19 December 2011

First tailwheel transition lesson

Yesterday, I made my first takeoffs and landings in an airplane with a tailwheel--otherwise known as a conventional landing gear--rather than the tricycle configuration of the Cessna 172. The Super Decathlon is like nothing I have flown so far: it is nimble, climbs like crazy in the cold air, and sinks like a rock when slowed below best L/D airspeed. And I love the Hooker harnesses in this plane: they are so comfortable and I wish we had them in the gliders.

FAR 61.31(i) requires training and a logbook endorsement before I can fly a tailwheel airplane as pilot in command. This regulation was instituted in 1991 to address the disproportionate number of landing incidents and accidents in taildraggers. I'm taking this training as a means to improve my stick-and-rudder skills and to gain the tailwheel proficiency I'll need if I ever want to tow gliders as all of my club's tow planes are taildraggers. I'm a long way from fulfilling the FAR 61.69 and insurance requirements to tow--it will be awhile before I'll can accrue 100 hours of airplane PIC time--but you have to start somewhere...

I flew some embarrassingly bad traffic patterns at Maryland Airport (2W5), overshooting the base-to-final turn several times and generally poor altitude control on downwind. I hadn't flown an airplane in over a month and I've gotten too accustomed to steep turns when flying glider traffic patterns: that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. My coordination was sloppy, too: the Super D has a powerful rudder which made my ham-footedness readily apparent. Since it lacks flaps, I initially thought it would be hard to get it to come down, but the descent rate was startlingly high when slowed down to 70 mph. I was taught to control the glide slope by varying airspeed slightly, which is a new technique for me. I had some trouble staying on a proper glide path and reading the descent. I also had never taxied on grass, before; fun stuff.

I made one inadvertent wheel landing when I touched down too fast, and I bounced a couple of the three-point landings, too. There were a few minor swerves in there also, during which I reflexively uttered some choice expletives. But it was a fun lesson, and I will do better on Friday.

The instructor is awesome. Given my admittedly rough stick-and-rudder skills, I was a bit worried about being fired as a student. Thankfully that didn't happen.

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