Taildragger time!

Well, its 4 months into 2017 and I can announce I have finally ticked something off my list.  In mid march I had the privilege of briefly flying a Cessna 180.  While I didn't land it it was really the first time I got to fly a taildragger.  But as I wasn't really flying it I thought it was not blog worthy, although it could be a candidate for flight in something cool.  The last Cessna 180 was constructed in 1981, so they are getting on in age now, the one I flew was built in the 1960's.  But I digress.  Today I got to have a flight in a Cessna 170A, ZK-OCC.

My instructor Stefan had gone through PPL training the same time as me back when I started this blog, so we've been acquainted for years.  He went on to get a CPL and C-Cat instructors rating, and this was our first trip together in a plane he knows very well.

First up, the cabin is quite spacious in some respects and cramped in others (similar to a 172 actually).  I appreciated the long seat rails which make getting in quite easy, but there was not a great deal of headroom and the shoulder belt was so restrictive I couldn't reach all the controls (like the flap lever and trim wheel) until I'd loosened it a lot.

I had expected taxiing to be quite difficult but I had several things on my side.  1)  There was only a very light variable breeze blowing, and 2) being tall I could easily see over the engine cowling despite it being a taildragger.  There are plenty of places on the internet which explain why taxiing a taildragger requires a lot of care and attention,  but from my perspective as long as you paid enough of both it was actually quite easy to taxi accurately.

Takeoff was unlike anything I have experienced.  I don't know if all taildraggers are like this, or C170's or just this one, but it was very much a fly by looking out the window using the feel of the controls.  Smoothly open the throttle while keeping the control column fully aft and actively keeping the aircraft tracking straight using rudder (lots of rudder).  It wasn't so much airspeed as feel that would ask you to push the stick forward raise the tail to the flying attitude, but what I found quite interesting was you had to push it quite a ways forward of what felt like neutral to attain the correct attitude.  Once you achieved that the speed would build very quickly (and you didn't need as much rudder as the aerodynamics become effective), then it was ease the stick back to the climb attitude and OCC would simply jump off the ground.  Stefan demonstrated in a later circuit how you can takeoff straight from the 3 point attitude which was different to say the least.

I had assumed that once airborne OCC would turn into a 172, but that was not true.  The 170A has a lot of adverse yaw and tends to slip readily if turns are not coordinated properly with rudder. Stefan demonstrated just how bad it was on downwind and the effect would not be able to be replicated in a 172 without considerable cross controlling. Another difference is that the 170A lacks the Fowler flaps of the 172 which means the plain flaps it has are nowhere near as effective.  It's wing also lacks the dihedral common to most light single engined aircraft these days (like the 172).

On the approach with full flap OCC liked to settle at about 50mph with a fairly nose down attitude.  While touching down in the correct landing attitude was not a problem for me, keeping OCC pointing in the right direction afterwards was.  Stefan had to assist on the controls for each landing, but hey, it was my first time doing it!

So the conclusion.  The 170A was an absolute delight to fly.  Taildraggers reward accurate attentive flying with feats of aviation beyond what similar nosewheel aircraft are capable of, but at a cost.  If you get it wrong they'll bite, hard.  I think I could probably have gotten to the point where I could've handled a takeoff more or less unaided had we gone on for another 30 minutes.  However, getting to the point where I would be able to land her unaided?  Well, that would be an undefined number of hours away.

Would I like to continue flying taildraggers?  You bet!  It's a skill not all that common among aviators these days.  But reasonably priced taildraggers that I can fit into (sorry Cub/Super Cub/Chipmunk I'm too big) with instructors who are available who live within a 30 minute drive from my house are not all that common around here.  Nevertheless I encourage all pilots to give it a go, you'll broaden your depth of experiences a little if nothing else.