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Planet Bearhawk

"Planet Bearhawk" is a term coined by my lovely wife Donna, to describe a place that I go on many occasions throughout the day. I'm sure many of you are familiar with this state of mind as the gray matter between your ears soars off into the clouds and you can think about nothing else. Well, we now have a name for that place.

I will use this page to place relevant stories and anecdotes to Bearhawk building, flying and dreaming. Feel free to contribute by emailing us your contribution. Of course we will credit you with the contribution of the story. So, you can now escape to Planet Bearhawk when you need some light reading to take you away from the doldrums of everyday life.

Many thanks go to Budd Davisson and the tireless number of hours he has spent promoting the Bearhawk and developing the kits with his partner, Mark Goldberg. Without their belief in this airplane, this website and the joy of building the Bearhawk for so many would not exist, because so many of us do not have the time and/or skill and/or patience to build an airplane completely from scratch.

Of course we have to thank Bob Barrows, the creator of the Bearhawk, for sharing his creation with the rest of the world by taking the time to draw up the plans and fielding the thousands of questions he answers every year.

Also, many thanks to Budd and his articles that he has so graciously allowed me to borrow to place on this website. For a complete, total flying experience, see Budd's website, www.airbum.com. If you need a Bearhawk kit or want to learn even more about the Bearhawk, visit AviPro's site, www.bearhawkaircraft.com.

Links on this page

The Barrows Bearhawk: Utility in a Home-Rolled Package

Barrows Bearhawk 260: A Case Study in Refinement

Mark Goldberg's Bearhawk

AviPro Aircraft Ltd. - Plant Tour

Pirep: Bearhawk 232PF, Pat Fagan's Bird

Bearhawk - Combining Utility with Airplane (will open PDF file)

AviPro's Bearhawk: Pure and Simple

How to Groundloop Your Taildragger

Tailwheels and the Student - Pros and Cons

Don't do this

Airliner, done right

Awesome airliner crosswind landings (a 3 Mb movie that will launch Windows Media Player)

Beaver on floats taking off from a hard runway (a 1.5 Mb movie that will launch Windows Media Player)

The Barrows Bearhawk: Utility in a Home-Rolled Package

Text and photos by Budd Davisson - An article from Sport Aviation, October, 1995

In recent years we've seen utility come to the fore in many of the new kit designs. However, with a few exceptions, all of the offerings have defined utility as being two-people carrying only what they need to get by. This utility has also been available only in kits, so the price of entry is daunting to some.

And then there is Bob Barrow's scratch-built, plans offering, the Bearhawk. Bob defines Utility as an airplane with few limitations in the way it is used. This includes four full-sized seats (the cabin is the same size as a C-172), 1200 pounds useful load, 55 gallons of fuel standard, and the ability to hang anything from 150 to 260 hp in front of the firewall. Now that's a usable airplane.

Barrow's airplane is also unique in today's homebuilt environment, where the predominant thought pattern seems to be build-it-fast-and-don't-worry-about-the-cost, because a) it is only available as plans and b) it emphasizes simplicity and low cost.

The cost of entry required to build Bob's 130-150 mph, carry-anything-and-land-anywhere airplane is the two hundred bucks for the plans. Past that, you can spend as much as you like, when you like, as fast as you like. That's the beauty of scratch built airplanes. You can spend a couple hundred bucks on aluminum and start hammering out ribs, or drop a much larger bundle for the entire bill of materials, which in the Bearhawks' case is estimated at under $6,000, which includes everything (as in everything!) with only the engine and prop to be add.

Bob did not start out to design an airplane to sell. In fact, the Bearhawk was originally a project meant to fill his own needs for utility in his airframe and engine building business. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

First, it is necessary to understand Bob Barrows and how he came to be sitting under his airplane at Oshkosh answering a million questions about his obviously useful airplane.

Bob has been a practicing mechanical engineer for nearly thirty years which included a long stint as Manager of Engineering for one of Ingersoll-Rand's facilities in Virginia. However, that was only one part of his dual life. Outside the office, he had developed his own little airport, where he built airplanes and re-built engines.

Initially, he built a Midget Mustang, then designed and built his own STOL, single place bird he called the "Grasshopper." He flew that for 15 years before parting with it. Then there was a 260 hp, symmetrical-everything, Pitts type aerobatic machine. And an RV-3. And a couple of rebuilt projects.



By 1980 his engine business was picking up and he began to feel the need for a utility type airplane and he began work on what he then called the RB-4, which was renamed Bearhawk.

"I got some parts finished, spars and ribs and such, but then I decided I needed a four-place airplane for the business right then and bought a rag-wing, Cessna 170 project."

The Bearhawk languished in the backwaters of his project ladened shop until he decided to leave Ingersoll and strike out freelance in 1988.

"My engine business was doing well, so I wasn't afraid of being out there on my own."

Confident words from a man with a wife and four kids.

It was at that point he decided to finish the Bearhawk which took "...oh, I don't know, a year or two..." He acts as if building an airplane is a monthly occurrence on his little strip.

Which brings us up to Oshkosh '95, by which time he had been using the airplane for several years in his business. Bob makes no bones about the fact that his airplane is a working airplane. Not a show winner or a machine designed to blaze cross country in formation with the composite crowd. However, whenever we walked past the airplane on the flight line, there was always a number of folks asking questions or hanging their heads down in the cockpit to see how this or that was done.

The airplane was of interest to a lot of people because it was an airplane that makes a lot of sense. Which is exactly the reason I was attracted to it. It makes so much sense in so many different ways.

Bob is one of the friendly, more soft spoken types you'll find and was quick to agree to a flight. He is also just looking for an excuse to go flying.

While we were waiting to pull out from the flight line, I spent some time looking the airplane over. The wings are all aluminum and many of the details, Barrows is quick to point out, lean heavily on Midget Mustang/RV technology. This is especially evident in the spars, which are "C" shaped .032" channels with 1/8" x 1 1/4" straps of varying lengths riveted to the web face inside the flanges. The straps are stacked in varying depths and lengths depending on the stresses and are centered on the outer strut attach point rather than all eminating from the root as with cantilever designs.

The flaps and ailerons are all aluminum framing with fabric cover and hang from the rear spar, which Barrows says is heavier than normal for that reason. The ailerons hang on long, tubing weldments which form tripods bolted to the rear spar. The flaps, which extend all the way out to 50į, are simple hinged affairs. Bob says he considered Fowlers but opted for hinged flaps because of their simplicity and small trim change when deployed.

The ribs are all hand formed over wood forming blocks with no stretching done. Instead, they are partially bent over the forms, then the flanges hammered to 90į while off the form. The resulting distortion in the rib is removed by fluting the flange between the rivets.

The entire control system, elevator and flaps included, uses cables and pulleys rather than push rods, although bellcranks do move short pushrods to activate the ailerons. The bellcranks and final pulleys mount on steel tubing weldments bolted between the spars.

The 33 foot wings are skinned in .025" aluminum and use bucked or squeezed solid rivets throughout.

The struts are aluminum and Bob says the best source for them is damaged 180/182 Cessnas. His are four inches shorter so struts with broken forks can be salvaged and used.

The fuselage is good, old-fashioned steel tube, which Bob used for a reason.

"From an engineering standpoint, steel tube is easy to analyze and the calculations are reliable," Bob explains. "It also offers excellent protection in case of an accident and is easy for the homebuilder to build with a minimum of tools and jigs."

In reviewing the plans, I found nothing in the fuselage that was even remotely difficult or unusual. In fact, the main wing fittings nest a "U" shaped fitting inside the usual blade-type fitting which not only gives additional area for bearing strength without welding across the load path, but gives a huge amount of weld length so the quality of the weld becomes less critical. There is a lot of this kind of thought through out the airplane.

Because the fuselage changes cross sectional shape quite often, it looks as if it is going to be one of those fuselages in which the top and bottom trusses are built first, then jigged into position and the side pieces added.

The most complex pieces, actually the only complex pieces, are the Maul-type oil-spring shocks in the landing gear. Those will require a little machine work but the result is an aerodynamically clean shock system which doesn't take up any cockpit space.

When the cowling is opened the first thing you'll notice is the huge amount of space behind the engine. There's at least a foot of empty space! But, when there's a 260 Lyc under the hood, that's where the extra set of cylinders go. The propeller stays in the same position, so the cowing remains unchanged regardless of which engine is used. The only changes necessary are putting the battery behind the huge baggage compartment rather than on the firewall.

The nose bowl, incidentally, is a Pitts Special unit.

When poking around under the hood on Bob's personal Bearhawk, you'll also notice there is no starter or alternator. One of his friends says Barrows is allergic to electricity.

When we finally found ourselves out on the taxiway and saddling up and I was delighted at his door arrangement. First of all, there is a door on both sides and the bottom half hinges forward, while the top half is hinged to the bottom of the wing like a Cub. This makes it practical to taxi or fly with the windows open and your elbows on the door sill like you were cruising the drive-in on a Saturday night.

The cabin is also extremely tall and full of light, rather than being dark and crowded feeling. The seating position is very Cessna in its approach, a fact which allows the builder to use a modified Cessna 172 windshield on the Bearhawk. Both the front and back seat room is the same as the Cessna 172.

Bob has no seats in his drawings, but adapts existing seats and tracks to his airframe. His machine uses Tri-pacer seats.



If I had a complaint with the airplane it was having to fly on the left side with a right hand throttle. Yeah, I know, you should be able to fly either way, but having a control stick in the left hand and a throttle in the right just doesn't seem right.

In taxiing, a slight stretch lets you see completely over the nose, which isn't really necessary but makes it nice, nonetheless. A little brake was necessary for taxi because the tailwheel springs were extremely loose.

I glanced up at the trim, which is a Cessna-type wheel mounted in the ceiling, satisfied myself it was where Bob recommended, and started the throttle in. The engine in Bob's airplane is an 0-360 set up for mo-gas which he figures gives about 170 hp. As the throttle went in and the constant speed prop began biting in, the airplane literally lunged forward. I'm a real fan of machines that start pumping adrenaline right from the starting line and this is one of them. What a delightful monster this thing would be with 260 hp!

Bob recommended that I don't force the tail up but let it come up on its own, which worked nicely and almost as soon as it was up, the airplane left the ground. Actually, it didn't just "leave" the ground. That's too simplistic. It acted as if the landing gear and the ground were like-poles on magnets and the airplane was repelled away, it separated so cleanly. The takeoff happens so quickly, there's little or no time to analyze what it is doing directionally. But whatever it was doing took only a tap here and there to keep the centerline where it should be.

Considering that we were in a four-place airplane, the initial rate of climb was almost startling. It immediately started up at around 1,300 fpm. With a 180 hp engine the powerloading at gross would be about 12.8 lb/hp which is quite respectable but with a 260 hp, it would be 8.8 lb/hp which puts it in the skyrocket category. With two people and half fuel, it would be around 6.5 lb/hp which is right up there with the serious aerobatic specials. What a kick that would be!

We arrived at 4,000 feet in nothing flat and I put the nose down setting up a 23 square cruise which eventually settled out at about 120 knots, or 135-138 mph. Which brings us to one of the points I liked best about the airplane: It is ready made for doing all sorts of little homebrewed mods, beginning with milking more speed out of it. The wheels and brake assemblies could be faired and an easy 3-5 mph added. Strut fairings and control surface seals might be another 3 mph. Engine cooling another few knots.



The airplane's lines are quite clean to begin but Bob's goal was utility, not speed. Still, the homebuilder could do little clean-ups here and there and net at least 8-10 mph at cruise. With the bigger engines there is no reason this thing shouldn't be cruising at 155-160 mph, or even higher, at altitude.

In cruise the visibility is tremendous. The nose is well down and the glass area is just about right for maximum vis. Those who are heavy into bush flying or sight seeing might want to skin the doors in Plexi.

The aileron pressures are Cessna/Piper-average with a reasonable break-out forces and the roll rate is probably about 70-80į/sec, which isn't lightning fast, but about what you'd expect for an airplane of this type. I'd be tempted to gap seal the ailerons for increased rate and either go for spades or move the aileron hinge point back a little to lighten them up. Don't construe this to mean the ailerons are heavy, because they aren't. It is just that my personal taste is for lighter, quicker ailerons.

As it is set up now, the elevator is matched to the ailerons but the rudder is relatively light and tremendously powerful with only a hint of break-out force, so coordinating at first takes a little practice to keep the ball in the middle.

Even before we got in the airplane Bob said he was still experimenting with various details, one of which was the stabilizer setting. In doing stability tests we found the airplane would begin to return to neutral if pulled off trim speed (statically positive) but then it would begin to gain speed and wouldn't level out as the speed built up (dynamically neutral). We discussed this in some detail and after Oshkosh, Bob called to say he had changed the stab setting by 2į and it had a marked effect on the same tests. Now it was dynamically positive and if pulled 10 knots off trim would gain less than 10 knots on the initial down line and would damp out entirely with no phugoid remaining in three cycles.

We wandered over to an outlying grass field and set up to shoot some landings. As I made the first power reduction opposite the end, the airplane's basic clean lines were obvious in the way it held on to its speed. It took more work than you'd expect for an airplane of this type to get down to the flap speed of 80 knots.

The first landing was made with half flaps at an approach of 60 knots which Bob says he recommends for the first few landings, although he's perfectly happy using 45 knots. The first landing was a non-event because the airplane settled on in an effortless three point and rolled straight ahead for a short distance before stopping on its own.

Then I started playing with full flaps and lower approach speeds and found it took a little more technique. With 50į of flap, the airplane is really nose down, so with only two of us in the airplane it was fun trying to get the tail down at just the right moment. Power-off with the CG that far forward, there wasn't quite enough elevator and I'd touch main gear first with the expected hippity-hop. The preferred approach would be slower, with just a little power to keep the elevator working.

When we were all done flying and I was sitting around with a Delta Charley (diet cola) thinking about it, I found there was alot about the Bearhawk which I found wildly attractive. In fact, given the opportunity, I could actually see myself building it. In the first place, it's no secret I love bush-type aircraft. So that's part of the airplane's attraction.

I also love the basic simplicity of the airplane and Barrows straight ahead approach to design. He doesn't complicate anything and, because of that, it is easy to see how things work and how to fabricate them.

I was thumbing through a couple of back issues of his quarterly newsletter, Bear-Tracks, and found yet another reason I like the airplane: His straight-up design approach is followed by a similar philosophy in supporting his builders. He doesn't waste a lot of time and effort in designing brochures or fancy graphics, he just gives the builder totally understandable directions on how to build things with a minimum of tools. What he doesn't do in gloss and color, he more than makes up for in clarity and understanding. The newsletter presents a lot of neat building tips.

The drawings themselves are professional looking blue-lines and show his background as both an engineer and long-time airplane builder.

And then there is one of the other points about the Bearhawk which is attractive: It is so simple and well done that it makes a flawless platform for someone who wants to incorporate their own ideas in cosmetics, streamlining, interior, etc.

For those who are afraid of doing their own welding (shame on you): Bob reports several manufacturing shops have contacted him about building component parts for his builders. So there is help out there for the faint of heart.

We haven't had many four place airplanes offered to the homebuilder in the past and none have caught on. The Bearhawk looks as if it should change that trend. Afterall, think about its name: It's a Cessna Skyhawk in concept with the brawn and attitude of a Bear. Bearhawk. What a combination!




AviPro Aircraft, Ltd is now producing a complete line of components for the Bearhawk right up to a 51% quick-build kit. In keeping with Bob Barrows' approach, the prices are reasonable. They are working closely with Barrows in that he supplies the plans and they supply the components and kits. They can be reached at:

AviPro Aircraft, Ltd

3536 E. Shangri-La Rd.

Phoenix, AZ 85028

(602) 971-3768


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Barrows Bearhawk 260: A Case Study in Refinement

Text and photos by Budd Davisson

Nasty! That's the only to describe the wind, as I lined up on Winter Haven's long runway. Nasty! It had to be gusting 15-25 knots and snapped from slightly in front of the right wing to behind it. Yeah, this was a great kind of day to fly a new airplane for the first time. NOT!

On the one hand, it was a shame the day was so bad, because I'd been looking forward to this flight for a long, long time....for five years, to be exact, since I last flew the 180 hp version of the same airplane, the Barrows Bearhawk. This was a new prototype with lots of subtle refinements and, more importantly, 260 hp driving through a three-blade prop. The up side to this kind of day was that the nasty conditions would let me see the airplane at it's worse. There's no tougher condition than a sometimes-quartering tailwind to find out how evil a tailwheel airplane can be.



First, some background. The first time I flew the airplane was for a pirep in EAA's Sport Aviation. At the time, editor Jack Cox and I agreed that the four-place, straight forward airplane made a huge amount of sense. 1200 pounds of useful load, good cruise speed, even better good looks and it could be scratch built, which would allow a builder to get into the finances of the project at a rate he could afford. That's one of the downsides of the kit approach: bigger chunks of change are required to make it happen. With a scratch built airplane, such as the Bearhawk, you can squirrel away a couple hundred bucks, spend it on tubing and have enough to build the tail surfaces at your own speed. Of course, now that AviPro Aircraft, Ltd. has introduced complete kits for the airplane, a builder has the option of building fast or building cheap.

At the time the first report came out in October of 1995, the designer, Bob Barrows (for more of his background, go back and read the first report), had sold exactly 12 sets of plans. Once the word went out on the airplane, it appeared that many others felt the same way Jack Cox and I had; the airplane scratched enough aeronautical itches that plans sales really took off. As of this writing, May, 2000, Bob reports they are closing in on 500 sets of plans sold.



The airplane is fervently supported by the several hundred builders who are convinced they are building the most practical airplane in the homebuilt catalog, and they may be right. In addition, the internet has allowed them to cross utilize their information and thoughts in a number of ways. If you want to learn anything about the Bearhawk, just do a word search on "Bearhawk" and it will plug you into at least three builder's websites and the e-discussion group which is the very best place to get the most detailed information about building the airplane. When you get on the e-group for the first time (bearhawk-subscribe@egroups.com), log on to the Frequently Ask Questions (FAQ), http://www.netpackrat.com/bhfaq/, as it'll save you from plowing over already plowed ground and wasting e-group time.

If there is a frustrating aspect to scratch building any airplane, rather than kit-building (a situation that may change for the Bearhawk in the near future, more on that later) it is that it takes a longer time for the first airplanes to start showing up at fly-ins so very few builder/pilots have had a chance to fly the Bearhawk. They are building it on faith. In fact, many report they are building it based on what we said in that first pilot report. That's a pretty heady responsibility and it was lurking in the back of my mind as I sat at the end of the runway watching the windsock whip back and forth. Would this new version of the airplane live up to my memory of the first one and would it justify the enthusiasm of the rapidly growing group of Bearhawk builders?

Since Bob had only one set of brakes in the airplane and a center throttle, I opted for the right seat, when we saddled up. When taxiing out, I was pleased to see the tailwheel ratios (he even built the tailwheel itself) was dead on the money and the airplane reacted "just right" to rudder input. Not too slow not too quick. And the visibility over the nose was great. If I'd had a one inch cushion, the entire taxiway would have been in view. Without brakes, however the residual thrust of the smoothly idling 0-540 driving through a Hoffman hub with Bob's homebuilt composite blades, was enough that I had to ask Bob to poke the brakes from time to time to slow us down. Oddly enough, even with the hard wind, I didn't need brakes while taxiing crosswind. At the time, I didn't think much about it, but now, after the flight, I realize the airplane was telling me that it had plenty of rudder even when slow.

Time to go flying! I smoothly started the power in being mindful of what the wind was likely to do to me. I had purposely hunkered down a little so the side of the runway cut the edge of the cowling which gave me a definite reference so I'd catch the nose if it tried to move even a little. The instant the throttle started in however, I nearly forgot about the runway reference because the acceleration was absolutely amazing! It really was a rush and almost instantly I felt the tail getting light. Amid the clamor of an airplane that was obviously gathering momentum much faster than I was thinking, I unloaded the stick intending to gently lift the tail off the ground. Then, just as the tailwheel started to leave the ground, the airplane lunged into the air clawing upwards at a truly ridiculous angle. The takeoff actually surprised me by happening long before I expected it. Bear in mind, I make an average of five takeoffs a day in my Pitts, seven days a week, yet this airplane surprised me, which is saying a bunch.

I glanced over at the airspeed and we were already blasting through 90 mph with the nose pointed up at an almost scary angle. Bob has said rate of climb is 1700 feet per minute, but that must be with a full load, because we were well over 2,000 fpm with two guys and full fuel. On top of that, I doubt seriously if we rolled much over 250 feet. Maybe much less. This is where the nasty day worked against us: I would have loved to have played with short field techniques on a more normal day. I'd be willing to bet the ranch that using a three-point takeoff and half flaps, that thing would leap off the ground in some unbelievably short distance, especially with the wind down the nose instead of coming down the wing tip. I'm certain that as the throttle went forward, I could feel the prop blast "blowing" the mid section of the wing and that most of the wing came up to flying speed as soon as full power was in. The rest of the takeoff roll was just waiting for the rest of the wing to catch up.

The instant the airplane launched itself and we were rocketing upwards, I threw a thumbs-up signal over at Bob and yelled, "Fantastic! Absolutely fantastic!" To say I was loving it was an understatement. Now, THIS is the way airplanes are supposed to takeoff

During the takeoff roll, I wasn't conscious of making any rudder movements. This might have been because the right crosswind was canceling out any torque induced turn. In a straight wind situation, I would expect the right foot to be keeping the airplane straight with a slight, constant pressure.

We hit 3,000 feet in nothing flat and, as I pushed over and reached overhead to roll in the trim, I yelled at Bob (he doesn't believe in intercoms, or electricity or any of the other "luxuries" most of us do, which is why his airplanes are so light) that I was going to set up a 23 square cruise. He shouted back (it's really noisy in the cockpit and ear plugs are a must) that he'd like me to see his normal cruise first.

Before we get into the "normal cruise" thing, you have to understand Bob Barrows. Bob doesn't think speed is worth anything, which considering how little effect it has on time actually spent enroute, he's probably correct. He does, however, think money IS worth something, so he doesn't think a pilot should spend any more than is absolutely necessary. This includes keeping the airframe cost down by eliminating anything costly (he makes his own tail wires out of turned down and threaded 1/4" 4130 rod and eliminates the clevis forks by threading thick wall tubing. See the detail shot. Very effective!). He also eliminates cost by eliminating anything that uses electricity and by keeping the fuel burn down. Simplicity and low cost are his commandments in everything he does.

When he set up the "Bob Barrows Low Buck Cruise Configuration" he had to fiddle with the prop a little as it didn't want to immediately adjust itself. This later proved to be a couple of blocks inside the hub that were dragging. His final setting was 19" manifold pressure and 1900 rpm. This is somewhere well under 50% power, which, as a by product, brings the noise level way down because it feels as if the engine is at idle. The speed stabilized at about 117 mph indicated for about 125 mph TAS. This isn't exactly lightening fast, but, Bob grins his characteristic grin and defends it by saying, "Yeah, but I'm only burning 7.5 gallons an hour."



Considering that a 180 Lycoming in cruise burns about 9 gallons/hour this is something worth thinking about. I later measured its 23 square cruise (approx. 60%) at about 155 mph TAS, at which point it's burning about 13 gallons/hr. Over a 300 mile trip, the speed difference would save about 25 minutes but the fuel burn would be 8.6 gallons more. At $2.30/gallon that's $19.78 more. In other words, it cost $1.32 for each minute saved. Translated into hours saved, that's $79/hour saved. Put in those terms, it's hard to fight Bob's logic. Using the big 0-540 gives him unreal takeoff and climb capabilities but lets him run the engine so far back on the power curve while still putting out plenty of thrust that he's doing as well as, or better than, a smaller engine in fuel economy. At high altitude, where the drag comes down but the engine still has power, the differences would be even more dramatic. Like we used to say back in my drag racing days, "The only substitute for cubic inches is more cubic inches."

As I brought the power up to a more real world power setting of 23 square, a couple of things happened. For one thing, the noise built up considerably. The other is that as the airplane went through about 135 mph indicated (145 mph TAS), the airplane began assuming a nose down attitude until at a stabilized 145 IAS (155 TAS) the wing was easily 2į nose down, which means, with the 2į angle of incidence added in, the fuselage was 4į tail high.

There's been a lot of conversation about this and it's an excellent example of how airplanes are nothing more than one compromise layered on another. If you want short takeoff and landing capabilities, the cruise speed is going to be compromised and vice versa. Obviously to take advantage of the Bearhawk's power at cruise, the angle of incidence needs to be reduced, this would bring the tail down 2į which would result in much less drag and a higher cruise. At the same time, however, it would hurt the visibility in short approach because the nose would be higher and, when landing on a short, short runway, the ability to see and hit the spot is more important than the actual speed. It would also hurt the takeoff performance unless the deck angle was also increased.

Changing the angle of incidence would have no effect on the wing's nose down cruising attitude. That is a factor of coefficient of lift which is a function of the airfoil section. Going to a lower lift airfoil (less camber) would flatten the wing out and give the airplane much higher cruise numbers but it would raise the stall speed and lengthen the takeoff and landing roll, which is also undesirable. Clipping the wing a foot or so would have the same pros and cons.

After a lot of bantering on the e-group, it looks as if the best Band-Aid would be to reflex the flaps slightly, as Maule does. With the huge flaps on the Bearhawk, stowing them at a negative 3-4į would probably do the trick as it would have the effect of reducing the camber on a huge section of the wing during cruise, but would still have its high lift available on takeoff and landing. I'd suggest a method of adjusting the amount of reflex a degree at a time to match the load and power available. It could be nothing more than a sliding ring on the flap handle that bears on a slightly tapered ramp on the floor. The entire reflex mechanism could be very, very simple. Quite recently a builder in New Zealand reflexed his flaps 5į and is claiming a ten knot increase. This seems high, but five knots seems quite obtainable.

I wanted to play with the stalls, so the throttle came back and the nose went up. Clean, somewhere down around 50 mph, the controls went soft and the nose nodded slightly down. I kept the stick back to see what would happen and nothing did. It let me use both aileron and rudder to control it. With full flaps, the number came down closer to 40 mph with only a slightly sharper edge to the stall itself. This time, just for the heck of it, I added a little power and played with slow flight. It took very little power to hold altitude and keep the needle nipping at about 45 with nothing in the controls loosening up or indicating the airplane was about to do anything stupid.

One of the most noticeable refinements from the first airplane was in the control harmony and feel. The ailerons, which had been a little stodgy, had been lightened up by moving the hinge point back. The result is a nice, responsive, Beechcraft-like feel with a little higher roll rate. I'm an aileron freak and I've got to say that I wouldn't change a single thing in that area. They are perfect. Ditto the rudder and elevator.



It's overall stability profile is very much in the middle of the envelope, meaning, if displaced on any axis it returns to neutral. It isn't quite as positive as some airplanes, but it is much better than most homebuilts and compares favorably with most factory Spamcans.

In level cruise, you're looking down over the nose with terrific visibility. In turns, however, you're a fair amount behind the leading edge and it's really not convenient to lean forward to clear for traffic. However, because your eyes are so far below the wings, you only have to pick up the inside wing a little bit to clear for a turn. If (actually, when) I build a Bearhawk, it'll have a tinted sky light with a shade that pulls forward. With no headliner, you could actually sit higher for short field work and you'd be able to see over the down wing in turns.

The cockpit area, for those who don't know, was sized to be slightly bigger than a 172. However, the panel is quite a bit lower and you sit higher so all around room and visibility feels much better than a Skyhawk. Also, with the cargo door option in the right side of the airplane, you can put a huge amount of stuff in or, roll out an air mattress in the back and you have your own three-dimensional camper.

Again, keeping to his goal of simplicity, the airplane has no boarding steps. Bob has a method of boarding in which he puts his right leg in the airplane past the control stick, then sits on the seat edge and brings the other leg in. Bob is also tall and all legs. Those of us who are crotch-challenged would appreciate a step. I think it could be nothing more than a simple peg or wedge on the back side of the gear leg which would allow you to grab the tubing overhead inside, put your left foot on the peg and pick yourself up to put your leg and butt inside. That might not work, but it needs something, as I refuse to wear high heels just to board an airplane.

At some point, we both knew we were going to have to go back land the airplane. I wasn't too worried, but then it wasn't my airplane.

As I turned final at 70 mph to cover the gust spread with only half flaps, we could see the wind had gotten worse. I could also see that Bob was getting nervous and I didn't blame him. The turbulence and gusts were beating the crap out of us but it wasn't until we were on short final and we could see how serious the wind really was that Bob, using the most tactful voice he could muster, shouted, "Do you want me to land it?"

By that time I was zeroed in on the edge of the runway and I shouted back without turning my head, "What ever you think you want to do, Bob." Inwardly I was grinning because I could see both of his hands nervously hovering around both the stick and the throttle. He wasn't enjoying this. But, I was. And it was too late for him to interrupt the process safely and still land.

There comes a time in transitioning into any new airplane, especially in a condition like this, that you suddenly sense the airplane's complete character and it either does or doesn't work for you. In this case, while Bob was vacillating about whether to knock me off the controls and go around or not, I was looking the Bearhawk right in the face and I was loving what I saw.

The wind was the kind that is absolutely dangerous in a taildragger; hard, sharp gusts and quartering from the rear. But at no time did I feel as if the situation was coming even close to the edge of the airplane's envelope. I was having absolutely no trouble flying the line I wanted; going for a three point (don't ever wheel land in a tailwind and I almost never wheel land anyway), canceling out the drift, keeping the tail behind the nose. The airplane let me do it effortlessly (depending on your definition of effortless).

As the speed bled off, it took only a little more wing down to keep us centered and straight. Then the airplane painted itself onto the runway in a single, flowing motion, right main and tailwheel first, and stayed there. The airplane squatted over on all three and it wasn't until we had slowed way down that I had to call for some left brake because the wind had overpowered the rudder and we were slowly turning right.

Absolutely no sweat! I'll take luck over skill any day!

A note here: very few airplanes would have given me the control authority or response to handle that kind of wind as easily as we did. If we would have had a better day, I would have never seen that corner of its character and wouldn't have learned as much about it as I did. I would have liked to have done some sneaking-over-the-trees short fields, but I have no doubt it excels in that, because I did those in the other airplane. It's very comforting to know the airplane can handle bad environmental situations as well as it can.

I'm more convinced now than ever that the Bearhawk, with any engine, is the airplane more people should be building. It offers tremendous utility and comfort in an excellent handling package. Lots of airplanes are faster, but how many of them are carrying four people and lots of stuff? And how many can be built as inexpensively? If you scratch build, the steel and aluminum will cost about $3,500 and that will give you a complete airframe ready to start bolting the expensive stuff on. Also, you can buy that material at the rate your money comes in. And then there is the kit route: the quick build is $25,500 which whacks about three years off your building time for an estimated 1000 hour build time.

Do I think the airplane is worth building? I would think that should be obvious by now.

Bearhawk Kits
An obvious question has to do with kit availability. AviPro Aircrarft, Ltd. is now in full production of kits for the airplane ranging from complete, quick-build airframes to complete wings, wing components, etc. Go to
www.bearhawkaircraft.com for more information.

Bearhawk Structure
The Bearhawk is a steel tube fuselage and welded tail with aluminum, single strut wings.

The fuselage has doors on both sides with fold up windows and a cargo/back door on the right side. The structure is such that you tack weld the top and bottom trusses first, jig it up and put the side pieces in, rather than doing the sides first as with most tubing fuselages.

The tail uses bent up sheet ribs with tubing spars. The landing gear has a uniquely simple oil shock assembly for each leg that minimizes the amount of machine work, but works really well.

The plans have no specifications for seats, but the most popular seems to be the Tripacer seat for the front with a variety of possibilities for the rear. In truth, almost any kind of seat could be adapted because the tubing structure would let you mount any kind of track.

The wings use folded up "C" shaped spars with multiple-strap spar caps on the main spar. Almost all of the skin rivets are flush and the struts are shortened C-182 units, although a custom extrusion is available from Bob Barrows.

The ailerons and flaps are fabric covered aluminum and are actuated through a combination of cables and push rods, with a minimum of push rods. There are a number of steel tubing parts in the wings including the aileron mounts and pulley mounts.

The tail wires can be either streamlined stainless steel with clevis forks or, a much less expensive alternative, is to turn down steel rod as shown in the accompanying detail photos. Bob is big on building everything, including the tailwheel illustrated.

The engine can be nearly anything, but Bob likes Lycomings. In fact, building Lycomings is part of his main business. A Continental would work just as well but would require building a bed mount for it. A number of builders are using automotive conversions including the Ford V-6 and Mazda units. It is entirely practical to build the airplane with something as small as a 160 hp Lycoming, although the aircraft would have to be kept light. Flown as a two place airplane, 160 hp performance would be surprisingly good. That would put the airplane at less than 2000 pounds with full fuel (55 gallons), for a power loading of 12.5 pounds per horsepower which is significantly better than a C-172 at gross (15 pounds/horsepower). The 260 hp airplane at the same weight is 7.7 pounds per horsepower which is right up there with Pitts Specials. Yeehah!

A note about the airplane's useful load: Bob's 260 hp airplane came in at a little over 1100 pounds and he's certain an airplane with full electrics would come in under 1200 pounds. This gives it a useful load of 1200 pounds. Four FAA sized people weigh in at 680 pounds. 55 gallons of fuel is about 350 pounds. So your baggage/cargo allowable with full tanks and seats is 50 pounds. You should know one thing right up front; no one builds an airplane as light as Bob Barrows. His finish is thin, his upholstery is painted Ceconite and he has no radios. It would be very easy to add 100 pounds with upholstery and radios which will cut down your useful load.

You didn't hear it from me, but I wouldn't worry too much about that. The airplane will carry anything, but, as long as you stay somewhere in the neighborhood of 2400-2500 pounds gross, you'll be okay as the airframe is strong enough to handle an extra few pounds. Just don't abuse that margin.

For more information, contact the address below. Plans are $250 and include all the back issues of Bear Tracks, the builders newsletter. Subscription to the newsletter after the first year is $16 ($20 foreign).

Mention you saw it in Airbum.Com. You won't get a discount, but he likes to know where his contacts are coming from.

Bob Barrows
R & B Aircraft
2079 Breckinridge Mill Rd
Fincastle, VA 24090


AviPro Aircraft, Ltd is now producing a complete line of components for the Bearhawk right up to a 51% quick-build kit. In keeping with Bob Barrows' approach, the prices are reasonable. They are working closely with Barrows in that he supplies the plans and they supply the components and kits. They can be reached at:

AviPro Aircraft, Ltd

3536 E. Shangri-La Rd.

Phoenix, AZ 85028

(602) 971-3768



We took some pictures during our visit to their plant in Atlixco, Mexico. It's about two hours south of Mexico City in a nearly new facility. Click Here for your own plant tour. There are a lot of pictures, so it has a long load time. Sorry!

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Mark Goldberg's Bearhawk

Text and photos from High Flight, Lakeway Airpark's February 2004 Newsletter

On December 4, 2003, the newest airplane based at Lakeway Airpark took to the skies for the first time. N303AP, an experimental Bearhawk, was designed by engineer Bob Barrows of Virginia. Bob first flew his original Bearhawk (with 180 HP) in 1993. Plans were made available to builders in 1995, and to date over 700 sets of plans have been sold.

The Bearhawk is a 4 place, conventional tail dragger design with a steel tube fuselage covered with fabric. The wings are all aluminum with flush riveted skins. The ailerons and flaps are aluminum covered with fabric. It can be powered by engines from 180 HP to 260 HP.


Three men, Lakeway residents Mark Goldberg and Erik Mulloy and aviation writer Budd Davisson, saw a business opportunity and put together a factory in central Mexico to produce a Quick Build kit for the Bearhawk. While building from the plans only can be a multi year endeavor consuming up to 5,000 hours of work, the Quick Build kit can be finished in 1000 to 1500 hours of labor. As of the date of this newsletter, 31 Quick Build kits have been delivered to customers in the one and a half years since the factory started shipping kits.


Mark Goldberg's N303AP is the first Bearhawk from a kit to fly, completed after 15 1/2 months of work by Mark and his mechanic friend Justin Brown. It is powered by a Lycoming O-540A4D5 (250 HP) swinging a Hartzell 84" 2 blade prop. Stall speed is quite low - under 40 MPH. Cruise speed is over 160 MPH at 75% power. Airplane watchers hanging out at the airport have been startled to see the Bearhawk take off in 200-300 ft. and climb out strongly.


N303AP now has about 12 hours of flight time. The rigging has been tweeked until it just about flies hands off. Lakeway resident Wayne Wagner has flown the plane quite a bit as well as the owner. Mark welcomes members of the Airpark association to stop by and check out his new bird.




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AviPro Aircraft, Ltd Plant Tour

Text and photos by Budd Davisson and AviPro Aircraft, Ltd.

The plant is located in the town of Atlixco, Mexico (75,000 population). This is about two hours south of Mexico City. On a map, locate Puebla, south of Mexico City, then go west a few miles and you'll see it.

This location was picked because of prior experience in the town with the local labor and many long time personal connections.

The plant building was constructed in 1996 as a coffee plant. It was leased by AviPro in 2000 and a labor force of appoximaely 15 individuals assembled. An intense training program aimed at developing the appropriate skills was launched. All major tooling was constructed in the U.S. and shipped to the location along with all required equipment. All of the steel, aluminum and welding rod used in construction of the airframes is also shipped in from the U.S.

Drive time from the Mexico City airport to the AviPro plant is approximately two hours. A really exceptional bus service is also available that takes you into Puebla and a twenty minute taxi ride takes you the rest of the way.

Large doors open out both sides of the plant and a shower/restroom facility is attached on the right. Since these photos were taken a paint booth has been erected where the blue truck is parked.

Since these photos were taken there is another vertical wing jig to the left of the one pictured to help keep up with demand. The area shown is approximately one-third of the floor space. Two flat wing assembly tables are out of frame to the bottom and the shears and breaks, along with the spar assembly table are out of frame to the left. It may be of interest to note that none of the buildings or houses in the area are either heated or cooled because of the area's location in the temperate zone and at an altitude of six thousand feet. The temperature variation is only 15-20 degrees year round and generally stays within a ten degree range.


All major tooling was constructed in the U.S. with designer, Bob Barrow's approval and inspection. He visits the plant periodically to inspect and help improve procedures. As much of the fuselage as can be reached is welded in the fuselage with only a small percentage remaining to be done when it is removed. This controls welding distortion and provides maximum accuracy.

The firewall station jig is bolted in place to allow removal of the fuselage. All fuselages are welded with five-point motor mount bushings already in place to allow all four and six cylinder engines to be installed with no airframe changes. All AviPro fuselages also have the utility door option installed along with the bushings for float fittings.

The welding of all major components is via oxy-acetylene and the more critical areas are stress relieved. Smaller components, such as the tail surfaces are TIG welded and stress relieved.

Gas welding is used because it is felt the thermal shocking to the chrome-moly is less and easier to control. The coating of the welding rods is removed prior to use to minimize weld contamination and a long-period cool-down cycle for each weld is part of the welding procedure.

After the fuselage is removed from the main fixture, secondary jigs are used to attach all ancillary parts, including fittings, door sheet metal and bushings and tabs required to attach various systems. One of the customer purchase options is to buy the fuselage as it comes out of the main jig with only the wing, landing gear and horizontal tail fittings welded in place. The next level is the entire fuselage with all welding finished, the landing gear and shock struts and the entire tail group ready to attach.

All assemblies, such as the rudder pedals seen here, are welded in hard fixtures. As much of the weld as possible is accomplished while the assembly is in the jig to minimize distortion.

Because of the heavy steel tooling, each AviPro part is interchangeable with the next allowing all parts, such as these controls sticks to be used in conjunction with any other part. The attach points in the fuselage are also installed using steel fixtures.

Individual components, no matter how small, are fabricated, bent and drilled using fixtures to ensure accurate assembly. Nothing needs to be measured so the human element is eliminated.

Prior to being placed in the vertical jigs for skinning, the ribs, spars and all internal steel parts are trued and riveted together on a horizontal jig table. Accuracy maintained by this method exceeds that of most factories which are producing light aircraft.

All individual parts on the finished wing kits (ribs, fittings, etc.) and those on the quick-build kits are primered prior to assembly. The spar pieces (spar caps, stiffeners, bolt fittings, etc. are individually primed before assembly.

The labor force is quite religious and they had a padre bless the entire plant as well as each of the major construction areas.

The valley in which Atlixco is located is quite historic and, besides having it's own active volcano, is spotted with ancient pyramids and spectacular churches. It is well removed from any of the problems associated with major metropolitan areas but has a stable climate and work force that has worked very much to AviPro's advantage.

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To keep this thing from rambling on Iím going to try to abbreviate it and mention high points only, although by the time youíre done reading this, youíll find it hard to believe itís abbreviated.

Pat took an incredible amount of time and energy to come over, do a bunch of flying, sweat his butt off and, in general, play the ambassador role for the Clan Bearhawk. Not many folks would do that and, I, for one, thank him mightily for it.

We flew about 2.5 hours together and on top of that, he hopped another five or six passengers, including the AZ Redhead who wonít stop talking about it.

Pat Fagan of Pearblossom, CA took six years building his BH from scratch

Patís airplane
He has done a terrific job of detail work. Every little piece, like the fairing strip that captures the side of the windshield and goes under the front edge of the top door half, is perfectly straight, edges smooth and rounded, bends just right for the application. The ailerons fit in the wing with barely 1/8Ē gap anywhere. The engine baffles are works of art in themselves. The airplane is very, very well done without being one of those prissy, I-chromed-everything-in-hopes-of-winning-an-award airplanes built primarily for going to air shows. The airplane just feels ďrightĒ and ready to be used.

The three-blade Hartzel in front of the Bob Barrows 0-540 is impressive looking and the combination runs like a sewing machine. The vibration level is so low itís almost scary and it starts on the first blade every time.

The interior is classic Bob Barrows (fabric inside the fuselage everywhere) but you donít notice the sidewalls are fabric because they are so smooth and colored to match everything else.

His cooling eyeball vents, fed by NACA ducts, work really well and are among the ideas to be copied.

I sat with about four inches of headroom and Iím not sure Iíd want to sit any higher except in serious short field work.

Several people have commented on how much the nose cuts into the visibility but no one has commented on how quickly the nose tapers out of view or how the shape of the fuselage lets you move your head to the side and almost see around the nose. On the taxiway I could see all but the middle three or four feet of the taxiway by moving my head. A very shallow turn away from me (I was on the right with the throttle and stick in the ďcorrectĒ hands) uncovered the entire taxiway. Iíll bet I wasnít turning much over ten degrees. The airplane gives the impression of being blind but it really isnít.

Pat has flown my airplane so he now knows what ďblindĒ means.

I was immediately struck with the feeling that the stick was a little far away from me and I had to reach for it. The seat was fairly far forward and still I felt that way. Itíll be interesting to see if others comment. Weíll monitor that because itís an easy thing to change via linkage or the step in the ďZĒ of the stick.

The entire instrument panel is machine turned and sprayed with clear lacquer

The overall feeling of the cockpit, especially with the skylight, is one of open, spaciousness. I just canít think of anything Iíd do to improve upon the general visibility and comfort. Iím 5í10Ē and 185 pounds. I donít think anyone would feel crowded until they hit around 6í4Ē and 250 pounds, but, if youíre that big, youíre used to feeling crowded. The two of us definitely were not intruding on the otherís space and, for you Alaskan types, I donít think heavy jackets would change that.

Taxiing is a simple matter of moving your feet and pointing the airplane. The ratio was just a little long so it behaves in a fairly subdued manner and is easy to keep up with. Also, there was no feeling of inertia wanting to keep the airplane turning. Very easy to taxi. At least as easy as a Citabria.

Wow, is all I can say! WOW!

This was truly bad day to be flight testing airplanes because we never saw temps under 95 degrees once and they were usually higher than 100. The worse part, however, was that we had a 3-4 knot quartering tailwind most of the time, which really screws with tailwheel airplanes. It doesnít sound like much, but because of local noise abatement procedures, I operate in them a minimum of an hour a day, Iím here to tell you that they make a serious difference in both performance and handling. Still, that first takeoff stood my hair on end.


The interior is so subtle and well done you don't even notice that the sidewalls are Ceconite.

We did a bunch of takeoffs and played with several variations on a theme. All of them happen so quickly that youíd be hard pressed to get in trouble before you were off the ground.

I tried a pure three-pointer, holding the tailwheel in contact until lift off and it vaulted into the air, the nose going up twenty degrees and putting us at 50 feet and racing through 70 knots before I could blink.

With the tail wind, it was hard to get meaningful measurements, but after we standardized on a short field technique that put the tailwheel just a few inches above the ground, we were seeing 250-400 feet, depending entirely on the wind. Pat did one when it must have been calm because it was noticeably shorter than the rest. Barely 200 feet. Remember this is at 100 degrees (density altitude was 4,900 ft), although we were only two guys and at full tanks most of the time. All takeoffs were made at half flaps.

Oil temperatures hampered our experimentation time. In those conditions weíd easily go up to 240 degrees doing touch and goes. At altitude (OAT was 97 degrees at 4,000 feet!) they stabilized at 225-230 depending on the power setting. Cylinder head temps came up during touch and goes, peaking at 410 but most of the time they were down around 380-390. This says that the cowling configuration will work in hot weather but the oil radiator, although big, is either too small or two are needed. This is strictly an AZ thing. Even Patís airplane would still work well out here if you didnít thrash it the way we were doing.

The AZ demonstrator is going to wind up with two coolers, one with a straight ram scoop and maybe a shutter.

Rates of climb never went under 1300 fpm and could be pushed over 1500 feet by pulling back to 75 knots, but the nose is ridiculously high and that doesnít help oil temps. I kept track and found that even at 100 knots it was stabilizing on 1000 fpm, which fell to 850-900 fpm by 5500 feet.

We did some two-way runs down a road that I later went out and measured with my carís odometer to verify what it showed on the sectional. Assuming my odometer was right, it was a shade over 10 miles, so we had a good distance to measure things over.

The Bob gave us some power settings to use including an rpm adjustment formula for the heat. We did two-way runs at 75% and 60%.

At 75% you can really tell the airplane is going fast and is working to do so. The nose of the wing is really down. This came out to 161 mph.

At 60%, the fuel burn dropped by 5 gallons per hour, and the speed dropped to 142 mph.

At the time, I was disappointed because that didnít match with the 135 knots (155 mph) Pat now appears to be flight planning at. Then I realized that was because we were at 4,000 feet. With the amount of power being put out by the 0-540, the drag curve of the airframe falls off faster than the power curve of the engine so at the altitudes he usually flies, 8-10,000, the airplane is much more efficient.

Weíre going to continue to say the airplane is a 150 mph airplane, but it really needs some fairings to go fast low. Also, Pat hasnít played with reflexing the flaps yet, which may yield some useful gains. To any who care, Pat has 700 x 6 tires, which are big, but not as big as Bobís 8.00's.

Pat used to fly fire fighting tankers for Aero Union and his BH is painted in a tanker scheme utilizing his BH plans number.

We played a little with phugoids, rudder-doublets and some of the handling stuff and found the airplane is dynamically positive in pitch but not overly soópull the nose off trim ten knots and let go and itíll start back to level but is in no hurry to do so. It damps eight of the ten knots and most of the altitude gained in the first cycle and then takes another three to totally damp out, but it finally does. This was at a forward CG location.

Break-out forces (how much you initially push to make things happen) are just a little higher than Iíd like (I fly a Pitts, so Iím not a good judge) but the actual aileron pressures and response are really pleasant. It does exactly what you want it to do as soon as you ask it without being too quick. The pressures are lighter than Cessna's but the response and roll rate is much higher. I tried some rapid reversals from a forty-five degree bank one way to the same bank the otherway while verbally timing it and I'd say the roll rate is around 90 degrees a second or 30-40% higher than a Cessna. Trim it up hands off, and you can go to sleep it is so stable.

The rudder on Pat's airplane felt noticeably different than on Bob's two prototypes. As I understand it, Bob redrew the aerodynamic balance on all the plans and reduced the size of the balance. Originally the rudder was extremely light with little break-out force, but Pat's is perfectly matched to the ailerons and rudders. In fact, the controls are as well balanced as you'll find on any airplane of any type.

I did a lot of messing around at stall and sub-stall speeds. Clean it bobbles a little and mushes at about 42 knots. With full flaps (Pat isnít getting a full 50 degrees) it comes down closer to 35 knots. Using power to hold altitude, I ran it down under 30 knots and made turns left and right and it showed no tendency to do anything stupid.

I did some deep stalls (full stall and left the stick nailed full back) and played with the ailerons and rudder. Both are still working and with the stick full back I could execute gentle turns left and right. If I got aggressive with the ailerons you could feel them nibbling and getting ready to stall.

Since we were going to try some slow approaches, I set it up at 40 knots with power and drove it around trying steeper and steeper banks and didnít feel it wanted to do anything but fly. I did the same thing at 35 knots with the same result.

As the airplane goes under 45-50 knots the controls all get softer, as youíd expect, but thatís largely an illusion as they are still working but need bigger deflections to make things happen the way you want them to.

One thing that did make slow flight difficult and was to haunt us a little when playing with slow approaches was that we ran out of trim at around 60 knots. This meant we were holding increasingly heavier stick forces the slower we went. The forces never became burdensome, but they were making it difficult to stabilize at super slow speeds.

Pat has his trim linkage at the very end of the trim arm on the elevator but has another hole further in. Heís going to move the arm in, which will increase the trim tab travel and see if that gives him a slower minimum trim speed. It will make his trim more sensitive but it isnít very sensitive to begin with so it probably wonít be a problem. Weíll let him tell us whether it helps or is more trouble than itís worth.

What else could you possibly want or need?

Skylight Comments
Because you sit so far back in the wing, in a normal Bearhawk, visibility is of the pick-up-the-wing-before-you-turn variety. In Patís you had to do the same thing, but as soon as a bank over 15-20 degrees was established, you could see over the down wing. It was great and something well worth doing.

Pat flattened out the top of the fuselage, getting rid of the Bearhawk Hump, which very much squares off the fuselage lines. This is noticeable all the way back to the tail but not particularly objectionable. We (AviPro) raised the stringer line just in front of the fin an inch to make the fuselage more rounded in that area and weíre going to look at a way to put skylights in the fuselage without flattening it out.

To answer those who are saying, "Sky lights are entirely too hot," I have to reply that I'd agree with you, but not in this case. The tint of the skylight is such that you aren't even aware it's tinted from the inside, but not once did I even notice the sun and believe me, we had plenty. It was a perfect balance of visibility and comfort.

My first landings were all made at 50 knots at which speed the airplane is totally normal in all respects. Also, since it bleeds off to well under 40 during the flair, runway control isnít even worth talking about because youíre moving so slowly. I still donít know why people ask us about a nose wheel for the airplane. There are very few taildraggers that are easier to fly.

I started out with three notches of flaps but quickly decided I liked it better at full flaps because it got the nose down further and the speed bleed during flair was a little quicker. In many airplanes this would make the flair timing-critical (you have to rotate just right to keep from dropping it) but that wasnít the case here. Even at full flap (something short of 50 degrees, Pat is going to measure and let us know what he has), power-off rotation from a stabilized glide was no sweat.

When I got it down to 45 knots, the first time or two I found myself using a little power in the flair to help get the tail down because I didnít think it would rotate, but later I found the power wasnít needed. It had sufficient elevator power left to get the tail down and this was at a far forward CG location. With people in the back or a load, it will probably flair into three-point at 45 just like it does at 50.

When we got down to 40 knots on short approach things got a little more difficult because of the amount of backpressure we were holding. This wouldnít be a factor because the backpressure isnít that high but it is aggravated by the way the elevator effectiveness changes with power.

When you get down to 40 knots, the elevator effectiveness naturally diminishes but itís not anything you notice. However, both Pat and I did the same thing once a piece. We were shooting for the numbers and got just a little low and were late putting the power in. The second we hit the power (just a hint of it but too big of a hint), the tail surfaces instantly became totally effective and the amount of backpressure we were holding became too much and the nose shot into the air.

This is a pilot technique problem not an airplane handling problem. If you hold the nose stable (this is in Student Pilot 101, I believe), when applying power in this situation, you donít get balloons. Next time around we didnít do that.

The balloons taught us something, however. When Pat did his, I kept my eyes in the cockpit (I hate watching crashes in which I'm actively involved) and studied the airspeed as he recovered. We were a little under 40 knots when the nose jumped and we started up hill. We were decelerating through 35 knots on the top and he kept pulling as we came down while he added power. We went down through 32 knots and arrived on the runway tailwheel first in what he thought was a hard landing but which I thought was only a little harder than usual. By the way, the airplane barely bounced, a sterling testimony to the Bob shock system.

What was of some importance during this little whoop-dee-do was that the tailwind was screwing with us, trying to shove the airplane around and at no time, even though we were hanging there at 32-35 knots, was control an issue.

Personally, Iíd bet money that if we had another hour to practice, in more normal wind and temperature conditions, weíd become perfectly comfortable making 35-knot approaches.

Because of the goofy wind conditions I was never able to determine a speed at which it slid over the backside of the drag curve and began falling for the ground, thereby transferring most glide slope control to the throttle. In fact, it felt as if there was no such point and it kept flying all the way down. This will take more investigation.

In summarizing the landings, Iíd say that 50-55 knots should be considered the normal approach speed and three notches used. We didnít do any landings with two notches but Iíd ignore it for landing and use that position only for takeoff.

Incidentally, even though it was 100-103 degrees (runway temps probably MUCH higher) and we had a tailwind, we still turned off on the first taxiway after the threshold much of the time and thatís 400 feet. With no wind, even at those temps it would have been a no-brainer. With 5 knots on the nose we could have backed into that space :-)

Iím really looking forward to flying the airplane in more user-friendly conditions. Weíve established that it has no serious boogie-men hiding at the bottom end of the airspeed indicator so now itís time to figure out how best to use those capabilities.


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AviPro's Bearhawk: Pure and Simple

J. Douglas Hinton from Southern Aviator online edition

Have you noticed that the sales literature of many aircraft manufacturers present aircraft features in terms of speed, range and payload in their best light, but cannot be met collectively in all parameters? In other words, the range may be calculated at economy cruise power, the speed for max. continuous settings and the payload may be out of sync with maximum seating capacity and baggage, i.e., you can't enjoy all the best numbers at the same time.

The folks at AviPro Aircraft will tell you up front you can fill all four seats of the Bearhawk, top off the fuel tanks, add 200 pounds of baggage and go 650-800 sm depending on power settings. No apologies or "Yes, buts..."

And what is a Bearhawk? Pure and simple it's a rugged, kit-built, tail-dragging, single-engine bush plane, with a high wing and a number of engine and propeller choices available. Originally designed by engineer Bob Barrows in 1995, it's somewhat larger than a Cessna 172, has huge cargo double doors and is convertible to floats. To date, sales of Bearhawk plans

exceed 700. More than 200 are under construction, with many close to flight and 13 completed aircraft are operating in 13 states.

If you're an experienced builder, you can just buy the plans and have at it. Or you can buy the Quick-Build kit from AviPro and hasten the time to get airborne. In either case the plans have to be purchased separately from Bob Barrows for $250.

In order to get a better feel for how this works, I met with Jim Clevenger at the Kissimmee, Fla., airport. He contracts with AviPro Aircraft LLC (honcho'd by well-known aviation writer and publisher Budd Davisson) as the sole quick-build center for the Bearhawk in the U.S.

GAN: Jim, by reputation, it seems like you've flown just about every warbird and homebuilt there is. Are you ex-military?

Clevenger (chuckles): No, I've just been knocking around a long time. Flown, built, tested and taught in a lot of stuff. And my wife, Julie, who's in the business with me, flies as well. She's got a sackful of licenses and ratings, even flies the TBM Avenger, though I have to help her out with the rudder on occasion.

GAN: Where are the Bearhawk kits manufactured?

Clevenger: In Atlixco, Mexico, about two hours south of Mexico City. The facility was built in 1996 and leased by AviPro, which is headquartered in Phoenix, in 2000. We employ about 22 people there. Distribution and shipping is done through Austin, Texas.

GAN: We have to ask. Do you get much static from customers about NAFTA and sending jobs out of the country?

Clevenger: Not a bit. There was some concern in the beginning about the quality of workmanship, but I have to tell you, these kids are great. The welds are about the best I've ever seen. We do all the training and Bob Barrow and I visit the factory regularly to ensure quality control and make improvements to the process.

Furthermore, all the materials and tooling they use are shipped in from the States.

GAN: Why not tell us about the construction of the airplane?

Clevenger: We construct a tubular steel fuselage frame both for longevity and crash survivability. It's also easier to repair than composite. The fabric-covered wings are metal for the same reason. The only things you'll find in the kits are those peculiar to the Bearhawk. By that I mean we don't supply the interior, avionics, engines, propellers, wheels and brakes, nuts and bolts, control cables, instruments and so on, as they are readily available from well-known vendors. We do, however, pass along OEM prices on engines and props.

GAN: We're a little confused. It seems like you offer about five kits with different ingredients and prices.

Clevenger: No need to be. The Quick-Build Kit is priced at $27,700 and meets all FAA requirements for the 51% rule. It includes a completed fuselage with no further welding required, ready for cover, stringers and systems installation. The landing gear and tail are finished, ready for cover and installation. The control system and surfaces are ready to install. The wing is finished with only the top skin, riveted at the front spar, dimpled and drilled, ready for final riveting. Struts are done and fuel tanks are ready to be put in, less caps. The motor mount is ready for attachment and the seat frames are finished. Finally, the utility door and float attachments are standard. And while the firewall is finished, the nose bowl and cowling are not drilled or final trimmed. Two options that we also supply upon request are steps for both sides and 18 gallon auxiliary fuel tanks.

The other kits you refer to allow the builder to buy just what he's comfortable with. Some people are good welders, others not. Some folks are good at doing wings, but not landing gear installations. So we make it easy for them them to purchase subassemblies they're not comfortable attacking by themselves so they can concentrate on other areas where their capabilities are better served.

GAN: What are we talking about in build time?

Clevenger: With the Quick-Build kit, a good average might be 1,100 to 1,300 hours. Obviously, first-timers are going to run longer and experienced builders are going to come in under that. If a person wants to scratch-build the airplane from plans alone, build time could run 2,500-3,000 hours or more. In either case, that doesn't include time spent on plush interiors, exotic avionics or wild paint schemes.

GAN: How many kits have you sold?

Clevenger: As we speak, 34. We're now running about one a month.

GAN: And Kissimmee is the only Quick-Build completion center in the U.S.?

Clevenger: Yes and no. People can have their kit shipped here and we'll help them over the rough spots for a price, depending upon how much assistance they need. Or for a fee and expenses, we'll go to their location and do the same. One thing I might mention here is a CD produced by Russ Erb and available for sale. It has a tremendous amount of information about building the Bearhawk. There are also a couple of Bearhawk websites where builders can exchange information and get assistance, plus a newsletter by Bob Barrows when you buy his plans.

GAN: Which engines do you recommend?

Clevenger: Generally the Lycoming 250 hp O-540-A4D5 at $33,556 or the Lycoming 180 hp O-360 A1A at $22,995. Those are OEM prices and include the starter, alternator, magnetos, carburetor and engine-driven fuel pump. If the builder buys from us, we require a 35% deposit and the balance a week before shipment, transportation and insurance paid for by the buyer.

GAN: How about props?

Clevenger: It depends on the engine. A Hartzell prop is only available on the Lycoming O-540 series. Otherwise, heavier counterweights or a McCauley prop is required. Bob Barrows says as long as you're not pulling more than 250 hp and 2,700 rpm, the 84 inch diameter prop gives better performance than the 80 inch unless ground clearance is a concern.

GAN: How about deposits and delivery times?

Clevenger: A deposit on any kit is $1,000 except for the rib/spar component kit, which is $500. A deposit establishes a delivery position, which right now is about five to six months because of the backlog. If a buyer cancels, 50% of the deposit is refundable.

GAN: So what's a builder looking at investment-wise when all is said and done?

Clevenger: Without putting a value on his or her build time, we estimate $45,375 on the low end with a used prop and mid-time engine, to $54,850 for an overhauled engine and prop, to $81,450 for a bird with new engine and prop ó plus avionics.

These numbers will vary up and down depending on the engine and propeller choices.


As we strolled toward N509RF, due for delivery to a Texas customer a week later, Florida's 90į temperature and 100% humidity prompted a rather abbreviated walkaround inspection so we could blow some prop blast through the windows at the earliest opportunity.

Clevenger first opened the huge utility doors and pointed out that the rear two seats could be reversed for extra cargo space, at the same time moving the center of gravity forward. He also mentioned the CG has 12 inches of travel, i.e., it's almost impossible to get the aircraft out of the envelope. Next he pointed out the overhead wing tanks, each holding 50 gallons. If optional auxiliary fuel is ordered, these tanks, each holding nine gallons, are mounted in the outboard wing panels.

Fuel quantity is measured from the cockpit by sight gauges attached to the fuselage walls above either entry door. Not exotic, but practical, inexpensive and accurate. The cockpit windows open fully to latch under the wings, making the Bearhawk an excellent camera platform. The former Cessna 170 windshield is now formed and trimmed through AviPro.

After engine start, we taxied to Kissimmee's runway 15 without any need to fishtail as visibility over the nose is excellent. Turning Lycoming's 250 horses loose, the tail came up immediately and we were off in a few hundred feet despite the density altitude, floating upwards at 70 mph IAS and 1,300 fpm. Climb was then flattened to 80 mph with 1,000 fpm up to 3,500 ft.

Setting up 75% power (24 in. and 2,400 rpm), we clocked 130 kts with a fuel burn of 14.5 gph. Though the roll rate is agile, this is definitely a rudder airplane.

Coordinated turns definitely take some practice, but Clevenger assured me it would only take an hour or so to get the "feel" of the Bearhawk.

Next he demonstrated a few stalls, clean and with the massive flaps lowered. With feet off the rudder pedals in each case, the aircraft dropped a wing, easily picked up with aileron. But when the stalls were executed with the ball centered, the nose merely mushed downward until back pressure was released.

We next flew a couple of inherent stability maneuvers and found the bird to be very stable in every axis. No autopilot required. A sagging wing can easily be picked up with a touch of rudder.

Returning for landing, the approach angle was dramatic when the huge flaps were fully lowered. Carrying a little extra for the thermals, we flared at about 50 mph for a perfect three-pointer (Clevenger's, not mine!). When I asked him about tailwheel conversions, he responded seven to 10 hours should do it for someone who's never flown a taildragger before.

Overall, I was impressed with the Bearhawk. It is a well-designed, honest, no-nonsense (or unpleasant surprises) utilitarian that offers excellent field performance as well as acceptable speed, range and useful load for the price.

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How To Groundloop Your Taildragger author unknown

Judging by how frequently it is performed, the Groundloop is indeed a popular maneuver. The Groundloop is an extreme low-level figure that is highly acrobatic in nature, which may be executed in many exciting variations. It is customarily performed as the last figure in a sequence, but I have seen the Groundloop attempted as a preliminary or warm-up maneuver.

It is rarely scored however, because it is most often performed out of the Judges' line-of-sight. Also, the Groundloop is categorized as a surprise maneuver, and therefore nobody is really prepared when it is executed.

In fact, the figure is not considered genuine unless Judges, spectators and the pilot-in-command are all surprised! The many interesting and dynamic variations do not have a Degree of Difficulty or "K" attached, but rather are rated on the International HC* scale.
*Holy Cow


The Groundloop is one of the earliest recorded aerobatic figures. It  was performed on virtually all of the taildraggers dating back to aviation's infancy. The maneuver really came into its own during the Golden Era of the Groundloop which was when the cross-wind landing was invented. Previous to this, circular landing fields were the norm and the pilot simply eye-balled the windsock, and landed into wind. However, it was soon discovered that a short, straight landing strip could be plowed out, and now there would be lots of room for hangars, clubhouse, and an expansive cocktail lounge. Once everyone saw how much fun this new land-use concept generated, it was adopted internationally. The daily Groundloop displays were an instant hit, and helped cast the new idea in tarmac.


Most Groundloops are weathercocking related phenomena. This means that at least one main wheel must be touching the earth, and a wind is blowing. Traditionally, the maneuver is started in a cross-wind; during the landing roll-out the tail is allowed to be blown down-wind. At this point there are a variety of options that can be exercised depending on your inputs, and the maneuver can take off in almost any direction, and finish in a variety of attitudes. Groundloops that occur under calm conditions are more rare, and require vigorous control inputs, so you really have to work at it to get a decent one.

Groundloops can be generated anywhere from 5MPH to flying speed. When executed at high speed, the figure covers more territory and generally spawns the most interesting variations.

High-wing taildraggers probably Groundloop the best because the upwind wing is more exposed to the breeze. The high-wing also enjoys a longer arm to really accelerate things once the maneuver starts. If the airplane is designed with the wheels forming a small triangle (short-coupled), and in the hands of the right pilot, this could be a Groundlooping champion.


Avoid the study of the following subjects: a) Cross-wind Landings and Take-offs. b) Ground-Handling in winds.

Avoid seeking instruction on these subjects, for it will greatly reduce your chances of producing a truly World-Class Groundloop. Also, you might want to have a good line ready in case someone raises one of these subjects in conversation: "Cross-wind Landings, heck, wasn't that about lesson 5 on your Private License? I'm way beyond that.


To be successful, we must prepare both pilot and aircraft.


To perform good Groundloops, the best preparation is no preparation.


The aircraft can be prepared in a variety of ways to ensure consistently good Groundloops. First of all, the main wheels should be shimmed to a toe-in condition. If the wheels are adjusted to track straight ahead or are shimmed slightly toe-out, the tracking will be too stable to assist your attempts at Groundlooping. Keep the tire pressures different from one another. If you know the direction of the cross-wind, reduce the pressure on the up-wind tire before going flying. And remember, it isn't necessary to change the tires until you can see the second ply of fabric showing; a blow-out can be the start of a dazzling Groundloop.

Avoid the hassle of taking off those trouble some wheel-pants by putting a drop of Loc-tite on the screws. Now you have a good excuse not to inspect the brakes. So, when the brake fails on one side or the caliper pinches through a rusted disc, you will enjoy a splendid groundloop.

At the back end, you can start by loosening the fitting that holds the tail-wheel spring to the fuselage. Just back the nuts off a few turns. Also back off the nut that attaches the tail-wheel casting to the spring. Now, slack off the steering springs a couple of links so the chains sag. And while you're at it, cut off that lock wire that some conscientious Engineer installed in case the chains break. From time to time they break on landing and produce a thrilling, and rakish Cramer-like lurch. Fantastic! These simple mods will produce a delightfully loose rear-end that feels like it's on ball-bearings.

The little tail-wheel is best left alone; over time it becomes worn into an interesting cone-shape by the effects of slipstream, P-factor and gyroscopic effect. These left-turning forces create more wear on the starboard side of the tire, and soon you have a beautifully unstable little demon back there to really help you out.

Install the push-to-talk switch in a remote area of the cockpit. When the tower talks to you on the roll-out, you can look down into the cockpit to locate the button, and when you look up, you may be treated to the wonderful green-and-blue kaleidoscope of rotation about the vertical axis.


Once the pilot and aircraft are prepared, it's a little like shooting fish in a barrel; there's really nothing to it. There are several things you can do to get the Groundloop going, but really the best thing to do is nothing. Just let it happen. If you are landing or fast-taxiing in a cross-wind and you want a Groundloop... you guessed it- do nothing.

Taxi with abandon. As a pilot, you are a free-spirited individual, and this can be best displayed by a carefree jaunt down the taxiway. Just let go of the stick and use the hands-free time to organize your maps and sequence cards. If the tail-wheel comes off the ground, you're going a little fast. Maybe you'll want to use the time to put on your seatbelt, polish the
inside of the canopy, re-tie your shoelaces or perhaps light up a smoke. Taildraggers have the right-of-way, so you won't have to stop suddenly.

When cleared for take-off, start bringing the power up as you swing out on to the runway Of course you'll want to shove the stick forward quickly to get that tail up (you can't get it up too soon). If the plane will fly at 50, hold it on until 65. This technique spreads out the landing gear and brushes off some rubber, but everybody does it and it looks cool. If you get rolling quickly, any cross-wind won't matter. Now rotate as you would a 767. Haul straight back and blaze into the blue.

On the approach, keep it low and fast. If the airplane lands at 50, cross the fence at 100. It's best not to have a planned touchdown point because that can interfere with the free-spirited nature of the flying event. Start fanning the rudders through 500 feet, and keep it going until you've cleared the runway. The fanning technique is to let the airplane know who's boss. Get the plane down to the runway as soon as possible, and force it to land with plenty of forward stick. The fast-landing method is good for all weather conditions, especially quartering tail-winds. Once the plane is firmly on the ground, let go of the stick, but keep fanning the rudder to cool the tail-wheel assembly. Taxi in as you taxied out.


1. 45-Degree Overland Express.

This one is best done at about 40 MPH. The airplane is allowed to weathercock slightly, the upwind wing and wheel are allowed to rise about 3O degrees and the plane swings into wind. At 45 degrees off the runway heading, sharp downwind brake, full aft stick and aileron into wind are added to stop the Groundloop. The plane is now headed off overland. This is useful for taking a short-cut to the washrooms after a long flight.

2. 90-Degree Quick Turn with Prop Curl.

Use the same technique as above, except at about 20 MPH. When you stomp on the downwind brake, also shove the stick forward. Even though you are traveling slower, the gyroscopic effect of shoving the stick forward will give you that extra 4 5 degrees of rotation. The tail will rise briskly. As soon as the prop touches the runway, pull hard back on the stick and apply both brakes. This was how the original Q-Tip Propeller was invented. If you've done it just right, you'll probably have a much more efficient prop.

The Prop Curl can also be done straight ahead. Taxi at about 10 MPH while tucking in your shirt or cleaning your sunglasses. Keep your hands off the stick and slam on the brakes. Voila! Also try this while maneuvering the tail-wheel over an obstacle. For a more dramatic Curl, hold the stick forward and add a burst of power.

3. Pitts Special Twin Arcs.

Start the Groundloop from the roll-out at about 25 MPH. Remove all cross-wind inputs and allow the airplane to weathercock. Move the stick forward to at least neutral to lighten the tail-wheel and reduce its directional control. The little biplane will rise up on the downwind wheel and begin a concise pirouette. The downwind wing-tip will hit the runway and begin scribing an arc of red butyrate, Dacron and plywood. Without hesitation slam in full upwind aileron, as if to attempt to lift the lower wing. The downwind aileron will shoot down and describe a beautiful red arc parallel to that made by the wing-tip. Pull the stick full back, push full downwind brake with full rudder and a burst of power to erect the plane. These little red arcs are very artistic and will attract a good crowd in the evening following the days flying.

4. 180-Degree Pirouette with back-track

This one is best attempted in a light high-wing with narrow bungee landing gear, a Cub will do. The maneuver works best in a quartering tail-wind. This figure looks difficult, but is really pretty simple. It works best if the pilot does not interfere.

Get the weather-cocking started in the usual manner. Move aileron out-of-wind and push the stick forward to get weight off the tail. 20 MPH is fine. As the up-wind wing rises, the center of gravity swings as a pendulum toward the lower wing. About the time the down-going wing smacks the runway, the center of gravity will have swung to the outside of the downwind wheel.
Apply this brake hard. Now it's as if you had two upwind wheels because the center of gravity has migrated outside via centrifugal force. So now it wouldn't matter which brake you applied, the effect would be to increase the rotation of the Groundloop.

The wing-tip smacks off the tarmac, the brake completed a full 180-degree turn, and fast-taxi back to the button.

5. Groundloop with Bunt.

This is certainly one of the more dramatic figures in the Groundloop family. You'll want to be traveling a little faster to get this one. Say 35 MPH. The figure should start slowly then get faster and tighter as rotation sets in. A dry runway is necessary, and a quartering tail-wind from the left is best. Once rotation starts, shove in full down-wind stick and full forward elevator. This will really tighten up the rotation. Now add full brakes and full power. The tail will shoot upwards and the airplane will do a kind of shoulder roll right on to its back. This is really low-level inverted, and you should ensure that your belts are very tight. This figure should be reserved for the last flight of the day.


The Groundloop has been around for almost a century and I'm sure it will be with us forever. And to keep it alive, all we have to do is be a little complacent, a little cock-sure and in a little hurry. Most important, one needs a thorough misunderstanding of weathercocking, cross-wind take-offs, landings and ground-handling. Sounds pretty easy to me.

Enjoy your spin-around

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Tailwheels and the Student - Pros and Cons

Text and Photos by Budd Davisson, an article from Flight Training, 1999

It's interesting to see what's been happening to the tailwheel of late. For one thing, what had been an anachronistic contrivance designed primarily to prevent an airplane from grinding a bare spot on its posterior, is now being re-valuated in terms of its teaching value. What can the tailwheel teach a student that a nosewheel can't, if anything?

As someone who has been instructing in tailwheels almost exclusively for 35 years, you'd expect that anything I'd say from this point on would be anything but unbiased. But you're wrong. I'm not going to say that everyone should learn on a tailwheel or that you can't learn to fly as well in a nosedragger. I'm not going to say that because I don't believe that. If a person is taught correctly in a C-152, he or she is going to be nearly as good as someone taught in a Cub. Yes, there will be certain differences in that the 152 driver won't be accustom to being blind on landing, but in today's world, is that really necessary?

Now go back to where I said, "...if a person is taught correctly in a C-152..." Now, underline the word "correctly and let's define the term.

"Correctly" when interjected into the tailwheel Vs nosewheel controversy means that the student will be taught to coordinate with the rudder at all times and he or she totally understands adverse yaw. It means that when landing, the airplane is put gently on the main gear, nosewheel clear of the runway and it rolls out that way. A crosswind landing will be with zero drift, on one main gear. The takeoffs will include gently lifting the nose wheel clear, then letting the airplane run on the mains until it flies itself off. If that's the way you were taught and that's the way you still fly, then the only thing the tailwheel is going to give you is quick feet and an appreciation for being able to see over the nose.

Do all students and/or pilots fly that way? Not by a long shot. Not by a very long shot. Why don't they? Because an airplane like a C-152 doesn't require that kind of aviating to be a satisfied, if not truly happy, camper. Its adverse yaw is minimal so the instructor has to work hard to get the student to use their feet in the air because the need for coordination is so subtle. On landing, it's not critical the airplane be straight on touch down so crosswinds are no sweat. Just get it down and the geometry of the gear will sort it out. Takeoffs can be anything you want them to be as long as you have the speed. Just drop the hammer and go.

Finesse, coordination and accuracy have to be forced upon the nosewheel student by a dedicated instructor because most nosewheel airplanes just don't require those qualities to be flown safely. In a nosewheel airplane, the instructor is the single most important ingredient in teaching the student to fly properly because the airplane has made it easy to simply get up and down.

And then there's the tailwheel airplane, the lowly Cub/Champ/Citabria/etc.. Here the instructor is also important, but in the tailwheel airplane he doesn't have to work as hard to teach the basics because the student quickly learns the airplane simply won't go where he wants it to unless he or she masters things like coordination and attitude control. The very basic skills on which all of aviation is built, coordination, speed control, attitude and directional control are absolutely necessary to keep the airplane from becoming a crumpled ball of fabric and tubing on the side of the runway. Getting it up and getting it down isn't really as hard as the horror stories about tailwheels make it sound, but to do it consistently means you've mastered the basic skills of aviation. How many pilots can actually say that? Not very many.

There is the mistaken idea that learning to keep a taildragger straight on landing is the primary benefit in learning to fly a tailwheel airplane. That's not only wrong, but is miles from the truth. Improved directional control is only a tiny, tiny portion of what a taildragger will teach you.

Here's an interesting fact: back when we were working Champs right along side Cherokees, it took about eight hours to safely solo most students in either airplane. Today, to transition a medium-time pilot from nosewheel to tailwheel often takes almost the same number of hours because he has to learn the basics all over again.

Let's look first at the tailwheel airplane in the air, where it doesn't make any difference which end the little wheel is on. If the airplane has a tailwheel, regardless of when it was built (excluding birds like C-180s, 185s, etc.), will have vintage handling. It will have much more adverse yaw than a modern airplane because adverse yaw has been engineered out of modern designs. Push the stick sideways on any tailwheel bird and the nose very neatly moves the other direction unless the rudder is being used. It doesn't move a little. It moves a lot and the student quickly tires of sliding around in his seat and gets his feet into the game for self survival. Therefore, long before the tailwheel comes into play on the ground, the pilot is learning to coordinate simply because he has to.

Hopefully, while in the air, the instructor will point out the way the pilot's butt is telling him exactly what the airplane is doing. The adverse yaw is strong enough that side pressures on the pilot's rear end are noticeable and provide valuable input for proper coordination.

Then there's the landing. Actually, the basics of a proper landing are the same for any airplane, tailwheel or otherwise: a). It should be landed as slowly as practical, b) the nose and the tail should be in line with the direction of travel and c) it shouldn't be drifting sideways. That's all there is to it. The big difference between nosewheel and tailwheel, however, is that on a nosewheel airplane any, or all, of those factors can be screwed up and the airplane will eventually wind up going straight. The landing will be successful, if not pretty. On a tailwheel machine, however, let any one of these factors get out of whack and the landing is going to be an adventure. Count on it!

The geometry of a tailwheel airplane is such that the center of gravity is behind the pivot point of the two main wheels. On a nose gear machine it is in front of the mains, like on a child's tricycle. If the CG is kept right on the line of travel, either airplane will roll straight (more or less). However, if the tail is sideways or the airplane is drifting, the CG is no longer in line with the line of travel and inertia makes the CG want to continue going in a straight line. On a nosedragger, that swings the nose back in line. On a taildragger, the inertial of the CG tries to bring the tail around so that the CG will assume the most stable position which would be in front of the main gear. In other words, a taildragger's most stable position is going straight backwards. This is not necessarily the proper way to end a landing.

It only takes a few trips around the pattern before any student or pilot figures out that his life is a trillion percent easier if he or she plants it on the runway at minimum speed, with all three gear touching (wheel landings are another story), with the tail directly behind the nose and with no drift. If that's done, practically all tailwheel airplanes will roll straight except for gently trying to weathervane into the wind. If it's put on crooked or drifting, it'll start swerving the instant it touches. Like we said, the airplane, not the instructor, tells you it's a good idea to do it right.

What happens almost immediately is that the student/pilot starts to notice little things he never noticed before. For one thing, he'll start seeing what the nose is actually doing just prior to touch down. Tiny little drift angles he never saw in his Cessna/Piper/Beech now assume gargantuan proportions. After touchdown, for the first few hours of practice, the nose will have to move a fair amount sideways before he sees it and corrects. After just a little practice, he'll catch the nose movement the instant it starts and, in so doing, again make his life much easier. In other words, his visual acuity gets much better. He's seeing more of what's happening in the windshield.

Since the severity of turns and swerves on the runway are a function of the speed of the aircraft squared, just a little extra speed on touchdown results in greatly aggravated ground handling. So, the student learns quickly, if he holds it off until it's done flying, he doesn't have to work so hard to keep it straight. He also learns to appreciate a good wind down the runway.

Most, but not all, taildraggers cover the runway with the nose at the moment of touchdown so the pilot has to get his visual cues from the side of the runway. This makes him more aware not only of what's happening somewhere other than on the centerline, but makes it easier to see the drifting, assuming he isn't staring at just one side.

Does the taildragger produce a better pilot than a nosewheel airplane, all other things being equal? No, not really, but it is seldom that all other things are equal. It takes enormous effort for a nosewheel instructor to produce a student as good as any which come out of tailwheels. It can be done, but usually isn't.

If a pilot gets comfortable with the tailwheel, he will have raised virtually every part of his flying skills several notches without even realizing it. Then, when he gets into a nosewheel airplane, he'll be surprised at how much better he is because he is aware of so much more of what is going on around him.

Oh, yeah, there is one other advantage to being able to fly taildraggers: many of the most interesting airplanes have a tailwheel and who wants to be automatically excluded from flying so many neat airplanes just because the little wheel is on the other end.

Flying a taildragger isn't hard. It's just different. And it'll make you a better pilot in spite of yourself.

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Don't do this

Things not to do with an airplane. Remember, these people were professionals.


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Airliner, done right

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