Tail-draggers: what you need to know

Tail-draggers: what you need to know

From Piper Cubs to P-51s, planes with tailwheels are some of our favorites. But they do have a tendency to be more difficult to control on the runway. In this article from Jerry Smith, you’ll learn how to set up your tail-dragger as well as flying tips for smooth takeoffs and landings.

Though many planes are equipped with tricycle landing gear, planes with tailwheels–tail-draggers–remain very popular. It is fair to say that most of the RC airplanes flown today fall into the tail-dragger category. In the air, tail-draggers behave just like tricycle-gear aircraft do, but on the ground, it’s another story altogether. Once you’ve built your first tailwheel plane, coping with its ground handling can be challenging. Here are some tips for taming that tail-dragger.

A tail-dragger has its balance point behind the main landing gear. At rest, this keeps the tail firmly on the ground, but once the tail comes up during takeoff, the model becomes inherently less stable. You must keep it lined up with the runway’s centerline, or its center of mass will try to shift around one way or the other, and this will result in an abrupt, tail-swinging turn known as a “ground loop.” If you let this happen, you may damage your model. The secret to taking off and landing a tail-dragger smoothly is to quickly use the rudder to correct any tail-swing. The sooner you correct it, the smoother your maneuver will be. Setting up the main landing gear with a little toe-in will also help to reduce tail-swing. It does take more skill to take off and land a tail-dragger, but it’s nothing that can’t be overcome with a little time and practice.


Model Airplane News - RC Airplane News | Tail-draggers: what you need to know

This Sullivan Products tailwheel assembly is one of the best I’ve used for sport airplanes. It is available in four sizes; choose one to suit your model’s weight.



Model Airplane News - RC Airplane News | Tail-draggers: what you need to know

This tailwheel is typical of what you find in most ARF kits. It looks strong but does not prevent steering shock from reaching the rudder servo.



Model Airplane News - RC Airplane News | Tail-draggers: what you need to know

This tailwheel is supplied with the Great Planes CAP 232 and the Super Sportster ARF kits and is also available separately. It’s light and easy to install.



Model Airplane News - RC Airplane News | Tail-draggers: what you need to know

This Carl Goldberg Products tailwheel is another good choice. It comes with all the hardware, including the wheel, and is available in four sizes to fit airplanes weighing from 6 to 39 pounds. The bright plated finish will keep it looking new and free of rust.



Model Airplane News - RC Airplane News | Tail-draggers: what you need to know

One of the best I’ve used is this Ohio Superstar Products tailwheel. It’s available in five sizes for models weighing from 4 to 50 pounds. It is very rugged and has a very true-to-scale look.



Model Airplane News - RC Airplane News | Tail-draggers: what you need to know

You’ll find this great-looking tailwheel on the Pacific Aeromodel 27% Edge 540 T ARF. It has a fiberglass strut, a neat caster-wheel assembly and springs to absorb steering shock.



Though there are many tail-dragger models on the market, some kits include tailwheel hardware that isn’t as rugged as it should be. This is where the many aftermarket tailwheel assemblies come in.

One of my favorites for sport and non-scale airplanes is the spring-loaded Sullivan tailwheel. It’s robust and easy to attach with two screws. It has a spring wire to isolate the side steering loads from the servo and is available in four sizes. Another very good tailwheel is the sport design from Great Planes (GPMA2868). It is one of the best I have seen in ARF kits. A nylon bushing is mounted in a hole in the tail. The tailwheel-wire strut is mounted in the bushing with a wheel collar installed and retained by an aluminum clip. A thin wire that acts as a spring is soldered to and wrapped around the tailwheel strut and captured in a nylon bushing mounted under the rudder. The tailwheel assembly is plated, and it includes a wheel.

Carl Goldberg Products offers a new tailwheel assembly in three sizes for 6- to 35-pound models. It is a more conventional design and very true to scale. It comes with all the hardware, including the wheel. The strut is made of hardened, plated and polished steel, and the wheel caster comes mounted. A tiller arm is connected to the rudder with two springs, and this arrangement isolates the servo from steering shock.

Another excellent choice that has been around for years is the Ohio Superstar tailwheel. It also has a tiller arm and springs to isolate the servo from steering shock. It comes painted black and is available in sizes to fit small and large airplanes.

Be aware of the flimsy tailwheel setup that has the wheel attached directly to the rudder. This setup is acceptable for small models, but it is not good for larger planes. Because of the constant shock of ground steering and landing, sooner or later, a tailwheel that’s attached to the rudder will fail and damage the rudder and possibly its servo, too. A good tailwheel setup provides positive steering and ground handling, isolates the rudder from steering shock and should last a long time.

So, with your next model, take a closer look at the tailwheel assembly that comes in the kit. If it’s wimpy, there are plenty of aftermarket tailwheel choices that will improve your model’s ground handling and enhance its scale looks.


Updated: July 16, 2015 — 4:40 PM


  1. A good looking women,And she fly’s rc!!! Now thats a catch lol.

  2. For larger models, I have had a lot of success with the White Rose product… Vern is a guy really motivated to produce a superior product…. http://whiteroseeng.com/products/tf.html

    and a method I have utilized for the past 20 years with Tail Draggers… when Taxi’ing… hold full up elevator… this helps keep the tail down, (Nose off the dirt) and due to the increased down pressure on the tail wheel.. it improves steering…..
    (Of course.. if taxi’ing downwind slower than the wind speed… hold down elev right!)

  3. AT 84 I’ve seen planes without tail wheel!! only a metal strip of steel that drags on the ground where now is used a wheel. ” step up in the early tirties” I have a model plane with a short rudder that was a tri three wheel landing gear. Due to location problems I converted to a tail dragger. Rudder controll is now great for take offs and ground routing and taxing at air fields is percise. well before hard surface runways that dragging piece of steel worked. can work just as good when needed

  4. Thank you, alot of usefull info. I have been trying to figure out how to setup my rear landing wheel. The kind my kit comes with is garbage! Flimsy and already had to rebuild my rudder twice and i haven’t even gotten it of the ground. Going to get an after market set up kit today. Thanks again.

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