Harvard landings by Andy Goodall

Pinning the Wacky Wabbit down on the bumpy grass at Duxford Imperial War Museum (runway 24) – Tail high with the main wheels glued down with a touch of left rudder

Harvard Landings – To wheel or not to wheel that is the question?

To wheel or not to wheel? – That is the question! This always seemed to be the dilemma when I first started flying the Harvard. When I flew the Auster life was simple, I was told to3 point her every time, so I never considered anything ‘other’ than a 3 point landing  – After much deliberation and chatting to other Harvard pilots, I decided to wheel the Harvard on when there is a cross winding excess of 10 knots and 3 point land below 10 knots. This seemed to go with the general consensus and general opinion, however! I recently went through a phase of ‘only’ 3 pointing the Harvard on every landing, even in a 15 plus knot cross wind with full flap, I may say with great results. So the question still remained to wheel on or 3 point?

My personal choice as as I write this article (August 2017) with over 200 hours on the Harvard, is to 3 point land every time regardless of wind.  I still train often and bash the circuit. I really like to mix it up a little when beating  the circuit. I find this works well because I am far from perfect and I sometimes arrive for a beautiful 3 pointer and then find the two front main wheels touch first! When this happens i quickly convert the plan to a low tail wheel landing by a quick check forward on the stick and stay in complete control –  “I think because I frequently alternate my landings, i get surprised less!” 

The best article I have read on landing the Harvard is by Kent Beckham of the Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team  “Avoiding the ground loop” https://www.t6harvard.com/pilot-stories-2/avoid-ground-loops/  I have listed his article in the pilots section of this web site. I completely agree with everything a mentions in the article and have used his wisdom for many years now.

Neil Oakman T6 Harvard Aviation Instructor/Examiner, arriving for a three point landing at Duxford

 The Harvard is consistent

The only assumption you can make about a T-6 at all is that it is going to swerve one way or the other and you can’t be sure which way. So you plan accordingly, getting your nerves and feet ready to handle whatever it dishes out. The results of a bad swerve can be really exciting-like crumpled wings, folded landing gear, etc. If you do it really right, you’ll be awarded with a view of the airport from an upside down position alongside the runway. The trick is to catch the swerves right at the beginning while they are still tiny turns. Nip each of those in the bud and the airplane is absolutely no problem. It only gets nasty, if you let the nose wander too far before getting your feet in the act.


Understanding the controls

Having spoken to many pilots that don’t  fly aircraft with the traditional undercarriage, they all seem to talk about rudder control as if thats the ‘only control’ that you need in a cross wind.. I have to say that the rudder is very important however its not the only control you need,  its one of a combination of rudder and aileron – What about the poor old aileron? The aileron always seems to get left out of any debate on tail dragger flying and doesn’t seem to come up in conversation when discussing ground loops ….. Hmmmmmmm Ok read on!

I break down the controls in to 4 easy segments, so easy even I can understand them!  –

  • Rudder – Direction (yaw)
  • Aileron – Used to stop the drift
  • Control Column – Speed stick! Speed control
  • Throttle – Up and down lever

Rudder – Ok lets talk about the rudder – This is a very important part of tail dragger flying especially in the take off landing phase, even more importantly in a cross wind. As I have bullet pointed above the rudder controls direction. So as i see the nose wander right i immediately counter with left rudder and vice versa. The technique for using the rudder is very important as you need to correct quickly for any directional changes however carefully as you can either over correct by being to aggressive or react to slowly with serious consequences. Personally I have developed a technique of dabbing the rudder with short positive jabs to keep direction. With the wind from the left for example, the Harvard will want to weather cock in to wind so one would assume right rudder? Right rudder is the correct answer to bring the nose ‘right’ however the secondary effect of yaw is roll, in this case rolling to the right….. So what we have now is the ‘in to wind’ wing lifting (left wing in this example) which is not desirable so left stick would be required in this situation to hold down that in to wind (left) wing…. Getting the idea?

Aileron – The aileron really comes in to its own during the cross wind landing as mentioned above. If the wind is from the left the stick needs to be in to wind or over to the left enough to stop the drift. If you land a Harvard specifically with drift you will quite possibly end up in a ground loop. The aileron in to wind holds down the in to wind wing, if the wing is allowed to lift it will weather cock the aircraft in to the wind. In a situation where the wind is coming from the left the aircraft will try and turn its self to the left so the novice pilot will try and correct with rudder… What the pilot should be doing is holding that wing down in to wind and keeping direction with rudder. In this situation most of the weight should be on the in to wind wheel. There is a lot of dihedral on that wing and its easy for the cross wind to get under the in to wind wing and lift it! However as previously mentioned, as you hold that wind down with left aileron in this example the secondary effect is for the machine also to yaw left so now we need right rudder. As we can see this is real stick and rudder flying!

Speed – A stable approach is what we are looking for to get that stable landing. We should be looking for 90 mph on the clock. To do this the aircraft has to be in the correct attitude and trimmed to hold the speed. The vertical speed indicator (VSI) should also be checked to see that there is not an unusually high rate of descent. Around 500 – 700 feet per minute should be good for the stable final approach. For this I concentrate using the “Speed Stick” or the control stick. This is how I set the speed setting the correct attitude and trimmed.

Throttle – I think of the throttle as the up and down lever. On the final approach the aircraft speed is set and corrected by the control column and trimmed off …..  If the aircraft is low on the approach the throttle should be used to arrest descent or throttled off if the aircraft is too high.  I have found with the Harvard that in the landing configuration with gear and full flap engaged, with the engine at idle, the vertical descent can be around 1800 feet per minute! So as we can see the rate of descent is arrested with power. My normal power setting in the Harvard for the final approach is 15 inches of MP and the RPM forward to 2250 for landing.


Wheeler landing

Lets look at some advantages –

  • Maximum controllability of the aeroplane through the touch down point
  • Reduced susceptibility to being blown about by gusts
  • Improved visibility during the landing run
  • Ease of transition from one taildragger type or model to another

In the early part of the flare out, let the main wheels contact the ground with minimum downward velocity. Advisable to carry a little power

 Wheeler landing execution

*The wheel landing is executed by letting the aeroplane contact the ground on the main wheels first followed by an immediate application of forward elevator to reduce the angle of attack and keep the wheels glued on.

On the final approach the aircraft should be stable and speed correct around 90 mph with a small amount of power, approximately 15 inches. As I descend to land, just before touch down I aim to fly low level down the runway at around a few feet gradually getting lower waiting for the main wheels to touch still carrying around 80-90 mph. All the time the aileron needs to be fed in to the wind keeping the wing down in to wind and making small throttle adjustments for height.

On a very windy day I am aiming to land on the in to wind wheel first which is actually a one wheeler. As the wheel(s) touch the control stick is checked forward with a dab of forward stick or a relaxation of pressure in some cases the aircraft is kept straight with rudder and and cross wind drift is arrested by more aileron. The aircraft will continue on the two main wheels until the airspeed decreases and it as this point the pilot will fly the tail down while there is sufficient airflow over the elevators. With the tail now down the pilot has to keep direction with rudder NOT forgetting to keep that stick in to wind. It is not uncommon for me on a windy day to finish the roll out with the stick hard back and fully over in to wind as the aircraft comes to a stand still.

Flaps – If I were to do a wheeler landing on a calm day I would opt for full flap as I personally like the aerodynamic braking I get from the full span outer and centre flaps, some may say this is negligible however I find it noticeable. I used to fly A Harvard without the centre flap and found the machine took longer to slow to a full stop. Some say that during a wheeler landing with full span flaps that the airflow to the rudder is blanked to a small degree and suggest only using half flap. My personal opinion is when wheeling in clam conditions use full flap and in windy cross wind conditions wheel on using half flap only. This works for me every time however go have a play and make up your own mind!

The wheel landing is executed by letting the aeroplane contact the ground on the main wheels first followed by an immediate application of forward elevator

Wheeler landings – points to note:

  • *Perform a normal approach at normal speeds
  • In the early part of the flare out, let the main wheels contact the ground with minimum downward velocity. Advisable to carry a little power
  • Immediately apply forward stick to keep the aeroplane on the ground. The required amount of forward stick will be small if the rate of descent was small. Ease off power which was carried during the approach.
  • Continue increased application of forward stick to keep the tail up before flying the tail down under control at around 40 mph (Harvard) and locking in the tail wheel. If the tail is lowered at to high an airspeed the angle of attack is increased and you may become airborne again!
  • Once the tails lowered hold the elevator fully aft keeping the tail on the ground.

* Compleat taildragger pilot – Harvey’s S Plourde


Three point landing

*The simplest approach to the three point landing is to consider that the aeroplane is flown parallel and close to the ground as long as possible until it stalls and settles to the ground of its own accord. At that time it will settle to the ground three points regardless of the type of aeroplane. It should be remembered that  that the stick should be all the way back at the time of contact and should be held there through most of the landing roll. If the above is understood and followed, there should be no bounce because the conditions conducive to generating a bounce will be absent.

wacky wabbit

This is a standard three pointer about 1 second from touch down

 The approach and flare

I am flying low to the ground at around ‘one or two’ feet i raise the nose until the cowl intersects the horizon and close the throttle. All the above still applies and I keep the stick in to wind to arrest any drift all the way until the three wheels touch down. In a strong cross wind its quite usual to land with the into wind main wheel and tail wheel in a two pointer with the down wind wheel slowly making contact with the ground… All the time though the stick is held back it must remain over and into the wind holding the into wind wing down. For me I prefer the 3 point landing as its normally a full stall landing and all 5300 pends of aircraft is now down and below flying speed on all three wheels which is a safer place in  my opinion than teetering on the two wheels of the wheeler landing…. However all this can be discussed and debated over a beer because as we always say “Any landing you walk away from is a good one”!  The real key to the three pointer is having the spacial awareness and the peripheral vision to be able to read the external visual cues that stop you flaring too high and raising the nose to much. All this however comes with practice, practice and then a little more practice…

The simplest approach to the three point landing is to consider that the aeroplane is flown parallel and close to the ground as long as possible until it stalls and settles to the ground of its own accord.

A friend of mine that flew Hurricanes during the war said to me “Whats a wheeler landing anyway”? He couldn’t understand why anyone would not want to land a Hurricane or a Harvard for that matter ‘not’ in a three pointer…..

Three point landings – points to note:

  • *The approach is no different whether the aeroplane is a nose dragger or a tail dragger
  • The aeroplane is gradually flared out close to the ground – with in a foot or so
  • A serious attempt is made to keep the aeroplane flying as long as possible by gradually easing back the elevator to maintain proximity to the ground without touching it. This must be a continuous motion.
  • When the aeroplane fully stalls, it will drop to the ground on all three wheels and must be guided straight throughout the roll-out.
  • The stick must be held fully back and not released as in nose dragger landings
  • Brakes should not be applied unless needed, and then only sparingly and with a pumping motion.


This is a clip of my self landing the NA 64 YALE at Duxford. I am flying the aircraft as long as possible as the speed drops off low level, just a few feet off the ground. I’m keeping the nose on the horizon and gradually flaring more in to the 3 point attitude. On this occasion the wind was from my left, so the Yale wanted to yaw to the left, so left stick in to wind to kill the drift and right rudder to keep direction…. As you can see those “little feeties” and the right rudder are working hard. During the landing the stick is held in to wind and fully aft as you can see by the up elevator. 05/05/2019


 Tail first landing

*The question is often asked by transitioning pilots as the possible dangers of making a stall landing during which the tail wheel strikes the ground before the main wheels do. The answer is simply that there is nothing wrong with this manoeuvre because it is not likely to create a bounce. The reason for this is that when the tail wheel contacts the ground, either one of the two following actions will take place:

This is a classic flare for the three point landing which was a touch high however it settled in to a three pointer slightly tail first on this occasion  – As i said I’m only human! 

Tail first landings – points to note:

  • The tail wheel will immediately bounce off the ground resulting in a decrease in the angle off attack with resulting loss of lift
  • The tail wheel will stay on the ground and downward momentum of the C of G will cause the main wheels to descend closer to the ground.

In either case, the result is that the angle of attack is decreased immediately following the first contact with the ground. This will participate a reduction in lift, hence the aeroplane will soon rest solidly on the ground.

* Compleat taildragger pilot – Harvey’s S Plourde


Taken from the 1952 Air Command Manual


T6 harvard Landings


Take a look at the below training footage

Above – The Wacky Wabbit coming in for a 3 point landing at Duxford runway 24. On this particular day the wind was calm and she landed beautifully.

Above – Landing at Duxford runway 24 with a cross wind from 330* at 15 knots gusting 25… For this landing I decided as its over 10 knots to wheel the machine on to the tarmac. I selected 15* of flap and made the approach weather cocked in to wind until around 100 feet. The approach was made at 100 mph which is faster than normal due to the gusts and cross wind. I had a lot of runway to play with so length of runway was not an issue… At around 100 feet i crossed controlled and focused on landing with the right wheel first as this was the in to wind wheel and then lowering the tail in the technique explained below on the “wheeler landing” video…. As you can see its a nice way to safely land a Harvard in testing conditions – AG

Above – The wheeler technique explained as I make my approach to land on 06 grass at Duxford.

Above –  A stable approach on to the grass runway 24 at Duxford IWM. The speed i steady at 90 mph and the approach over the M11 is at around 3*- There isn’t a great deal of cross wind. You can see that at 0.41 the Harvard is being flown very low to the ground in a flat attitude. As the speed starts to drop off at 0.43 I raise the nose so the cowling just cuts the horizon and at that point I hold this attitude steady until 0.47 when she settles in to a 3 point attitude.