AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - 86

P&E

TECHNIQUE

Think like a ratchet
A tool for tailwheel landings
BY DENNIS K. JOHNSON

AS A GLIDER PILOT I'd been taught that when flaring to land, if I
overdid it a bit, to move the stick forward just enough to allow
the airplane to resume level flight. Then, wait until it starts to
descend once again before adding back pressure to "keep it off
the ground." This technique worked great in the gliders, as well
as the forgiving nosewheel Cessna 152s and Piper Cherokees in
which I earned my power certificate.
The method failed me when I transitioned to tailwheel flying
in a beautifully restored 1946 Piper J-3 Cub. Fortunately, I was
training with Damian DelGaizo at Andover Flight Academy in
New Jersey, about an hour's drive west of New York City.
Pilots come to Andover from all over the country to train with
DelGaizo, who has specialized in teaching the vagaries of taildraggers for 27 years and earned an unparalleled reputation as
a meticulous instructor.
DelGaizo's standard technique for landing a taildragger
sounds fairly simple, but it turned out to be a challenge for me.
"After flying a nice stabilized approach, level out at the height
of a man and hold it there until the airplane begins to descend,"
he explained. "Then, start to apply back pressure on the stick to
hold it off. Keep holding it off, applying more back pressure as
needed until the control stick is full back and your tires kiss the

86 | AOPA PILOT January 2015

grass." Sounds simple, right? But "holding it off " is where my
troubles began. I'd often think that I'd raised the nose too high
and, not wanting to drop it on, instinctively move the stick forward to what I thought was a neutral position.
It turns out I really was just pitching the nose up and down
as the Cub continued on its descending glidepath. I didn't quite
develop pilot-induced oscillations-something I've seen glider
pilots experience-but I wasn't letting the airplane settle gracefully to the ground, using a smooth and appropriate amount of
back stick, either.
So, DelGaizo pulled the "ratchet method" out of his instructing toolbox to get me out of the habit. Before the next lesson he
told me, "Think of the control stick as if it's a ratchet wrench that
can only move one way. After you level out at the height of a man
and the plane begins to descend, you can only pull the stick back
or hold it still. No moving forward to a neutral position. When
you pull back, hold it there until the airplane starts to descend
again, then pull back more and hold it there again. Do this all the
way to the ground. You should end up with the stick full back to
the stops and with a perfect three-point landing. Try to land on
the tailwheel, but don't worry, that's almost impossible to do."
It worked. That landing was much better, and my technique



AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - January 2015 - Contents
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