Cub on grass runway

Earning a tailwheel endorsement in a J-3 Cub taught me many valuable lessons. This was one of the most vivid.

I had an excellent CFI. One of the things he exhorted me about was the condition of the sod runway at the airport. He said every time I flew, I was to walk the runway and inspect its condition. He said do this yourself. Don’t take anyone else’s word.

This was at an airport in Medina, Ohio. After I got my tailwheel endorsement I was in the habit of flying in the evening, staying overnight with my parents, and then flying the Cub in the morning before returning home.

This particular morning I was in a bit of a hurry. Having inspected the runway just the previous evening, I didn’t anticipate any significant change. I fueled the airplane and did my preflight. The airport manager propped the engine for me and I was ready to go.

Cub on grass runway

Taildraggers love grass runways, but that grass can hide potential problems.

The takeoff involved a long back taxi to the south end of the grass runway. No problems so far. I held the brakes and checked the mags—they were good. I released the brakes and began the takeoff roll.

I started with the stick well back. The engine was producing full power. I pushed the stick forward. Right at the point of lift off there was an abrupt swerve to the right. I closed the throttle and held the stick firmly back, planted in my ribs. The airplane came to a stop roughly forty five degrees off the runway heading without any damage. It was the closest I have ever come to a full blown ground loop.

Figuring I had had enough excitement for the moment, I shut the airplane down and retraced my steps on foot.

Suddenly I understood the problem. It had rained during the night, and during my attempted takeoff I ran the right main squarely into a deep puddle of rain water. It was just like applying the right brake with both feet.

If I had done what I was told and walked the runway first, I could have avoided this.

There are several lessons here. First, listen carefully to your CFI. Second, don’t hurry. If you are told to do something before each flight, don’t get creative and do something different. Finally, do get a tailwheel endorsement. You’ll be a far better pilot for it.

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9 replies
  1. Matt Bowers
    Matt Bowers says:

    I have my tail-wheel endorsement, have flown a dozen models and taught in same. But, not sure how it’s made me a better pilot. Almost all of the “loss of control” accidents I’ve seen at my home airport have been tail-wheel. So sad to see so many expensive planes severely damaged. One pilot broke his neck, but luckily recovered. Most all of the accidents were nearly fatal. They wouldn’t have happened if the plane was tricycle.

    Reply
    • Paul White
      Paul White says:

      Sounds like your experience with tailwheel aircraft would lead the accidents to pilot training, or lack of currency issues. A poor craftsman blames his tools. I’ve never come across a situation that a conventional gear airplane couldn’t perform the same or better than a tri-cycle gear aircraft.

      Reply
      • Richard Wyeroski
        Richard Wyeroski says:

        I respond to this site a lot and no matter there is alway a JA that has something derogatory to say something negative…..

        Thanks for posting the information and it is hard to see a puddle that will cause a possible ground loop.

        Lessons learned are always good and if one learns from The mistake it is worth it!

        Thanks

        Reply
        • badornato
          badornato says:

          pilots and aviation have so many abbreviations it is hard to keep up. JA is a new one. but an easy one to remember. thanks

          Reply
  2. Tom Matowitz
    Tom Matowitz says:

    I was very fortunate. I had excellent dual instruction and then ready access to a J -3 that I was able to solo frequently. It was a great confidence builder. In that sense it made me a better pilot in terms of situational awareness and precise control of the aircraft. It was also great preparation for several remarkable aircraft I was fortunate to fly later.

    Reply
  3. Tom Matowitz
    Tom Matowitz says:

    Bringing the airplane to a full stop under control and without damage seemed like a much better idea than rushing headlong into a groundloop. I finished the incident with a muddy tire, a bruised ego, and a good lesson. It could have been far worse.

    Reply

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