Tailwheel Checkout: What’s Good For You

What’s required, and how does one teach mastery of a “conventional gear” airplane? This weekend, I’ll start checking out a friend in a tailwheel airplane. While the requirements are clear, the mastery part is a little more complicated…

Two bureaucracies dictate what a pilot needs to log in order to act as pilot-in-command of a conventional gear, i.e., a tailwheel airplane — the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the insurance industry.

(International readers — please check your local rules; use the following as a guide toward complying with your nation’s requirements.)

The Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) part FAR 61.31i:
Additional training required for operating tailwheel airplanes.

  1. Except as provided in paragraph (i)(2) of this section, no person may act as pilot in command of a tailwheel airplane unless that person has received and logged flight training from an authorized instructor in a tailwheel airplane and received an endorsement in the person’s logbook from an authorized instructor who found the person proficient in the operation of a tailwheel airplane. The flight training must include at least the following maneuvers and procedures:
    1. Normal and crosswind takeoffs and landings;
    2. Wheel landings (unless the manufacturer has recommended against such landings); and
    3. Go-around procedures.
  2. The training and endorsement required by paragraph (i)(1) of this section is not required if the person has logged pilot-in-command time in a tailwheel airplane before April 15, 1991.

Notice that the term “conventional gear” no longer appears in this part of the FARs — so we’ll stop using the term here, too. See also that there’s a “grandfather clause” for pilots who’ve logged any time in tailwheel airplanes prior to mid-April of ’91.

Once you have the tailwheel endorsement you need to maintain “passenger-carryingcurrency by logging three takeoffs and landings within the preceding 90 days, “to a full stop in an airplane with a tailwheel.” (FAR 61.57)

So… fly with an instructor for three full-stop takeoffs and landings, normal and crosswind including wheel landings and a go-around, and get the endorsement in your logbook — voila, you’re “legal” to carry passengers in a tailwheel airplane. Half an hour and you can be done. But wait…

The FAA doesn’t require aircraft insurance. Most U.S. states don’t require any insurance for operating an airplane either. So get the logbook endorsement, preflight the airplane, and go fly.

The reality, though, is that you (or whoever owns the airplane) will likely want insurance coverage in effect when you fly. Insurance people know what they’re doing — they realize that tailwheel airplanes are involved in WAY more takeoff and landing accidents than those with the third wheel under the nose (a “training wheel,” to tailwheel purists). To protect their sizable investment in your avocation, insurance underwriters will require you get more-than-the-FAA-minimum experience before they’ll cover you.

10 and 10
For a pilot with no prior tailwheel experience, a very common insurance requirement is to log “10 and 10.” Translation: Ten hours of dual instruction in tailwheel airplanes with a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) before coverage as a solo pilot, followed by 10 hours of solo time in the make and model of airplane before coverage while carrying passengers. Important: Make sure you get the insurance requirement in writing before assuming the time you’ve logged satisfies the policy.

Insider’s Tip: The CFI will also have to meet certain insurance requirements for your tailwheel instruction to “count.” Often, the insurer will require that the instructor has at least 25 hours as pilot-in-command in that same make and model of airplane before beginning the checkout. See the specific insurance policy’s requirements.

Three times around the patch” and a logbook sign-off won’t adequately prepare you for a tailwheel airplane, on the ground or in the air. It’ll take some time to get truly proficient in a tailwheel airplane. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll happily accept at least what the insurance gurus think you need to be safe. And, plan on spending your time where you’ll need it — in airwork (turns, stalls, “slow flight,” etc.) and especially in the traffic pattern.

BOTTOM LINE: For me, it took a good five hours of takeoffs and landings before I felt reasonably confident in tailwheel airplanes, and much more before I was comfortable in crosswinds. When I conducted a few tailwheel checkouts a number of years ago I found that others often feel this way as well. In the case of my friend, I’m suggesting a goal of logging at least 50 landings during the dual phase of his checkout, and at least another 50 while he’s flying off his solo requirement.

Next time: WHY tailwheel airplanes have a higher accident rate… and how you can learn to buck the trend.