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Thread: Wheel Landings

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jan 2012

    Wheel Landings

    I just posted the following to the HomeBuiltAirplanes. com web site to the owner of a Backyard Flyer Ultralight. I thought it would be worthwhile to post it here also.

    I am a tailwheel CFI and recommend some dual wheel landings before trying it in your BYF. However, if you choose to do it yourself here are my suggestions.

    First, do all of the following on a good size airport with a long wide runway.

    Phase 1
    Make several takeoffs and aborted takeoffs that include high speed taxi with the tail in the air. Practice pitch control to keep the aircraft in a slow cruise attitude. If the tail is too high there is a lot of weight on the main gear and steering is overly sensitive. Tail to low and forward visibility is compromised and you are doing more of a three point landing.

    Phase 2
    Make several low passes down the runway at 1.3 to 1.5 Vso each one getting lower and lower until you can fly about 6 inches or less off the surface without touching. Once that is mastered reduce power slightly once established at the 6 inch or less height. Hold altitude with pitch for a second or two then hold attitude for a second or so. How long all that takes depends on the initial speed and amount of power remaining. What follows is the important part.

    Phase 3
    You decide when it is time to land. Pitch attitude should be the same or slightly more nose up than what was practiced in phase 1. When you are ready to touch down slightly relax the back pressure on the stick and the aircraft will very shortly sink onto the runway. Before or at the instant of touchdown the stick needs to be moving forward, slowly at first and with the speed of movement gradually increasing. All of the above from the time you decide to touch down to this point takes place in a half second or less. At this time you are firmly, but not too firmly, on the ground. Establish the pitch attitude practiced in phase 1 above and hold it until you are well below stall speed.
    Put the tail down at too high of speed and the wing will lift and a cross wind can blow you across the runway. Put the tail down at too low of speed and you will lose rudder effectiveness and weathervane into the wind. No cross wind and hold the tail up too long and you lose elevator control and the tail falls to the ground. You want to lower the tail wheel to the ground gradually.

    Once the tail is on the ground, quickly transition to full aft stick, same as always while taxiing into the wind, to keep weight on the tailwheel and maintain good tail wheel steering. Of course you need to maintain good directional control throughout the above practice. If you are having uncommanded and poorly corrected directional changes suspend the wheel landing training and return to conventional landing practice. I will not let a student use more than half of the runway width. He owns the center half; I own both edge quarters. If the student gets on my half he buys a runway light. If you have never priced a runway light, you do not want to know how much they cost; about half the price of the airplane.

    Make the decision to do a wheel landing on down wind, not on short final or in the flair. Fly the approach at a faster than normal speed as you would if there were a gusty crosswind. Rule of thumb is add half the steady wind plus the full gust value up to 20 knots. Example: wind 12 G 17 add 6+5 or 11 knots. In calm winds add 5 knots on final for a wheel landing. Keep some power on through touchdown until you get the hang of it. Use the standard bounce recovery procedure - add power and go around.

    If you can do the above without ever getting excited or worried, you will be OK. Just remember, you can pay the instructor of the doctor & mechanic; it's your choice.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    New Hampshire
    I should note that it is refreshing to see someone come up with a method of teaching wheel landings.

    I see WAY too many CFI's who have never flown a tailwheel airplane larger than a C-140 teach that the only "correct" way to land a tailwheel airplane is the 3-point method. Having flown some much heavier tailwheel airplanes, I always shake my head when I hear this. And I have seen pilots come to grief when they move up to a larger tailwheel airplane and insist on flying it like it was a Cub. You CAN 3-point a DC-3 on a perfect day, but you will never see anyone do it for a bunch of good reasons.

    And, my observation is that in almost all tailwheel airplanes, the higher the cross-wind, the more advantageous it is to put the mains on first and then fly the tail down. Keeps lots of control authority as long as practical, or gives you plenty of warning that you are getting into trouble.

    A technique that should be in every tail wheel pilot's bag of tricks.

    Fly safe,


  3. #3
    rv8bldr's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Pakenham, Ontario
    I have about 450 hours on my RV-8 now, and have three pointed it maybe 10 times, and only a couple of those were acceptable (to me, anyway).

    My wheel landing technique is similar to above, but this is it in my words:

    1. Once in ground effect, apply enough back pressure to keep the tail just a tiny bit low (barely lower than level) and let the speed bleed off.

    2. As the speed bleeds off, allow the airplane to settle slowly. Remember, you aren't trying to stall it on. You will get the hang of how much pressure to hold pretty quickly, and when to relax it a bit to allow the airplane to settle.

    3. If you have done it right, the wheels will spin up to speed rather chirping loudly as you drop it on. Immediately put the stick back in the middle, and then ease it forward until you have, in essence, pinned the gear to the ground. This last bit is a little tricky the first few tries, in my opinion, and will take some practice. You can scare yourself by shoving the stick too far ahead and the tail goes way up and you FEEL like you are going to go up on your nose. However, you won't. It will only take a few landings for you to get the feel of it.

    4. Keep your feet moving to stay straight, and the stick over to the side of the crosswind if there is one. Once the tail starts to feel heavy on the stick, start releasing the back pressure to let it settle. This is the gray area of control for rudder. REALLY pay attention and you will be fine.

    5. When the tailwheel is on the ground, full back stick and you're good. Just keep steering the thing and don't get complacent.

    If there isn't any crosswind at my home airport, I will often land in the first 500' of our runway and then taxi with tail in the air to the other end where the exit to the ramp is (like you see the warbirds doing at Osh). The trick there is to keep enough speed on that the tail doesn't sink, but not near enough speed to get flying again. I wouldn't recommend everyone doing this, but I do it as a skill sharpening exercise.

    Of course, YMMV, do it at your own risk, batteries not included, etc.

    Cheers all
    EAA 367635

    1979 Maule M5-235C C-GJFK
    RV-8 C-GURV (Sold)
    Bearhawk #1078 (under construction)

  4. #4
    RetroAcro's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Cary, NC
    This is one of those topics that has been written about ad infinitum, elicits strong opinions on technique and preference...and I'm always a sucker for. :-) So, I guess I'll pile on a few of my opinions. Some common statements that I disagree with - that you should approach faster when doing a wheelie, and that wheelies are better in x-winds. Wheelie vs. 3-point simply comes down to aircraft characteristics and pilot preference. I generally prefer the minimum speed/energy of the 3-pointer. Wheel landing my Pitts is utterly pointless, but I'll do wheel landings on occasion in the Clipped Cub I also I'm not completely biased. :-)

    Not advocated yet here, but I cringe when I hear people say to keep moving the stick until it's fully forward on the rollout doing a wheelie. In light tailwheel airplanes, that's setting you up for a trip into the ditch if you sustain an ill-timed gust as the tail is coming down at such a slow forward speed. As has been mentioned, fly the tail down at a speed slower than what will cause you to fly again, but fast enought to have some decent rudder authority.

    I've only flown light tailwheel airplanes, 2000 lbs. or less, but have never flown one that needed more than about 1" of forward stick travel on touchdown. I see lots of folks push way over and ride down the runway with the tail very high, all from an approach/touchdown speed about 10-15 mph too fast. To me, there is little difference in approach speed for either type of landing. For me, the difference is in how I break the power-off glide. For a 3-pointer, I break the glide higher, just above ground effect, and for a wheelie, I fly it right down to the runway before leveling off. In most airplanes, power is not needed either, except as a crutch.

    People tend to do what they find easier. Some airplanes (like the Pitts) are pointless to wheel land, and some airplanes are naturally more suited to wheelies...if they sit very flat on the ground, or for some reason do not like to adopt the 3-point attitude. But in general, I think a perfect 3-point landing is much more of a challenge than a perfect wheel landing. So I enjoy the challenge, I guess. The wheel landing does not require precise control of airspeed or attitude at touchdown - only descent rate. The 3-pointer requires both...and they must simultaneously occur perfectly at the runway height.

    Not considering all the different aircraft characteristics out there, my very generalized opinion is that wheel landings are fairly pointless. But I will resort to a wheel landing in the Clipped Cub when direct x-wind gets around 20KTS. This particular airplane is too light on its feet attempting a 3-point rollout in this much wind. It will get skidded sideways across the runway, even with the stick in the rear corner. In this airplane, it takes a wheel landing to put enough weight on the tires until the airplane slows to the point where the tail can be brought down 3-point with enought lift removed from the wings that the tires will grip. But landing on the wheels is never the problem in a tailwheel airplane, regardless of wind. Getting the tail safely down is. So in general, if you CAN get the tail down from the start, I feel you might as well. Otherwise, you just have excess energy to dissipate on landing. But of course, some folks wheel land because they are uncomfortable getting that slow, that low to the ground.

    OK, I got carried away. See I'm a sucker for this stuff. :-)
    Last edited by RetroAcro; 03-13-2013 at 08:59 PM.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    I would consider the RAF as probably the foremost authority on tailwheel landings; as they used tw planes as their trainers and also the bombers, transports and certainly fighters during the era around both world wars.
    They normally make 3 point landings, at least for the fighters and that is also how the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flys them today.

    But, I don't know about the larger planes. I myself have a little flight time in DC-3, B-17, and D-18, but I have never landed one.
    So what does the official manual, the Pilot's Notes say for the DC-3/C-47 or as the Brits call it the Dakota IV?

    "With the flaps lowered fully a three point landing is difficult and in this condition a wheel landing is therefore recommended.
    With the flaps up a three point landing is straightforward and easy."
    There is no explanation of why 3 point is difficult, but my guess would be that they might run out of elevator effectivness to raise the nose enough.In most planes lowering the flaps gives somewhat of a nose pitch down movement.There is no mention of any lack of rudder effect at any speed,, also no reason given as to why you would make a landing with flaps fully up.

    I really like these British Pilot Notes, they get right to the point and are small enough to be carried in a flight suit pocket. U S manuals often look like a city phone book.

    I don't know about landing info for other large planes, but I am sure that I have seen Rob Gillman make some good landings in the B-17 at Niagara South and it looked to be three point are at least tail low and very close to three point.

    It also says "the brakes are fierce and must be used with care" for the Dakota.
    Last edited by Bill Greenwood; 03-13-2013 at 12:48 PM.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    New Hampshire
    A LOT depends on your CG. The wider the CG range of your aircraft, and the more forward the CG during a particular landing, the less likely you are to be doing regular 3 point landings. I had a job flying a 7400lb tailwheel airplane for while and never tried a 3 point landing at a forward CG due to the consequences of a good bounce. My observation of the bomber folks is that they come in tail low, but I have never seen the tailwheel touch at the same time as the mains.

    There are a number of airplanes where when the tail is down, the fuselage blanks out the rudder significantly. In a strong crosswind, a wheel landing allows you to postponed that semi-loss of control longer. Then you start using the brakes to stay straight.

    Now Pitts are short coupled and when on all three wheels they are NOT in the full stall attitude. So a "3 point" landing is not a full stall landing. A full stall landing is tailwheel first. And aerobatic airplanes have huge amounts of rudder authority, which does not prevent my Pitts from trying to dart sideways at about 30 mph on rollout if I have a little crosswind. That speed is where I believe that there is a transition is airflow from the fuselage that changes the rudder effectiveness. You sort of have to shift gears on your rudder inputs at that speed. I will hazard a guess that 99% of the Pitts drivers don't think about it and just push harder on the rudder.

    Don't flya C-185 like a Pitts or a Cub. You might do OK for a while, but a friend found out that the airplane will get you eventually. There is no one size fits all technique. Learn all of the tricks and know what applies to the airplane that you are climbing into today.

    Fly safe,


  7. #7
    JimRice85's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    In a house with my laptop.....somewhere in Collierville, TN
    Funny USAAF taught three pointers in most planes. Knew some old C-47 pilots who laughed at the modern "You can't three point a C-47." Same with the P-51, though modern conventional wisdom says you don't do it. A very good friend worked for Beechcraft when Mr Beech was still around. He wheeled a Beech 18 on one day and found Mr Beech himself waiting for him when he taxied in. He was told if he ever wheel landed again to not even bother stopping to pick up this last paycheck.

    Granted, my own limited experience in. Beech 18 was doing wheel landings, because that is what I was told to do. Also wheeled a Cessna T-50. I personally prefer three pointers in everything else I typically fly, including my Globe Swift. Of course, conventional wisdom is Swifts are not to be three pointed. I always three point the Cub and Pitts.
    Jim Rice
    Wolf River Airport (54M)
    Collierville, TN

    N4WJ 1994 Van's RV-4 (Flying)
    N3368K 1946 Globe GC-1B Swift (Flying)--For Sale
    N7155H 1946 Piper J-3C Cub (Flying)

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    The classic wheel landing requires a flatter approach and more speed and lots of runway.
    This is useless for bush landings, of course.
    For bush landings, I like to approach slow and steep, flare to near stall for a brief nearly three pointer, then push forward to raise the tail level and get weight on mains for brakes. This works at slightly above stall also, just plant the mains to avoid the bounce.

    Not sure what this combo three point to wheel landing conversion is called.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Rob Gillman just phoned me today and we talked about him flying the B-17, and I was correct. He always made 3 point landings in the 17, just as the old Army Air Corp training film shows. He had 600 hours in DC -3s and made wheel landings in them as well as twin Beech D-18 and says the Canadians make wheel landings in the Lancaster.
    He makes 3 point in the Hurricane, but says it can run out of control if it is windy.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Berson View Post
    I like to approach slow and steep, flare to near stall for a brief nearly three pointer, then push forward to raise the tail level and get weight on mains for brakes.

    Not sure what this combo three point to wheel landing conversion is called.
    It should be called a Giger, since that's pretty much how I wheel land. Except I usually say "crap" when I realize I've flared a bit too high.

    Heck, I just land the Champ - if it is all nice for a three pointer, I three point it. If there's a bit of wind and I'm a little hot, I wheel land. If I muff it a bit and bounce low enough, it turns into a wheel landing. If the bounce is high enough, it's considered a "do over."

    The opinions and statements of this poster are largely based on facts and portray a possible version of the actual events.

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