Taming the taildragger

Compleat Taildragger
The Compleat Taildragger Pilot

(Harvey Plourde)

Available at Amazon.com and at Historic Aviation.

My instructor recommended this book. It's a "homebuilt"--published by the author's widow, peppered with typographical errors (Cessna's as the plural of Cessna, it's as a possessive) and illustrated with simple but useful stick figures to show how taildraggers and trikes differ with respect to their center of gravity, tendency to swap ends, and sensitivity to crosswinds. Very useful.

Harvey Plourde learned to fly in an Aeronca Champ in 1953. He served in the USAF as an aircraft instrument mechanic, then got an engineering degree in 1959. He worked in the aerospace industry for 30 years, meanwhile flying with the New Hampshire Civil Air Patrol as its chief check pilot. To judge by the book, a lot of his work involved transitioning new CAP pilots from trikes to taildraggers such as the Cessna Bird Dog and the DeHavilland Beaver.

Some of his opinions contradict my own training. For example, Plourde is dead set against high-speed taxis, which he regards as dangerous in the extreme. Yet my instructor (not the one who recommended the book) got me ready for my first takeoff by having me charge down a private grass strip with the Cub's tail in the air. Of course he was 23, just out of the Marines, with very sharp reflexes. As Plourde points out, the CFI is in the aircraft for two reasons: first, he is training the student; and second, he is ready to rescue the student from any wrong move. No doubt Brian was confident that he could head off an inadverent takeoff or prevent me from putting the Cub on its nose. (I am less sure of the second. Six months after Brian departed from my life, a student making a high-speed taxi in that Cub--an L-4, formerly the property of the Massachusetts Air Guard--hit the brakes and wrecked it utterly.)

Especially good on the presentation of P-factor, which affects a taildragger more than a trike. In a less theoretical vein, the discussion of crosswind landings is something that the experienced pilot can benefit from reviewing from time to time.

There's also a suggested curriculum for transitioning from trikes to taildraggers--probably the usual circumstance now, when most training is done in one or another Cessna trike. Astonishingly, Plourde's suggested minimum amounts to 10.5 hours--for a licensed pilot! That must cause some head-shaking among the Old Pilots who soloed the Piper Cub in 8 hours.

Part of the basic library for any pilot who flies (or hopes to fly) a taildragger.