Landing the Citabria

May 22, 2009

Citabria in Flight

Citabria in Flight

Landing the Citabria




Landing the Citabria is a sensuous and rewarding experience. (Did I really just say “sensuous”?  Not really a Renegade term…)  The aircraft is basically very stable and has no adverse characteristics sometimes associated with tailwheel aircraft.  The qualified TWP (Tail Wheel Pilot) can join that limited brotherhood who look with disdain (and pity) on the lesser, tricycle gear brethren who will never experience that moment of ecstasy of a well-executed, full stall, 3-point touchdown. 

There are three basic rules to remember to make a successful “three point landing and roll out”.

 NEVER use the BRAKES!!

  1. NEVER TOUCH THE BRAKES when the tailwheel is off the ground.
  2. NEVER TOUCH THE BRAKES when the tailwheel is on the ground until the landing roll out is COMPLETE and the aircraft is ready to taxi clear of the runway.

 The downwind leg is flown at 800 feet and 90 MPH a wingtip distance from the landing line.  When abeam or just prior to the upwind end of the runway adjust the mixture for full rich.  Throttle back to approximately 1300-1500 RPM and begin the transition to 80 MPH gliding attitude.  When abeam the intended point of landing start the approach turn and trim for 75 MPH.  Vary the angle of bank and adjust the throttle as necessary to make an oval path over the ground and intercept the landing line with 600 ft. to 800 ft. of straight-away, and 150 ft. of altitude and 70 MPH.  Level the wings and maintain runway heading, at an altitude of 5 to 10 feet slowly close the throttle and start the landing transition to a 3 point attitude while dissipating the remaining altitude.  Maintain directional control with, rudders ONLY.  Do not touch the brakes as they will always afford less control than the rudder.  (This is not true on nosewheel aircraft)  When the rollout is complete (3 to 400 feet depending on winds) you may then use the brakes to clear the runway.  CAUTION! The brakes should always be used alternatively and never applied simultaneously except to nose over the airplane in the event an EMERGENCY STOP is necessary.

New TWP’s need to learn where to look during touchdown.  The Citabria cheats the TWP of the real thrill of tailwheel flying when piloted from the front seat.  YOU CAN SEE!  Disregard the rest if you never fly from the back seat.  When flying from the rear seat, however, your visibility will be restricted over the nose of the aircraft.  When flying from the back seat, I favor a spot to the left of the nose and about 10 to 20 feet ahead.  In any event, do not try to judge your attitude or altitude by looking straight ahead because you will get different perspectives depending on the width of the runway and the topography of the airfield.

 Regardless of the seat from where you pilot the aircraft, the closer to the aircraft you look the less your probable error in estimating your altitude.  If you have your speed under control as you start to flare (Under 10 ft. and 70 MPH) and your throttle closed, you will inevitably touch down.  If you touch down slightly tailwheel first, don’t worry.

 The objective is to run out of flying speed at an altitude between 3 in. and 2 ft. while maintaining a three point attitude.

 Once you start your final transition to the 3 point attitude, your vision should remain totally outside the cockpit.  The touchdown phase is 90% visual and 10% seat-of-the-pants (visceral) you must rely on your perceptions to determine the altitude and attitude of the machine.  If the airplane bounces “freeze” the stick at the position it was at the moment of touchdown.  If the “bounce” is severe, add power to go around.  For small bounces continue back stick as the aircraft starts to settle.  Probable causes were:

  1. too fast
  2. too flat
  3. too high or you didn’t have the throttle all the way closed


 This is an old cliché, but very applicable in the Citabria, especially during the last 20 feet.

 Brakes are only for three things:

  •  During run-up and mag check
  • Turning more than 45 degrees in a confined space
  • Stopping in front of a parking space or when you MUST stop to avoid injury or accident


Once you start your transition to a three point attitude you should not have the occasion to make any forward movement with the stick during the landing phase. (EXCEPTION: See Wheel Landings)

Most bad landings and ground loops are caused by attempting to land at too high a speed.

Note to Renegade CFI’s:  Any prospective TWP who touches the brakes with the aircraft traveling over 10 MPH should not be certified as safe for solo.


 Wheel landings are for Ex-Air Force pilots who don’t know any better, pilots with uncorrected myopia or for landing on long runways (10,000 ft.) with limited access in strong winds.  Seriously, there is a time and a place for wheel landings so let’s discuss how it is done.

 The technique is very different from the full stall 3 point and a combination of the two is not recommended in the Citabria.  The pattern should be flown at the same speeds.  The main difference is that the aircraft is kept at a low angle of attack and flown parallel to the surface of the runway with power on to minimize the sink rate.  Intercept the runway in a tail high attitude and use slight forward stick at the moment of contact.  When the main wheels are firmly on the runway, retard the throttle to idle and let the tail wheel sink as the speed dissipates.  There will be a tendency to skip (and porpoise if your timing on the forward stick is early).  It is not good technique for crosswinds as you must use the “crab” technique rather than wing down, so if the crosswind component is too great you will tend to “fly” off the runway.  You should make the decision at the 180 degree position on which landing technique you will use.  Again, NO BRAKES until under 10 MPH to exit the landing area.  Your reference point for wheel landings can be over the nose in either seat, since the angle of attack is low and the sink rate is low.


 What:             Before the new TWP enters the pattern he should execute a recommended series of four simulated patterns at altitude.

Why:              These maneuvers are practiced so that the prospective TWP can be familiarized with the approximate power settings required in various parts of the landing pattern.

 How:              Commence the maneuver at 2800 AGL and establish practice slow, level turns at 80, 70 and 60 MPH.  Also practice simulated landing patterns.  From 2800 ft. establish a 90 MPH level flight attitude.  Decrease power to 1500 RPM and begin a turn to the left.  Establish an 70 MPH decent to 2000 ft.  At 2000’ increase power to take-off and establish a 70 MPH climb back to 2800’.  Practice forward slips as well as pattern work without slips and note the difference. 

 Remember to keep the nose DOWN when slipping the Citabria!  Don’t risk a stall. 


 Crosswind landings are similar to a normal landing except that you should anticipate the direction of the crosswind (left or right) and line up to that side of the landing line.  Observe the amount of drift and lower the upwind wing accordingly, while applying sufficient rudder to maintain the longitudinal line with centerline.  You are slipping the aircraft enough to offset the effect of the crosswind and maintaining a constant heading.  Make a normal transition to the three point attitude and allow the up wind wheel to touch first.  Keep the ailerons in and control the heading with RUDDER only.  Use the brakes as necessary to exit the landing area.  Crosswind components of 30 degrees or less normally have minimal effect on the landing and roll out characteristics of the aircraft.


The Renegade AV8R

The Renegade AV8R

David Costa is the CEO of Renegade Concepts, Inc., in Reno, NV.  Renegade Concepts, Inc. is all about helping people achieve their business, professional and personal goals.  Renegade Aviation is a component of this company.  David is a former airline pilot, CFII, MEI, aerobatic and warbird pilot with more than 10,000 hours of flying time in many different aircraft.  This information is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of any aspect of flying, nor should it be relied upon as flight instruction.  For more information: or or 

David is an expert on a variety of business, personal development, aviation and patient safety topics and is available for interviews.  Look for the Renegade AV8R Radio Show….coming soon!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: