Warbird Flying Techniques

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2007 Scale & Non-Scale Events




First, a word about flaps. To my knowledge, all WW2 warbirds used full flaps for landings.  The usual technique for deploying flaps is to reduce speed and transition into a shallow descent.  Partial flaps are deployed at first which allows a further reduction in speed and a greater descent angle.  The washout effect of flaps (increased net incidence angle in the flapped part of the wing) also increases low-speed stability.

Flaps sometimes affect pitch trim.  Some airplanes pitch up (e.g., La 7, DC-3), some pitch down (FW 190), and some suffer no pitch change at all (Arado 96B) depending on the wing design, the chord of the flaps and the downwash on the tail.  In the video example, this airplane tends to pitch down when flaps are deployed.  This effect is automatically compensated for by coupling a small amount of elevator up-trim to the retracts in the computer radio.

Lowering the flaps increases both lift and drag. Partial flap increases lift more than drag.  Further increasing flap angle increases drag more than lift.  For a steep approach, the heavy warbird needs increased lift for slower flight and it needs increased drag to limit airspeed in a steep glide.  But flaps can interfere with the ability to flare—the plane will lose too much airspeed and slam into the ground.  This is especially pronounced when landing into a headwind because the wind speed decreases near the ground.  So, as a general rule, power must be added during the flare to overcome the excess drag and flatten the glide.  The one exception is the very steep approach in which the airplane has a surplus of airspeed anyway.  If the plane bounces, level the nose and add some power to flatten the glide. In the event of an engine-out landing (dead-stick in pilot speak), use take-off flap position unless a very steep approach is required.

When learning to use flaps on a new airplane, try some tight low-speed turns plus power-on and power-off stalls at altitude.  If she goes into a spin, retract the flaps and let her dive to build up airspeed before resuming level flight.  If you try to pull out too soon, before sufficient airspeed is attained, she may go right back into the spin. Flaps are so much fun.  I will never build an airplane without them.

The rectangular pattern approach is commonplace in civilian airports but it is not typical of military fighter bases.  Instead, pilots fly straight in or even split-S to landing as required.  WW2 landing strips were short and poorly visible.  So the most common approach was a descending U-turn that held the inside wing low so that the pilot could see the entire runway and traffic ahead until turning final.  The video starts in a typical descending U-turn with gear down and flaps fully down for a steep final approach.  A long, low approach is just as dramatic but gives the pilot more time and space to line up the flight path for a precise touchdown.

In the video example, the pilot adjusts the heading with both rudder and ailerons—notice the wing wobbles as he lines it up.  The pilot isn’t really that bad; some of this is crosswind turbulence.

The video example shows a wheel landing as opposed to a three-point landing. That is, the main wheels touch down first and the tail is slowly lowered as airspeed decreases.  A full-size tail-dragger warbird typically has forward visibility of the runway obscured by its big engine, so this technique gives the pilot a better view.  Also notice how the flaps are raised as soon as all flying speed is lost.  Warbirds of this era had delicate flaps low to the ground so debris kicked up by the prop and wheels tended to damage the flaps when taxiing with flaps down.  To prevent this, flaps were raised as quickly as possible.

Fly well...

The model in the videos is the author’s Exact 1/5th Scale Focke Wulf TA 152H (114” span, 27 lbs).  For additional In-flight Videos and FREE Downloadable Plans  click the Andersen Designs  tab.  Also, feel free to contact this article's author ... David P Andersen.