Learning to not fight the landing
Some say you have to fly a taildragger all the way to the hangar. Many of us were taught that and have since taken it quite literally. But, sometimes, it is best to be a bit more hands-off.
Different aircraft obviously behave in very different ways. Landing gear design, wheelbase, angle of attack in the three point attitude, flaps and other factors all play their part in bringing and aircraft back to earth (or not!).
I’d been struggling bouncing the RV from time to time, and still do when I get a couple of key things wrong. I first put it down to the rolled steel gear legs that absorb impact by flexing outward and then rebounding, acting in a similar way to a leaf spring setup.
Our strip has a couple of buried walls, deep down in the ground. These walls have resulted in near invisible humps half way down the strip. If you hit these humps at the wrong combination of speed and wing angle of attack, you’re going flying again for a few milliseconds, whether you want to or not. Just like the ski-ramp on an aircraft carrier.
I was talking this through with a friend at the pub, who himself recalled a duel Pitts sortie flown with a certain ‘AC’ at White Waltham. WW’s rougher-than-average runway was causing him all sorts of problems when landing the Pitts, namely bouncing around when three pointing – exactly the problem that I was trying to cure. After a few circuits there soon came a shout from the other seat to, “let go of the f***ing stick!”
This obviously seems counter-intuitive but now that I have practiced it I can confirm that it does make a difference. First of all, you’re not letting go of the stick, the aim is to stop flailing it around like an angry rattlesnack in your hand.
I was taught on the Citabria to use the three-point method most of the time and get the stick held right back soon; just as the speed was low enough not to cause the nose to try and lift. This worked great, although on rough strips I did experience bouncing on a few occasions. As you can see in the below video, that method can cause the RV to buck like a mule.
As confidence with an aircraft grows, so does your ability to explore the envelope. After many months of three point landings I soon became comfortable enough to begin wheel landing the RV. Thinking back to Alan Cassidy’s words, the video below shows me wheeling it on and also leaving the stick as ‘alone’ as I dared. I am trying let the wing stay at zero incidence (with reference to the ground and not the longitudinal axis of the aircraft). That way the wing is not ‘working’ and any bumps in the runway will not be exacerbated by the effect of lift.
Why does this even matter anyway? Passenger comfort is a big reason, I don’t want people’s first experience of GA flying or the RV family to be one of rough landings. Secondly is wear and tear. The RV’s rolled steel main gear legs are very strong but too many heavy landings could result in cracks requiring replacement. If you’ve ever looked at the landing gear legs of an RV you’ll see that they are fixed to the engine mount and are shrouded in drag-reducing fairings; so inspection can be quite a job in itself.
So, if you’re struggling to land a taildragger – get the tail up and stop trying to strangle that rattlesnake.
PS. Click on the link under the GIF and watch the full video on suspension. It’s fascinating!