The way you taxi says a lot about you as a pilot, yet it is a skill that is so often overlooked. Taildragger pilots will probably claim that taxiing and landing are the two most desirable skills to acquire when handling a tail wheel aeroplane, and with good reason. For the rest of us mortals, who fly ordinary tricycle undercarriages, here are some ways to show off good skill and airmanship the next time you taxi your aerie…
1. Situational awareness
If you are at a controlled, or uncontrolled airfield it makes no difference – always take the time to listen out on the radio to develop a picture of what is going on at the airfield before you even contemplate the taxiing. Create a mental picture of the active runway, the wind direction, aircraft taking off or landing and other aircraft on the taxiways. Your airfield may not be that busy, but developing good habits will help you a long way when you do find yourself at a busy airport. If it is a large aerodrome, be sure to get familiar with the aerodrome layout, so that you are aware of all the different taxiways and where they go.
Unless you want to bear the wrath of an angry controller, do not move before you have obtained clearance to do so. You also don’t want to be idling away expensive fuel, while waiting for clearance, which brings me back to point 1 – listen out, and plan your start up when the time is appropriate.
The speed that you taxi at, is a sure sign of your airmanship. Forget what the old books say about taxiing at ‘walking pace’ – that comes from the days of WW1 where a group of men were required to walk alongside an aircraft in order to steer it onto the runway. Nowadays, if you taxi at walking pace, not only will you annoy everyone else behind you (with potentially fuel guzzling aircraft), but you will waste your own valuable flying time. However, the bigger problem which is more common, is taxiing too fast. So often you see pilots tearing around on taxiways, with little consideration for others and for the aircraft they fly. Taxiing fast means you are going to be heavier on the controls, and more especially the brakes, causing them to wear out faster. Every aircraft is different, but taxiing at a safe, consistent speed, where you are not constantly on the brakes is about right. This can also be achieved by reducing the power setting and leaning the mixture so that your spark plugs don’t foul up.
4. Follow the lines
5. Do not use power and brakes together
If you are doing this, it is a sure sign that you are not managing you aircraft smoothly. By applying power and then braking at the same time you are causing serious damage to your brakes. Use one or the other at a time, but not both together.
6. Use rudder to steer
While the temptation to ‘drive’ a yoke equipped aircraft is always there, remember that in most light aircraft, the nosewheel steering is attached to the rudder, so you need to use the rudder to steer your aircraft. Always anticipate the turns and keep it smooth. Some aircraft may have limited nose wheel steering, but could be equipped with differential brakes which will assist you in tighter turns, but keep in mind not to use power when using the brakes.
7. Use the controls to counter the effects of wind
Depending on the direction of the wind, it can lift either of your aeroplane’s wings, or even lift your tail. By using the correct combination of controls you can keep your aeroplane firmly on the ground, with the weight evenly distributed on all the tyres. For a headwind, you want to put the aileron up in the direction that the wind is coming from – so for example if it is coming from the front, but slightly right, you are going to put the right aileron up, by moving the control column to the right, and simply keeping the elevator neutral. The opposite would be true if it is coming from the left. If you are taxiing downwind, that is, with the wind pushing you from behind, then you need to change the angle of attack of the tail plane, by putting the elevator down (controls foward), which will prevent you from being lifted from behind. Similarly, you will want to do the same thing with your ailerons by putting them down into the wind. That is, if the wind is coming from behind but right, you need to move the control column left (so that the right aileron goes down), and forward to put the elevator down.
In order that you manage the power and energy of the aeroplane correctly, anticipate the slope of the taxiway / runway, especially when you are turning in a new direction – if it goes up, add a little power as you turn, and if it goes down, then reduce the power slightly.
9. Priority when taxing
These rules are written, so here you have no choice!
– Aircraft landing or taking off have right of way
– A vehicle towing an aircraft has right of way (except aircraft taking off and landing)
– Aircraft approaching head on – each shall turn to the right.
– Converging aircraft – If the other aircraft is on your right, you must give way.