Red Flags

I’ve experienced and learned a few things since I earned my PPL, especially during the time I’ve owned my Luscombe. One of the most important is that I know that I will continue to learn as long as I continue to fly. The winds are ever changing and each landing is new and unique. Complacency and fatigue are a tailwheel pilot’s worst enemies. I battle the former by practice and approaching each flight with the same attention to detail. I battle the latter by recognizing and accepting my own limitations.

I have also found that one of the benefits of this experience is having the knowledge to spot a fraud. This comes in handy in many aviation endeavors such as hangar flying at the local line shack or posting on an Internet forum.

I am not a CFI. I am not highly educated in aerodynamics, nor do I claim to be anything other than a middle-aged housewife who happens to fly a small antique-classic airplane. But I do have the knowledge of Wolfgang Langewiesche at my fingertips and the advantage of 1,200 or more hours (nearly 700 of them in a conventional geared airplane) to call upon.

So it has been of considerable concern to me in the past few months that I have encountered what I would consider frauds, individuals peddling their dubious experience in tailwheel aircraft over Internet forums. My recent encounters have not been through type club forums where these characters are quickly recognized and routed. Instead they are hawking their advice on general venues where the unsuspecting student of the tailwheel endorsement makes a ready target for some individual’s ego.

In some cases, the poster is probably just a troll wanting to sow discord, but in others it appears the writer is in earnest, thinking he or she is the authority on all matters tailwheel. Even I have been impressed at times with the credentials presented in a creative signature until a slip happens. Once, a poster assured me that he was extremely proficient in all tailwheel airplanes, including those of Lester’s vintage. We were debating the use of aileron in the stall when the slip happened. He told me to check my POH. Red flag! Red flag!

This instructor extraordinaire in vintage tailwheel airplanes was unaware that most makes and models of antique/classic airplanes were not sold with a POH. If the owner was lucky, a slim owner’s manual offered a few tidbits of information about the airplane and very little about flying it. He was no longer interested in continuing the thread after I pointed this out.

In another forum, a private pilot was giving an account of his first few hours in a Champ, and at one point he asked about the preference for the wheel landing or the three-point in a crosswind. I didn’t comment on either as both get the job done, but I was concerned about his account of his landings. They included lots of braking for directional control in the landing roll. His description was “”stomping on the brakes.”” I cringed at the thought. In all my time in my 1948 Luscombe 8E, I have never used brake in the landing roll for directional control. If it was needed, a bad situation had progressed too far.

However, I realize that other airplanes can tolerate more brake than my airplane, so I suggested that he join the Aeronca Pilots forum to get a more informed opinion. He didn’t understand how Aeronca pilots could help him since he was flying a Champ. It turned out he was flying a late model Citabria, and he thought all tandem fabric airplanes were Champs. If dealing with one confused person were not enough, before the bizarre thread died a slow, lingering death, the tailwheel instructor extraordinaire piped up and announced that if an airplane has brakes he was darned sure gonna use them. Well, I guess he told me.

I wasn’t surprised the instructor extraordinaire didn’t realize that a tailwheel student using brakes for directional control on the landing roll may be lacking in another rather important skill. They’re not called “”stick and rudder”” skills for nothing. I wanted to be a smarty and suggest that using that big flapping thing on the back might help, but instead I vowed to keep my wayward fingers away from the keyboard. In fact, I turned the computer off for good measure.

These encounters often generate a snicker or two and sometimes even a giggle. At other times, I feel like banging my head on the desk. While I may write this with some amusement, the reality is actually serious. CFIs with little more than a tailwheel endorsement and very little experience are producing a product of the same caliber. In the end it is the Old Man and I who pay the cost in higher insurance premiums.

My suggestion to anyone contemplating pursuing a tailwheel endorsement is to do your homework and shop around. Don’t be afraid to ask the CFI how many hours he or she has in that make and model. If you want some good solid advice about flying a particular airplane, join the type club, especially if the airplane is in the antique/classic division. Type clubs have lists of CFIs who have proven themselves proficient in these models. Then join the forum where advice can be found that’s make and model specific. Make pursuing a tailwheel endorsement the fun, learning experience it should be while ensuring the knowledge you gain will withstand the test of time.

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