The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: The ugly nose over

There is a reason that tricycle landing aircraft evolved and mainstream tail draggers lost traction.  The reasons are ground handling and landing accidents. Accidents just seem to happen to the pilots, the new and the experienced pilots alike.    Fly cautiously with these airplanes and hone your skills each month.  Currency of landings and recency of experience are vital for every tail dragger pilot.

Though tail dragger accidents usually don't hurt the pilots or passengers, they do significant damage to the pilots confidence and their pocket book.  The purpose of discussing the Nose Over is to increase pilot knowledge, spark discussion, and keep the potential of this tendency always in our thoughts while operating these aircraft.

The Nose Over is when the aircraft suddenly stops and due to momentum or a forward CG (or combination) causes the aircraft to lurch forward and the propeller to strike the ground.  When this happens, the fly day ends and the humbleness begins.  These nose overs are usually caused by improper use of the brakes, stuck brakes, or a botched landing.  The cost is usually a $13,000 new prop and hub overhaul and a $14,000 engine tear down and inspection.   3 months is the usual downtime and the insurer may drop you.

What can cause this you may ask?  Locked up brakes caused by mechanical malfunction or not being cognizant of your brake usage.  Mechanically, we could be looking at brake fluid that is all gunked up, the pucks could be super dirty and locking up and not releasing.  Keep the brakes serviced and don't accept brakes from your mechanic that are set too sensitive.  

The common causation is a pilot using sharp applications, rough or excessive brakes.  Try NOT to use the brakes on landing until you need them, be gentle with their application, and slow down adequately before turning off the active runway.  If you are having problems controlling the aircraft DO NOT stomp on the brakes! Go AROUND!   

Tail wheel aircraft were originally designed for grass landing strips and using less effective brakes.  Heal brakes were optimized for training and designed to protect the pilot from inadvertently hitting the brakes during rudder application.     Theses old style aircraft, such as the J3 Cub, had drum brakes which were not very effective and were perfect for high drag, wide girth, grass landing strips.  New more powerful brakes, such as the Cleveland brake system, combined with narrow paved runways make an unnatural environment for these tail wheel airplanes with greater nose over risks.   The 1970's - 80's Great Lakes biplanes were designed with a forward CG (Center of Gravity) with accident history showing high rates of nose overs.  The newer Great Lakes produced by Waco have a much further aft CG and toe brakes with 0 nose over accidents. 

Other tools that you have at your disposal to help prevent these 'Nose Overs' are elevator corrections 'stick back' and the use of a burst of power.  Build the habit in your pilot tool box to verify that stick is back before you press on those brakes.  Sometimes while taxing downwind, the proper position may be forward of neutral.  Fly the airplane until you are in the chocks.   A burst of power, in combination of elevator position, may save the day.  There WILL BE times where the tail has come up due to improper brake application or when spinning the aircraft in a stop.  Use a burst of power and stick back to keep or bring that tail back on the ground.

****PRO TIP! *****  Don't accept careless use of brakes!  Keep on yourself to get rid of bad brake habits.   On final approach prior to a full stop landing, align your foot position to use the brakes, test a light brake application to practice the movement and ensure your feet are properly positioned.   Make a smooth touchdown and roll-out and when slow enough, do a light test application of the brakes to assure asymmetry, then apply both brakes evenly and judiciously.