Take-off Technique

by Steve Wilson

The Swift is a peculiar animal. I have flown numerous tail draggers, and the Swift is like none of them! Well, maybe BE-18 has similar traits. The stock airplane has a straight engine mount, unlike some of the higher power versions. The airplane has a rather forward CG compared to common taildraggers of the period. If you have experience with the C-195 you know that on takeoff, if the cowling moves 1" to the left, the tail has moved 1' to the right! OTOH, the nose of the Swift moves dramatically in relation to the tail. Don't get fooled though, where the nose goes, shortly thereafter goes the tail!

Here is what I teach newcomers to the "stock" Swift on takeoff procedure. It doesn't matter to me how much time the "student" has in tailwheel... Line up the airplane in the center of the runway and let it roll forward a little to center the tailwheel. With brakes off, start with the wheel (stick) all the way back and bring power up continually to full power. Assuming you have a steerable tailwheel you will find just application of rudder in the desired direction will steer the airplane OK. With non-steerable, just a small amount of brake in the desired direction will do the same. If you run into a problem with directional control at this point, reduce power and regroup.

As the airplane accelerates keep an eye on the airspeed. Do not release back pressure until you see the airspeed is alive. I've seen a lot of folks start to rotate onto the main gear way too early! One thing to remember is the elevator authority is much more effective on the Swift than is the rudder at low speed. Somewhere about 40-45 MPH, you need to come forward with the stick. Not abruptly, but with authority and continual movement until the weight is firmly on the main gear, with the tail high. I know that several forces are at work here... Gyroscopic effect from the prop wanting to turn 90 degrees to the direction of rotation (which means left), transition from tailwheel steering to rudder, Left turning tendency from the straight mount (torque). So, you will need to feed in rudder to counteract this turning tendency. It may vary from full right rudder and some right brake with a strong left crosswind, to nearly neutral or maybe a touch of left rudder in a right crosswind condition. I would not choose a takeoff with a tailwind component (if at all possible); however, given the choice of a left or right crosswind, I would opt for one from the right.

Here is the one place I find Many/Most people get into trouble. They do NOT get the tail up high enough. You have to get the airplane into a negative angle of attack! There is three degrees of incidence built into the wing, so the nose will seem very low! Plenty of weight on the main gear! This allows the rudder to become effective (gets it up in the breeze), and allows you to "drive" the airplane with the rudder and if necessary brakes. If you become aware that you are not maintaining directional control, before you do anything else, start with more forward pressure. You probably do not have the tail up high enough. More pressure on the man gear will allow you to use more brake (if needed) and the higher the tail will allow more rudder authority. May seem hard to do, but a lot of Swifts have been lost at this point. Either you are a pilot or a passenger. If directional control is lost, you are a passenger. Use what you have working for you! An RTO at this point is problematical at best. Not impossible, but tricky. If you reduce the power abruptly what will happen to the rudder authority? Where is the airplane going to want to go? It is very easy to go from limited control, to over-control, to loss of control in the wink of an eye!

As the airplane accelerates through 60-65 MPH you can release forward pressure and allow the airplane to transition to a positive angle of attack and it will liftoff. I find with my airplane, I frequently use full right rudder during the initial phase of the takeoff roll and more often than not a little brake to keep the airplane going straight down the runway. There is a definite difference between the 125 HP and the 145 HP at this point! You don't have to be a test pilot to notice the difference! I suggest use of this technique until you are completely familiar with your airplane, then you can modify the technique to what is comfortable to your style of takeoff; however, in the initial learning process, you will be a "happy camper" if you go through the takeoff procedure as I describe it. This is regardless of wind condition.

To be completely honest, I use a little different technique myself for a takeoff with no wind/no crosswind; however, when a crosswind is present or anytime it is gusty, I revert back to this technique. It has served me well for 46 years...Happy Swifting! Steve Wilson