"Rudder, Rudder..."

by Sam Swift

I'm borrowing this phrase from my good friend and fellow Swifter, Jerry Kirby. You will often hear him say it to himself whenever he's on short final for landing. It serves as a gentle reminder to alert you for what lies ahead. As we all know, proper rudder usage is vital to our aircraft's continued good health. While proper technique is important during the landing, it is equally important for a takeoff with a crosswind. We were taught the four basic left-turning tendencies... 1) torque, 2) P-factor, 3) spiraling slipstream, and 4) gyroscopic precession.

Often overlooked by many tricycle-gear instructors, is that there is actually a fifth left turning tendency - the left crosswind. This lesson comes to mind as I recently heard two separate stories of a couple of Swifts making a run for the weeds. One was a new Swifter in his first few hours after completing his checkout, the other was while still receiving instruction. Let us not forget that the Swift, relatively speaking, is rather short-coupled and doesn't exactly have the largest rudder. Also, Swifts can be comparatively inconsistent from one to the next because of differences in engines (85hp-220hp), props (72"-76" fixed pitch or constant speed), and tailwheels (steerable vs. nonsteerable). All of these differences contribute to different requirements for right rudder on takeoff. In my Swift (210hp and nonsteerable t/w) with a left crosswind of 12 knots or more, I will have to tap in a little right brake to compensate for lack of directional control. As speed increases I can generally count on the rudder being sufficient to maintain directional control. Now contrast this with a Swift equipped with a steerable t/w and lower horsepower engine, that 12 knot crosswind can be a snap (just depends on the particular a/c).

As a reminder, some methods to help maintain some semblance of directional control include 1) slowly bring up the power on takeoff roll, 2) for steerable tailwheel Swift, keep the tailwheel on the ground longer to maintain steering ability, 3) slowly and smoothly lift the tail during the takeoff roll (remember, gyroscopic precession causes the nose to yaw to the left as you lift the tail), and 4) take off from the other end of the runway. Yes, go against the grain and request to depart with the crosswind from the right side rather than the left. Don't be pressured into departing with a strong left crosswind just because all the other tricycle-geared a/c are safely departing. This "herd mentality" doesn't work well with tailwheel aircraft.

Rudder, Rudder...