28 years after my first flying lesson, I recently, and FINALLY got around to adding a Tailwheel Endorsement to my Pilot’s License.
I already have about 15 hrs in tailwheel planes (mostly Extra 300L) but did not pursue the endorsement because I was focused on Aerobatic training at the time. After my recent experience at All Red Star XIII which will be the subject of an upcoming blog post, I made a connection that led to another connection that was the right combination of plane, instructor and timing and decided to make it official.
Over the past week I flew with Dave Derby at Gillespie Field (KSEE) in his two Citabria’s. One is a 7GCBC, carburetor, with toe brakes and flaps, and the other is a 7KCAB, injected with heel brakes (full inverted systems).
Because of my amputation, I had thought for years that I would not be able to fly taildraggers due to the lack of ankle on my right leg, but when I was taking acro training in ’12 and ’13 in Mojave in the Extra 300L I found that at least that taildragger was zero drama.
The fact that Dave has the two Citabria’s is nice since it will give me time with both brake configurations.
Flight 1 – 5/25/2014
Flew 1.2, first official TW Endorsement flight.
Mount for the day N57517, a beautiful Blue and White Citabria 7GCBC (carbureted, toe brakes and flaps).
Instructor gave a very informative 20-minute overview of tailwheel physics, we discussed basic CRM/positive exchange of control and the like, did the preflight and headed out from KSEE.
Dave demonstrated on the first takeoff, and the view I must say is tremendous, great visibility and the view over the nose is, for a taildragger, fantastic (much better than even the front seat of the Extra 300L I was flying last year.
We did some basic airwork to shake the rust off, steep turns (very fun, you can really wind the Citabria up), slow flight, and stall series. The Citabria is a nice flyer, I really enjoyed the low speed work, requires much less pronounced unloading from stall more of a relaxation of pressure than a deliberate punch forward on the stick to break the stall, plane really wants to fly.
Made our way over to Brown Field (KSDM) for some pattern work, bounced the first wheel landing attempt (I got a little slow and we dropped in), then did 5 progressively smoother wheelies including some brake work with the tail still up. Took some getting used to to move to the brakes while still rolling at a good clip but I can see how the plane can get down and stopped quick even from a wheel landing with this technique.
Headed back over to Gillespie and did a full flap 3-pointer (demonstrated by Dave with me shadowing the controls), amazing short field performance if you want/need it.
Had a great time and very pleased with my performance, nothing even remotely dangerous (~15 hrs in the Extra probably helped a bit).
Flight 2 – 5/27/2014
Flew 1.0, 2nd TW Endorsement flight.
Well, in a totally unexpected fit of no-humility-required awesome stick and rudderness, I surprised myself and got the Tailwheel Endorsement today, after a total of 2.2 hrs of instruction. Did a couple easy wheelies, added in flaps and did a couple more wheelies, then switched to 3-pointers with an occasional 90 degree crosswind and it was cake – no drama. Dave signed me off with his compliments.
The 3-pointers were super fun to do, once I got the sight picture and energy management down they were groovy.
Flight 3 – 5/29/2014
Flew 0.5, checkout in Heel Brake equipped 7KCAB
The heel brakes take some getting used to but this is a very, very nice flyer. It accelerates better, climbs better, and is a little lighter on the controls.
Interesting bit is that I found I was struggling with my left leg (‘good’ leg) for brake modulation, and that my right leg (‘bad’ leg) was no sweat. I chalk this up to the fact that I have to use my entire right leg for gas in the car as well as for rudder and brakes when flying so I am more accustomed to finessing it. No skids or flat spots but I did get a couple good squeals.
For any other below knee amputees out there, don’t be afraid to try the tailwheels – I am actually PO’d that I let my fear keep me from trying this all this time – these little Citabrias are fun!
Best part is owner says I can use it for training and competition!
I will take one of the Citabria’s to the Warbirds West Air Musem Wounded Warrior event in June so I can fly some of the guys and show them that amputations are not always limiting.
Benefit of flying with Dave Derby is that he also owns a beautiful 1945 Stearman, and takes folks out for an hour in it after he signs them off for the TW Endorsement – another great plane about to be checked off the Aviator’s Bucket List.