Tail Wheel Time


In no way do I consider myself a tail wheel snob, but for some reason, all of the airplanes in my hangar (including the two projects) have the little wheel in back. I guess I am truly old enough to remember when “conventional gear” meant that the airplane had a tail wheel, but I have several thousands of hours in trikes as well, so I am pretty balanced. I guess the one advantage with tail wheels is that the parts and maintenance for tail wheels seem to be a little less expensive than when you have a big wheel and strut up front. But then again, hanging back there in the oily exhaust stream and exposed to the dirt and grime of being close to the ground, the tail wheel componentry seems to need attention just a little more often.

RV Tailwheel

Today was the day to jack up a couple of our RVs and give them their twice-annual tail wheel checks. As it turned out, both of them needed a little work. It’s a dirty job, what with the black, grimy grease and desert dust, so once you get into one – you might as well do a couple. It was time for two new tires, and I had a couple of spares – one a standard Van’s, one a brand new after-market wheel from DJM Manufacturing. Putting them both on at the same time will make an interesting comparison test – check back with me in a year to see how they are wearing. New wheels and tires meant it was time to clean and check the axle bolt, check for free-play, and replace the cotter pins.

Oh – in the free-play department – both had developed a little lateral wobble where the knuckle attaches to the round tail wheel spring, so out came the AN3-12 bolts, and in brand new ones. This doesn’t completely eliminate the play, but it reduces it a lot, and puts off the time when I’ll have to re-drill and install tapered pins as many owners have done.

Then, of course, comes the cleaning of the steering pin – when the pin gets a bur, or just plane sticky, it stays retracted, and instead of a steerable wheel, you have one that is free-castering. Not a huge deal really, unless you have to taxi in a raging crosswind. Today I found the one on my wife’s RV-6 stuck in caster, and when I asked her, she said “oh yeah, it’s been that way for awhile – I figured it could wait until you had it apart.” No big deal – a little time with a piece of emery cloth took off the burs, and some grease had it working smoothly.

Total time to overhaul two tail wheels? About an hour, and that included jacking and supporting the planes. Once you have the tools gathered, the second plane takes almost no time at all.

Quality time in the hangar – and keeping the tail wheels happy – a nice Sunday afternoon – even if it was only 34 degrees outside!

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Paul Dye
Paul Dye, KITPLANES® Editor at Large, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the Space Shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 and SubSonex jet that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra and an electric Xenos motorglider they completed. Currently, they are building an F1 Rocket. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 6000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, FAA DAR, EAA Tech Counselor and Flight Advisor; he was formerly a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.


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