Tailwheel Training: Covering Your Butt during the Takeoff

The Great Lakes Biplane takes off

The Great Lakes Biplane takes off

Just when you think things are going smoothly, something reaches out an bites ya. The highest rate of accidents happen in the takeoff phase. For the tail dragger pilot, this should be the easy part.

Do not underestimate the familiar downwind taxi, even getting to the runway may have some hidden challenges. With the wind behind you, the stick needs to be forward of neutral to keep that tailwheel pressed down by the wind over the elevator. If we suddenly stop with the brakes,  remember to keep that stick neutral or forward. Yes, it is counter intuitive. If you don't, u may feel the tail start to lift. 

The downwind taxi turn to the runway may be a tricky condition when the winds are strong. Why? Momentum and lack of rudder authority work against you. As you turn broadside into the wind, the wind will increase your rate of turn and the rudder will lose effectiveness. Unless you are ready for it, that momentum may be a surprise and cause you to spin around through the turn. Control the turn rate with a little outside brake application and keep your stick back. If the airplane swiftly weathervanes into the wind, just keep that stick back and fight the urge to stomp on the brakes. The weathervane effect will slow you and keep you into the wind.

On takeoff, be careful of that dreaded quartering tailwind. Avoid it. If you suspect it while on the runway, then be super smooth with the power and slowly accelerate. If you begin a takeoff roll, and the control inputs are working opposite of normal, then take extreme care. Let tower know, and the pilots behind you at the hold short can be advised.

Review: Forces effecting your aircraft on takeoff. 
Wind: Perfect your aileron crosswind corrections. Use the rudder for small corrections and to keep your longitudinal axis STRAIGHT down the runway.  
P- Factor: Smoothly add power with a little right rudder. That downward blade of the prop is causing a left turning tendency. 
Slip Stream Effect: With smooth power application, only feed in enough right rudder to keep you straight. The prop wash slipping around your plane and hitting that rudder causes a left turning tendency.
Gyroscopic Effect: Anticipate a smidge of right rudder when you raise the tail.  This upward action forces another left turning tendency from the spinning prop.

On takeoffs, I try to exaggerate my crosswind corrections and prevent large rudder pedal movements. A more sophisticated tail wheel pilot will master these aileron and rudder inputs and the corrections may even look minimal.  You can be that elegant tailwheel pilot!.   Use a healthy dose of aileron crosswind at first, while reducing the input as you accelerate.  Yes, you need that rudder to keep straight done the runway, but use them wisely and be careful not to over correct.  Less is more with your rudders. 

Do you occasionally touch back down after takeoff? Not good! Practice your pitch control so you smoothly transition to that climb attitude.  

Do you notice your right wing dropping on takeoff? That is a sign you need better rudder control.

***Pro Tip*** if you feel like your crosswind skills are diminishing, go rent time in a Citabria or Decathlon with an instructor. With that high wing, you can practice rolling down the runway on one wheel to hone your skills or keep you current.

Source: https://www.sandiegoskytour.com