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Nosewheel vs. Tailwheel (another opinion) by Anonymous
Home > Articles > Nose wheel vs. Tail wheel (Part II)
I'm a private pilot of average ability, but I have lucked into the chance to do more RV flying (and compare the types) than most people. I have an RV-6 that I’ve flown for several years, accumulating about 600 hours and probably 800 landings. I’ve flown 45 hours or so in RV-4s and maybe 80 in RV-8s. I have about 400-500 hours and at least 1000 landings in tri-gear RVs, including the RV-6A, RV-8A and RV-9A.
Which do I like better? Well, drum me out of the real-men-fly-taildraggers corps, but I have become an unabashed proponent of the tri-gear. And not because there is a thing wrong with the tailwheelers.
I love my 6 and fly it every chance I get. I don’t have an extensive breadth of tailwheel time – the usual Champ/Citabria stuff and a few goes at Pipers – but certainly the RV is not a whole lot more demanding, once you understand the differences. It is quicker, and less forgiving of errors in airspeed and attitude, but directional control is not the usual problem on landing. (It can be on take-off if you are not ready with your right foot.) However, it is NOT as easy as landing the tri-gear.
I find that I can almost always land the tri-gear shorter. That surprises a lot of people, who have mental images of super STOL tailwheel bush airplanes, but in the case of the RV there’s a reason: tailwheel RVs are very difficult to land in a true full-stall condition. Usually, to get the airplane that slow, the nose has to be quite a bit higher than it wants to be for landing. You end up getting the tailwheel on while the mains are still in the air, and the airplane pivots around the tailwheel, banging the mains into the surface. With the spring steel gear the RVs use, any energy put into the gear leg is going to come back out right now, and the airplane will start hopping. If it’s a hard bounce, it can hop quite energetically, and it is very easy to end up in a PIO, half a step out of phase with the airplane and making everything worse in a hurry.
The usual technique is to fly the airplane on to the ground in a 3-point attitude and as the speed bleeds off and the weight transfers to the gear, gradually pull the stick back in your gut. This is why the tailwheel is more demanding: if you put the mains on first and drop the tailwheel even a little bit, the angle of attack increases, and that RV wing will fly so slow that you will find yourself several inches above the surface waiting for the darn thing to come back down. Pull that stick back too much, too soon and you can balloon impressively, and you’d better be ready with the throttle. Even if you have all three wheels on the ground, and pull the stick too soon, you can flex the tailspring enough to get the same result…the AOA increase and the airplane comes back off the ground. Go to a fly-in and watch RVs land…most of them skip once or twice. Nowhere during the this skipping does the airplane want to swap ends (good) but neither can you get any good out of the brakes (not so good). I also find wheel landings on this gear something of a challenge, although several of my friends have become quite good at them. It helps to deliberately land on one wheel at a time, to minimize the amount of spring back from the gear legs. Since wheel landings use noticeably more runway and are harder to do, I rarely do them. Call me chicken if you like.
Conversely, when landing the tri-gear, you can touch down in almost the same attitude as the tailwheel airplane, but now when the mains touch, the nose wants to come down. The AOA decreases, which means that the airplane will stay on the ground. It is easy to keep the nose wheel from touching…even at landing speeds, RVs have plenty of elevator authority. But now that you know you’re down to stay, you can apply the brakes earlier in the landing roll, hence shorter landings.
In rough or short field operations, I prefer the trigear. For one thing I can see over the nose when I’m taxiing (not easy in the tailwheels, especially the wide RV-6) which means I can miss the chuckholes, taxiway edges etc. I’m not worried particularly about prop clearance…if I stay out of the holes, the only way I can get the prop is to tear the nosewheel off. The larger nosewheel also seems to bridge some of the gopher holes the little tailwheel falls into.
As far as performance, I can’t tell the difference in speeds. I’m sure Van’s quoted figures are accurate, but the variation he notes between nosewheel and tailwheel is also well within the variation between individual airplanes of the same gear type.
I also find flying cross-country in the tri-gear to be more relaxing…I know that I can land the airplane under whatever conditions I find when I reach my destination…I’ve made at least one landing on a paved runway in an RV-6A that I would not have attempted in my RV-6….on that day, the crosswinds were so strong that had I been in the tailwheel airplane, I would have found a wide spot on the airport and landed into the wind and not even attempted the runway.
It almost seems like something for nothing…an airplane that is easier to land, consistently lands shorter, is easier to taxi, and goes just as fast. There must be a downside – but the only one I can think of is that the tri-gear RV-6A is slightly heavier (about 17 pounds according to Van’s guys) than an identical-except-for-the-wheels RV-6 and a little more expensive. The RV-8A, surprisingly, is actually slightly lighter that a comparable RV-8 –no gear towers in the fuselage, and lighter rod gear legs…those leaf spring gear legs in the RV-8 are really massive. (I suppose you could use the aftermarket aluminum leaves in the RV-8 and save more than difference, but I don’t know the service history on them…Van sells the 8 with steel gear, and do you suppose that he overlooked the weight savings when he designed the thing? I doubt it.)
I’ve heard all the arguments about which gear arrangement looks better, and that’s certainly a valid personal opinion. But I’ve found that I can’t see the wheels when I’m sitting in the airplane, which is the viewpoint I put value on most.
My conclusion is that if I build another RV (I would love to build an RV-9A, but I already have a good airplane and can’t afford two right now) I will use the nosewheel.
All the above is personal opinion. It should be considered grist for the decision mill and nothing more. If your heart really cries out for a taildragger, go right ahead. Building an airplane is a lot of work, and I can see no point in spending it all on your second choice.