top of page

Tail-wheel training notes

The following notes are written by Grant Bisset of Wanaka, New Zealand. These notes are not a substitute for quality instruction from an experienced tail-wheel instructor.

The Bearhawk 4B is a docile tailwheel aircraft that exhibits good control-ability on the ground and in the air. It has large control surfaces making them effective at low airspeeds.

For the Pilot new to Tail-wheel flying

In a tail-wheel aircraft, the CG (Center of Gravity) is behind main gear, so it is unstable in motion on the ground. i.e. the tail will naturally want to overtake the nose. It's a bad outcome, noisy, expensive, and humbling.

Flying on grass runways is much more forgiving than tarseal.

Broom exercise

Balance a broom in your hand vertically. Gravity makes the head of the broom want to hit the floor in the same way the momentum of the C of G of your tail-wheel wants to overtake the pivot or main undercarriage. The speed and agility of your hand to correct and maintain the broom vertically is what your feet need to do to maintain a straight rollout. Beware the delayed reaction and then over correction. Feet must be alive to counter any yaw immediately.

Take off

Always open the throttle smoothly through to take off or full power. Expect the aircraft to yaw to the left (with a propeller rotating clockwise rotating when viewed from behind engines like Lycoming/Continental). Factors affecting yaw are P-Factor, Torque, Gyroscopic precession, and possibly wind. Keep the feet alive to maintain track on the take-off roll.

Cross-wind Takeoff

Same as for a nose-wheel aircraft, however the technique must be correct as the tail-wheel aircraft is far less forgiving to any mis-handling. Raise the tail and a positive rotate to get airborne once flying speed is reached, let the nose yaw into wind and climb out on the runway track with the aircraft in balance (ball centered).


With the C of G behind the main gear, a high rate of descent at touch down sees the inertia of the CG carry on down behind the main wheels, increasing AOA and causing you to fly again (Read bounce). This can be really spectacular (and quite expensive). If in doubt go around. Once proficient, you may elect to turn a botched wheel landing into a 3 pointer landing.

Three point

A Three Point landing gives the slowest touch down speed with the wing stalled. Once on the ground the control stick is normally held on the backstop. This minimizes bounce risk, and is best for short landing or soft field/sand ops.

One difference due to the weight of the Bearhawk tail, is that the control stick is normally placed to a neutral position after landing to reduce the loading on the tail-wheel, and likelihood of tail-wheel shimmy.

Remember the broom exercise - keep your feet alive until aircraft is stopped.

Wheel landing

Only proceed to a wheel landing after mastering the 3 pointer.

A (main) wheel landing gives the advantage of good control (especially in X wind), increased visibility, and reduces the chance of any tail-wheel issues on rough ground.

When practicing, initially keep a trickle of power on to help slow the process down, and give the new pilot more time to react. The aircraft must not have a high ROD at touchdown or it will bounce.

Once on the ground after a smooth flare and touchdown, ease the control stick forward to hold the tailwheel off the ground (decreases AOA and stops the wing flying). Eventually as the airspeed decreases, the tail will settle. As the speed slows further, move the control stick to the backstop.

There is a higher risk of bounce with a wheel landing due to the higher airspeed. Make sure that at the point of touchdown the aircraft is tracking and pointing along the runway centerline. i.e. In a crosswind, the into wind wing is low and crossed controls are "crossed", keeping the aircraft pointing straight down the runway.

Best Landing Technique

A pilot should be proficient in both 3 point and wheel landings. Usually a tail-low wheeler is a very good compromise for most conditions. However, pilot's should keep current on all landing types.

Cross-wind Landing

Same as for a nose-wheel aircraft, however the technique must be correct as the tail-wheel aircraft is far less forgiving to any mis-handling.

When entering the flare, the aircraft longitudinal axis must be aligned with the runway center-line. As the aircraft slows, full into wind aileron control input should be applied. It is the drag supplied by the down-wind aileron that assists in countering the weather-cock effect of the cross-wind on the vertical stabilizer.

Ground handling

Avoid tight turns (use rolling turns - no standing on a brake and screwing around on the spot). Remember Gyroscopic precession will be hard on engine mounts, bearings etc. Turning to the left where possible will have thrust and precession all working in the direction of the turn. While taxiing, a slow "weave" will help to maintain good forward visibility.

Tail-wheel aircraft are alot more susceptible to the effect of wind on their control surfaces. When taxiing in wind keep the stick pointed into the wind. A useful memory item to remember how to position the control stick while taxying is "climb into the wind, dive out of the wind".


The Bearhawk is a little less stable in yaw than similar category aircraft and this will take some time for the new pilot to adapt. Extra care is also required to fly in balance. Typically, pilots adapt to this quickly and it is a design tradeoff between control-ability for slipping at low speed and stability in the cruise.

The consequence of unbalanced flight is an imbalance in the fuel tanks if operating in the recommended BOTH position. This can lead to un-porting of a tank, and possible engine failure. Keep the ball in the middle and an eye on the gauges.

Grant comes from an extensive aviation background of more than 30 years, with much of it on tail-wheel aircraft. His experience includes instructing, display flying, warbirds, helicopters, mountain flying, and several years flying aerobatic joy-rides in a Pitts Special. When not flying his Bearhawk, he can often be found with camera in hand, indulging his other passion of photography.


bottom of page