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Land a Pitts


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Interesting note from the aerobatic email list - read it here before it appears in the magazine.


Subject: Re: [Acro] Thanks!


> There were no 2 seat airplanes even close to a Pitts, so after you built one you had to fly it!


It is true that to for most people nowadays who have learned to fly on docile nosewheel trainers, the Pitts can seem to be an exotic and difficult beast to land. But it isn’t, really. I once gave some aerobatic instruction to a guy in an S-2B and he landed it pretty well, all by himself, first time. I just told him to keep the airspeed at 100 mph on the descending “U” from downwind to final. He flared at 3 feet, which wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t going to hurt the airplane any. He wasn’t any kind of hairy-chested war hero, either – in fact, he was a guy that made a pile of money in high tech. He never worked in any capacity as a full-time pilot, either civilian or military. But what he did have was considerable experience in antique tailwheel aircraft that were blind out front, which is very unusual these days. It’s important to remember that the Pitts configuration is distinctly pre-WWII – tailwheel, with no forward visibility. By the end of WWII the fighter aircraft had nosewheels, and perfect forward visibility.


Two things make the Pitts interesting to land:


1) short-coupled tailwheel with a high landing speed (S-2B highest)


2) blind out the front


Somewhat surprisingly, #1 gives people less trouble than #2, because you can gradually work up someone’s skill on #1 with the “wind game” which is something Budd Davisson teaches. Budd Davisson is a great guy and a good friend, but I’m not sure he’s quite forgiven me for taking him up on his website hyperbole – “We can teach anyone to land a Pitts!”


A few years back, I sent a new pilot down to Budd in February – not great Pitts wx up here that time of year – who didn’t even have a pilot’s licence, or even any tailwheel time. But he had more natural stick and rudder ability than anyone else I have ever met – even if he had no experience – and sure enough, Budd taught him to fly his S-2A. But I’m still not sure he’s forgiven me J


The good thing about learning to land the Pitts is that it’s a great trainer for antique/WWII aircraft. For example, I had heard horror stories about how tough it was to land a Stearman. For an experienced Pitts pilot, it’s a pussycat. Same thing with the Harvard/T-6/SNJ. All sorts of horror stories about how hard it is to land, esp from the back seat. A total pussycat. Then I went to fly a Beech 18. All sorts of horror stories about how hard it is to land. Anyone spot the pattern yet? It was easy to land, for a Pitts pilot.


> compared to a Pitts crosswind landing


um, actually a Pitts is somewhat unique in that it’s EASIER to land in a crosswind, for two reasons:


a) the headwind component (if any) slows things down, which is nice


b) you can see a bit more in the sideslip




When I first got checked out solo in a two-seat Pitts, the crosswind actually exceeded the demonstrated value from the POH, but because it was a Pitts, it was no big deal. A crosswind that you can barely notice in the Pitts, with it’s higher wing loading, will send you scrambling in a cub, all knees and elbows in the cockpit. Just remember, landing in any crosswind in ANY airplane, to always draw the stick over into the crosswind, not only to spoil the lift on the upwind wing with upgoing aileron, but to create maximum adverse yaw on the downwind wing with downgoing aileron, to oppose the natural weathervaning tendency as you slow down. I do this when I am landing jets!




Anyways, what I recommend to new Pitts owners is to order two new sets of Goodyear Flight Custom III tires, and try to burn them off - in as short a period of time as possible, do 300 to 500 Pitts landings. Somewhere in that range, you will “get it” and you will be able to land a Pitts under pretty well any conditions, for the rest of your life. Something about burning electro-chemical tracks in your brain.




One last comment about Pitts landings … it’s rather unique in that you hardly ever NEED to do a wheel landing. Because of the small vertical fin and the short fuselage, you can almost always land on the upwind main and the tailwheel at the same time. For most people, I might suggest you have around 1,000 Pitts landings in before you start experimenting with wheel landings in the Pitts, because it really provides no added value for most of us, and can be horribly expensive if you spread the bungees and whack the prop. Be sure to have fresh bungees if you want to wheel land the Pitts.


Don’t think I’m anti-wheel landings – I nearly always wheel land the Citabria, Decathlon, PT-22 Ryan, Maule, Stearman, Harvard, Beech 18, etc. The secret to a good wheel landing – and this is guarded like the crown jewels by experienced pilots for some really weird reason – is to ALWAYS SIDESLIP. See, the problem with a wheel landing is that if you don’t have a greaser – if you touch down with any rate of descent –the center of mass located behind the mains will continue down – momentum – and will pull the tail down, increase your angle of attack, which increases lift, which shoots you into the air, and converts what little speed you have into altitude with no airspeed. This can be embarrassing. If this happens, firewall the throttle and get out of there.


So, what to do? Well, if you wheel land in a sideslip – EVEN IF THERE IS NO WIND – if you touch down a bit firm on the first main, the other main comes down, not just the tail, so no drastic increase in lift.




See? Why this secret to a good wheel landing is guarded so carefully baffles me, but hey, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed! J




One last comment about landing the Pitts: everyone does it slightly (and sometimes willdly) differently. There are many different approach techniques, and you should show the new Pitts pilot all of them – he will piece together his own style from all the different ones you show him. Don’t be dogmatic and preach, “There is only one right way to land a Pitts, and that’s MY way” – that’s rather sophomoric. The classical Pitts approach is power to idle on downwind abeam the numbers, and descend in a U to touchdown. That’s a good, basic starter approach, but when landing the Pitts, you won’t always be starting on downwind. ATC loves to give straight-in finals, and that’s not good in a Pitts because you can’t see anything – at least, not at any normal speed. So, best thing to do is to displace laterally, and set up a slant final. Dip a wing over the runway threshold to line up, set the landing attitude, and wait.




Once you have 1,000 Pitts landings or so under your belt, you’re ready for an airshow pilot-style approach and landing, which is full power in the descent for maximum airspeed. 200 mph on final is fine. Very short final, the throttle comes all the way back, the 3 blades go flat, and the deceleration pushed you forward into the straps. If you time it right, you’re 120 mph over the numbers, touch down in a wheel landing, stick forward, and coast down the runway. I might suggest a minimum of 4,000 feet of runway for this technique at first.




Note that this doesn’t work with a fixed-pitch prop. I admit that I am spoiled by constant speed props, and I recently jumped into a beautiful little S-1C and off I went. I don’t very often pull the throttle back, and gosh, the RPMs on the hammerhead downwinds were remarkable. Anyways in the pattern, abeam the numbers on downwind, throttle back to idle and down we go in the “U” except moron that I am, I forgot that 2-blade fixed pitch props provide NO DRAG in the descent, so I whistled over the threshold at 125mph in the S-1C, which is probably about 50 mph too fast, and resulted in as pretty a wheel landing as I have ever done – and I used almost all of the 4,000 feet of runway!




Gosh. I didn’t mean to type all this in. Apologies for the verbal diarhhea, but I’m half Irish and half Scottish, and that means that half of me wants to get drunk all the time, but the other half is to cheap to pay for it, and in any event, I talk too much J


P.S. Does someone want to clean this up for an article in the IAC magazine?






aboyd ATP








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Guest Qwerty

Thanks DJP


Excellent post.


I thought that I had invented something with the one wheel first thing. I stumbled across the softening effect some time ago (Georgetown gives you plenty of xwind practice) and I've been messing about with it for a while now on still air landings. I've also been messing about with "upwind main and tailwheel" landings in crosswinds, they are just so sweet and so much fun, particularly in turbulence.





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Good post, but you havn't convinced me to try wheel landings. I tried one once with a Thruster and didn't like it. At least with the Corby I can see ahead until I flare.



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