Tailwheel Takeoff techniques

Discussion in 'Flight Following' started by dmccormack, Nov 22, 2011.

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Tailwheel Takeoff Techique

  1. The tail comes up as soon as possible

    18 vote(s)
    38.3%
  2. The tail stays down until I'm flying

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  3. The tail comes up a little, but I don't force it up

    23 vote(s)
    48.9%
  4. You can control this?? Who knew??!!

    7 vote(s)
    14.9%
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. dmccormack

    dmccormack Touchdown! Greaser!

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    So I did a little experiment last weekend...

    I took off tail low (basically only allowed the tail to rise a little once airspeed increased). The airplane was light on its feet early, but had to accelerate in ground effect for awhile before positive lift off (50 MPH or so, 60 is best rate). Controls were mushy and it felt like I was wallowing a bit before the climb.

    Then I tried a more usual technique (for me, at least). As soon as possible I lifted to tail by pushing foward on the yoke. The airplane was level and lifted itself off once airspeed increased (which provides the elevator sensation).

    The tail low technique should be the more effective takeoff since the weight is transferred to the wings sooner and the airplane is at a flying AoA tail low anyway. However, the high AoA produces lots of induced drag, which will delay acceleration...

    The tail up technique reduces the AoA and keeps the wheels in contact, increasing rolling resistance. However, the low AoA means less induced, allowing faster acceleration...

    I wish I had a micrometer with me to measure the difference in takeoff run but quite frankly it was a dead heat to my calibrated takeoff run distance eyeball meter.

    So, what say you?
     
  2. tonycondon

    tonycondon Gastons CRO (Chief Dinner Reservation Officer)

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    on the rare chance i fly a taildragger i have come to like the tail low method. but i usually fly stuff with a little higher thurst/weight ratio than the Chief. Using the tail low method, for me, significantly shortened the takeoff run in the 7ECA citabria i was flying
     
  3. brcase

    brcase Cleared for Takeoff

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    Every tailwheel I have flown, the largest being the Bellanca Cruisemaster, bringing the tail up early seems to work very well.
    However when I start getting over 200hp in tailwheel aircraft I would definitely consider the possibility or even likely hood that some airplanes have better directional control with the tail down.

    Brian
    CFIIG/ASEL


    Edit: for short field T/O I usually compromise and bring the tail off the ground but leave it a bit tail low.
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2011
  4. Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe

    Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    Depends.

    On a soft surface, keeping the tail low (but with enough forward stick to take the weight off the tailwheel) is best.

    On a hard surface, I suspect the traditional tail up approch is best. Minimize induced drag, rolling resistance is not that much, there will be some loss from holding the tail up with the elevator. In the 120, I would bring it up when it didn't take much pressure to lift the tail.

    But... my LSA has so much weight on the tail, by the time I can pick it up, it's ready to fly, so I just let it fly off tail low all the time.

    I can save a few feet by doing a rolling start from the taxiway.:stirpot: :D
     
  5. roncachamp

    roncachamp Final Approach

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    Varies with runway length and surface.
     
  6. brcase

    brcase Cleared for Takeoff

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    As another data point I once tried taking off in about 4 inches of snow in an Aeronca Champ. With the tail all the way down (full back stick like I was taught for a soft field take-off) it wouldn't accelerate past 25mph. Once I lifted the tail, to a slightly tail low position it lifted off very nicely.

    Brian
     
  7. tonycondon

    tonycondon Gastons CRO (Chief Dinner Reservation Officer)

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    to clarify, when i say tail low takeoff i mean lifting the tailwheel just a few inches off the ground and letting the plane fly off when its ready instead of pitching forward to a level pitch attitude and then pitching up to a climb attitude while accelerating
     
  8. RyanShort1

    RyanShort1 En-Route

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    Most Cub takeoffs I use neutral elevator on the beginnning of the roll. As soon as the tail's up I pull ever so slightly and she'll be airborne before you know it. From experience that gives me the shortest ground run and I prefer that.

    Ryan
     
  9. whifferdill

    whifferdill Line Up and Wait

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    If you actually meaured it, I think you'll find the difference in takeoff distance beteween tail high and tail low to be a wash. And if your takeoff distance is really that critical, then you've got much bigger problems than which technique to use.

    I like tail low...seem to me a more artful technique. Tail low, the plane will fly when it's ready, regardless of load or density altitude. Tail low keeps your eyeballs outside (off the ASI) where they belong, and gives you a good feel through the stick of the lift building in the wings. I try to make takeoff runs in the Pitts with the tailwheel no more than about 6" off the ground. Just use good judgment and modify your technique in severe gusty conditions.

    Regarding tail-high takeoffs, you'll often see some people jack the tail up quickly as soon as possible on the takeoff roll. J-3's are especially good at this. This might be fun, but serves no purpose, and might send you in the ditch one day if you do it without thinking on a day with a strong left crosswind. Some people claim they like or need the forward visibility (they don't need it). But then I fly a Pitts, so I don't really have a choice. :)
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2011
  10. Tom-D

    Tom-D Taxi to Parking PoA Supporter

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    I trim it and simply allow it to fly off. know your aircraft, is the clue.
     
  11. MBDiagMan

    MBDiagMan En-Route

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    I will put the disclaimer first; I'm a rookie!

    Once I have enough speed to feel like it will come up with a little pressure, I bring it up. In recent weeks I have gotten some suggestions on this forum to try bringing the tail only slightly off the surface and hold it at that attitude, then gain enough speed for it to fly off the ground. I have done this only a few times and liked the results. It's sort of like a soft field take off and it flies off the ground like a 150 when I do this.

    Doc
     
  12. RyanShort1

    RyanShort1 En-Route

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    Well, I can get a Cessna 170 or a J-3 off the ground faster with the tail low method, and with better margins on a short field. And there's a reason why we practice short-field takeoffs ;).

    Ryan
     
  13. whifferdill

    whifferdill Line Up and Wait

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    This is obviously very dependent on well-practiced technique one way or the other. What I said was mostly directed toward folks who think tail-high gets you off significantly quicker due to "better acceleration". But there are probably too many variables associated with different aircraft and surface types to bias this discussion toward one technique or another. It's mostly style and preference anyway, kinda like the wheelie vs. 3-pt. debate.

    But regarding tail low being shorter, if you watch the STOL contests where inches matter, they pretty much all use a tail high method, accelerating to a critical speed, then pull the stick back quickly while popping the flaps down. But for most of us, this slight bit of difference doesn't matter.

    I don't have many datapoints on one method vs. the other. I remember watching Damian Delgaizo's tailwheel video where he tests takeoff distance on grass in the Super Cub using tail low vs. tail high. He tested both methods with both solo and passenger loads, and I can't remember the breakdown, but the results were split between load and technique - one method got off quicker with one load, another technique got off quicker with a different load.
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2011
  14. Fearless Tower

    Fearless Tower Touchdown! Greaser!

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    This is pretty much what I found seems to work best in the 170. It feels alot more natural and not forced. Haven't really tried to measure it though.

    In the DC-3 it is a bit different. It takes a definite push it forward to get it up on the mains and accelerate to V2 (84 kts) before you start to fly it off.
     
  15. dmccormack

    dmccormack Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I've had the same results in wet or tall grass....
     
  16. dmccormack

    dmccormack Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I don't pitch up -- the tail is up, but there's still sufficient AoA that the airplane climbs itself once it reaches a certain speed.

    Hope that clarifies...?
     
  17. Tom-D

    Tom-D Taxi to Parking PoA Supporter

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    To create enough lift in the elevator / horizontal to lift the tail, that creates drag. more so than allowing the elevators to simply trail.

    On your 170, Finding the sweet spot in the trim to have the wing fly at the same time as the tail, will get you off the ground quicker than any other method. on the 3 170s I have owned that speed was about 70MPH IOWs it goes right to best climb speed on climb out.

    I simply hold the heading with rudder, and wings level with ailerons to stop drift. and let it fly away.
     
  18. Greg Bockelman

    Greg Bockelman Administrator Management Council Member

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    Does that change with weight?
     
  19. Tom-D

    Tom-D Taxi to Parking PoA Supporter

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    not much..
     
  20. wabower

    wabower Touchdown! Greaser!

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    With trim in the middle of the take-off arc and holding neutral elevator, the 180 tail comes up quickly and the wing is ready to fly whenever the tail is flying. With two notches of flaps selected, the airplane will initiate a climb very quickly. With zero flaps some acceleration in ground effect is better.
     
  21. RyanShort1

    RyanShort1 En-Route

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    Ha! I personally think that most "wheel" takeoff folks I see are adding drag and friction by pushing the nose over too hard. Kind of like the STOL guys sometimes land 3-point and then push forward for heavy braking on the mains.
    Yeah, if you're overpowered it helps a lot...

    Obviously there are different airplanes that prefer different techniques. I've never flown a DC-3, so my preferred technique might be absolutely wrong in that aircraft.

    Ryan
     
  22. dmccormack

    dmccormack Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I can see how wheel friction might increase slightly, but what other drag would be imposed? If you push too far forward the air flow over the top of the tail will push it back down.

    :dunno:
     
  23. wabower

    wabower Touchdown! Greaser!

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    FTFY ;)
     
  24. RyanShort1

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    It takes "down elevator" (hence drag) to keep the tail high, does it not?

    Ryan
     
  25. j1b3h0

    j1b3h0 Line Up and Wait

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    I encourage experimentation...try it lots of ways and find what works best for the situation/type aircraft.

    In airplanes with weak flight control surfaces - Cessna 195, Twin Beech, etc, one might not want to be in such a hurry to get the tail in the air. I tend to wait until I've gained sufficient speed (and hence, controllability) before I lift the tail. In heavily laden airplanes, in which there may be some ambiguity with the CG, if the tail isn't up by a certain speed it may be cause to reject the takeoff. In a 10,000lb Beech 18, if the tail isn't airborne by 60mph, it's not safe to fly (too far aft CG). Another tradeoff is when the pilot's visability is limited until the tail is lifted.

    The only time it really isn't a good technique to leave the tail low, is when taking off in a significant gusty crosswind. It would be better to (once you've gained sufficient speed) lift the tail high enough to plant the full weight of the aircraft on the main tires, so as to prevent being blown, skipping, skidding across the runway as the airplane gets light on its feet.
     
  26. Tom-D

    Tom-D Taxi to Parking PoA Supporter

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    Counter the drift with ailerons and wing down and allow it to fly away.

    In really high cross winds keep the tailwheel on the ground and keep tail wheel steering.
     
  27. j1b3h0

    j1b3h0 Line Up and Wait

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    Well, yeah, forgot to mention ailerons. And I agree, you can do it that way, but IMHO it takes more skill. Still got to get me a ride in a F-24.
     
  28. dmccormack

    dmccormack Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Sure, but how much drag does that impose? I'm guessing very little, but it's merely a guess.
     
  29. Tom-D

    Tom-D Taxi to Parking PoA Supporter

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    Don't you use aerodynamic breaking during a wheels landing, push the yoke forward keeping the tail up as long as you can while staying off the brakes.???
     
  30. Tom-D

    Tom-D Taxi to Parking PoA Supporter

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    buy mine, you can ride in it as much as you like.
     
  31. gismo

    gismo Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Not necessarily, at least to some extent. Bringing the tail up shifts the CG forward and that combined with engine thrust reduces the necessary tail up force significantly.

    For me the primary factors are soft ground, forward visibility, and desired liftoff speed.

    With the tail as low as possible (without touching/dragging) the lift of the wings will reduce the load on the main wheels as much as possible which can mean the difference between taking off vs driving off the end of the runway. Also, tail low will generally minimize the impact(s) on the gear and airframe if the runway is rough. If the runway surface is relatively hard (i.e. won't let the wheels or skis sink in) and smooth this doesn't much matter.

    In most taildraggers the forward visibility improves dramatically with the tail up and there are plenty of situations where being able to see ahead is important. Baring reasons to do otherwise, tail up is my preferred method for this reason alone.

    With the tail up you can keep the mains planted until you have sufficient airspeed to handle wind gusts. The extra weight on the mains prior to rotation/liftoff also makes for less sideways skidding and generally results in a cleaner departure from the runway when the wind isn't steady.

    Finally, one issue with a tail low departure in some airplanes (i.e. ones where the 3 point attitude is very close to the stalling AoA which is rare) is that you can lift off in ground effect without enough airspeed to fly out of it. This is likely a bigger issue with high DA, but still something to be aware of when "letting the airplane decide when to fly". Of course all that's needed is a little push on the stick once you break ground so as to remain close to the surface until the airspeed builds a little, i.e. standard soft field departure technique.
     
  32. RoscoeT

    RoscoeT Cleared for Takeoff

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    Unless you're dodging bushes and logs on a takeoff in the backcountry, what would all these situations be? I've never felt the NEED to see the runway ahead of me on takeoff, and never felt safety was compromised by not seeing it.
     
  33. Tom-D

    Tom-D Taxi to Parking PoA Supporter

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    ever hear of runway encroachment ? how about deer running onto the runway?

    In the F-24 or the DHC series you can't see anything directly forward before the nose goes down.
     
  34. RoscoeT

    RoscoeT Cleared for Takeoff

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    Not in the few seconds it takes to get a Cub off the ground.

    What are you going to do, intentionally ground loop the airplane?
     
  35. Fearless Tower

    Fearless Tower Touchdown! Greaser!

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    A cub (even from the backseat) has a heck of alot better visibility than an F-24
     
  36. Greg Bockelman

    Greg Bockelman Administrator Management Council Member

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    Not a Ranger powered one.
     
  37. Tom-D

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  38. Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe

    Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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  39. gismo

    gismo Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I was thinking of animals but now that you mention it, a potential for bushes, gopher holes, and scrub in your path would be reason enough for me. And I think I said that tail up would be a good idea when the view ahead was important, not that I felt a NEED for seeing ahead all the time. And baring a soft field, or a short runway in an airplane that deals with that better if the tail is held down, do you see a NEED for a tail low takeoff run?
     
  40. AEROBAT

    AEROBAT Pre-takeoff checklist

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    This is one of those questions that you can't give a blanket answer to. If it is a narrow strip with obstacles, trees shrubs ect... I like to have the tail up as soon as possible for visability reasons.

    If it is a plane with a good HP to weight ratio sometimes it is easier to go tail up first just for the fact once your tail is off the ground it is your aerodynamic controls providing directional control.

    On a paved runway with stuff like a Citabria I usually relax on the pitch until I am rolling pretty good, probably 20 K, untill I raise the tail and then rotate when I hit a good speed for lift off. Forcing the tail up does give a bit of extra drag when the density altitude is high.

    It really depends on the plane and the circumstance.