The distinction between “tailwheel” and “nosewheel” aircraft is the position of the aircraft’s landing gear on its fuselage. An aircraft with a tailwheel is designed with two main landing gear that are placed forward of the aircraft’s center of gravity, or in front of the aircraft, with a single aircraft tailwheel in the rear of the airplane to support the tail. This is different from nosewheel (also called tricycle) landing gear arrangements, where the main wheels are placed behind the center of gravity, and the aircraft nose gear supports it in the front.
Tailwheel aircraft are considered more challenging to fly than tricycle aircraft. This is because the center of gravity is located behind the main gear, which makes ground operations such as landing more difficult in a tailwheel aircraft. A tailwheel aircraft also sits with its nose higher than tricycle gear, which lowers the pilot’s forward visibility during ground operations. Taxiing is obviously more difficult when you can’t see directly in front of you, so pilots of tailwheel aircraft will often do S-turns while taxiing. Steering itself is more difficult as well, as the steering is accomplished behind the pilot rather than in front of them.
There are advantages to the tailwheel design, however. Because the nose is higher, the propeller of a tailwheel aircraft has much more clearance from the ground, making it more suitable for grass or dirt runways. Because of this extra clearance, the aircraft propeller can also be larger than what a nosewheel aircraft could mount. Tailwheel aircraft are often designed for slow flight, making them easier to land on shorter runways. These design elements make tailwheel aircraft perfect for bush pilots taking off and landing from improvised runways in the wilderness.
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