said just for clarification.
"Good", he said...."Help me push this thing back on the runway, and we will try it again".
Maybe he misunderstood what I said. I didn't think there was any ambiguity possible in my statement, but some how, some way, the words must have just come out of my mouth sounding differently than they did in my head. Maybe he must have completely misunderstood me. Maybe in all my trembling inside, the words "HELL NO" came out sounding like "sure, that was fun, let's do it again!" I kinda doubt it, but erring on the positive side, I will give him the benefit of the doubt.
I am so glad that he stuck with me that day. We continued to shoot landings for about another hour. None of them were nearly as eventful as the first one. What a tricky thing, landing a taildragger can be. Afterwards he told me that you are never finished flying a taildragger until it is tied down and the engine is off. I believe him! I now have well over 1000 hours of tailwheel flying, with nary a ground loop. Thanks to my instructor for not giving up.
I was surfing the internet the other day and saw this little poem. It didn't have an author, so I am not sure who penned it, but in the event that I find out, I will surely give proper credit. I thought after reading it, how very true these words are. You never really become a true stick and rudder pilot until you have mastered the art of the tailwheel. Enjoy!
Ode To The Tail dragger
Taildragger, I hate your guts.
I have the license, ratings and such,
But to make you go straight is driving me nuts.
With hours of teaching and controls in my clutch
It takes a little rudder....easy, that's too much !
You see, I learned to fly in a tricycle gear
With one up front and two in the rear.
She was sleek and clean and easy to steer,
But this miserable thing with tires and struts
Takes a little rudder.....easy, that's too much !
It demands your attention on the takeoff roll,
Or it heads towards for the boonies as you pour on the coal.
Gotta hang loose, don't over control.
This wicked little plane is just too much
With a lot of zigzagging and words obscene
I think I've mastered this slippery machine.
It's not too bad if you have the touch
Just a little rudder....easy, that's too much !
I relax for a second and from the corner of my eye
I suddenly realize, with a gasp and a cry
That's my own tail that 's going by!
You ground looping wreck, I hate your guts,
Give a little rudder....Good Lord, THAT'S TOO MUCH !