I have the blessing (same say it’s a curse) of being a tailwheel pilot. I did my tailwheel training in a Citabria and have gathered about 400 hours over the years in Citabrias, Super Cubs, and Maules (don’t judge all tailwheel airplanes by a Maule, by the way. The Maule is it’s own unique animal). The blessing of being a tailwheel pilot is that it greatly enhances my stick and rudder skills for all airplanes.
No matter what airplane you fly, basic stick and rudder skills are always important. At some point during a flight, the rudder will need to be used, even if you have an airplane that has a yaw damper. Rudder use is vitally important in the takeoff and landing phase, especially if you fly an airplane that generates a lot of torque on the takeoff roll. Rudder in that phase of flight is pretty evident, because if the rudder isn’t used, you’ll go off the left side of the runway.
Where I want to focus is rudder use in the landing phase. As an airplane comes down final, there are several forces that are be acting on the airplane. When it’s bumpy, updrafts and downdrafts are moving the plane up and down and all around. To correct for a bump that sends the airplane into a roll, aileron is added in the opposite direction of the roll. That aileron input also induces adverse yaw, pulling the nose of the airplane in the opposite direction that the pilot is moving the ailerons.
If a pilot isn’t using his feet correctly, then the nose of the airplane will wallow around through the air as aileron inputs are used. The tail is also moving around quite a bit, so the pilot might not “feel” the yawing moment, but the passengers in the back seat certainly will.
The other advantage that comes with proper rudder usage on short final is the airplane is more responsive to control inputs. When utilizing both the ailerons and the rudder, a pilot is able to fly the airplane much more precisely and control it much better.
This doesn’t mean you have to be staring at the turn coordinator the whole time down final. In fact, that’s exactly what you don’t want to do. Your eyes need to be outside the airplane. Just get in the habit of stepping on the rudder whenever you move the ailerons on final and eventually, you will feel what your airplane is doing. Don’t step on the rudder as hard as you can, but slight pedal pressure in the direction of aileron input will make a big difference.
Rudder is also vitally important for landing in a crosswind no matter that airplane. Crosswind landings are a learned skill that take a lot of practice to perfect. There is also a lot of confusion as to what control input does what during the landing.
Here is the simplest way to picture a crosswind landing and what the controls do:
- Aileron-When performing a crosswind landing, the ailerons keep the airplane over the centerline. If the airplane is drifting to the right of the centerline, add left aileron to bring it back to centerline, then keep enough aileron control pressure in to keep the airplane over centerline. In a perfect crosswind landing, the main tire on the windward side will touch down first. Left crosswind means left tire touching first.
- Rudder-When performing a crosswind landing, the job of the rudder is to straighten the nose to point down the runway. You will not be coordinated in a crosswind landing, you will be slipping, which is the goal. So, with a left crosswind, you will be inputting left aileron to remain over the centerline and you will also need right rudder to straighten the nose. This also prevents the airplane from actually rolling in the direction of the aileron input.
If you remember for a crosswind landing: “Aileron into the wind to stay over centerline, opposite rudder to straighten the nose.” Too much aileron and the plane will drift into the wind. Too much rudder and the nose will yaw in the opposite direction.
Rudder is very important, even in our day and age where a lot of general aviation airplanes have yaw dampers. Our feet only have a job for a short period of time, but that is the most critical time. An excellent way to get more proficient in rudder use is to go get a tailwheel endorsement. If you are in the central Texas area, check out TacAreo in Fredericksburg, T82.
Don’t let your feet fall asleep!