There have been a lot of
questions on how I got into the tail wheel building business. I
will try to detail the “how’s, what's and where we are going”
parts of this story.
I had started to get to know
Fred Muder and a fellow that goes by Shelly from out on the
Ohio/PA border area. They have a lot of plane building
background and even own a Mountain Goat of which there are only
a few flying.
One topic led to another and Shelly mentioned they sure
would like to find a way to build simple-strong-easy
to maintain tailwheels and to get it right the first time. I
offered my assistance so I sent off for the plans of a
In looking over the plans, my brother and I could see that
it could be a tough go to build all the parts, then weld
them into a true working unit. We could see how this might
be done with each part being built in sequence and ending up
with a true custom tail wheel, but pretty hard to build 2 or
a dozen exactly the same so that the parts would interchange
completely. We made a lot of changes from the very
beginning. Nearly all welded up units are now one piece.
They are precision CNC machining for perfect alignment, with
a whole new super strong process for making yoke arms in a D
Based on the premise that time is money, scrap is waste,
tweaking is more lost time and unsuccessful tweaking is more
scrap, we set about to build a better “mouse trap”.
We looked over the design, angles, size and working process
then applied a better building process facilitated by CNC
machines, heavy duty weld fixtures and some forward
thinking. All the while
proving that Made in the USA can still work! We can still
produce the best product that money can buy, and keep the
funds here in the USA
A visit with Budd Davisson in AZ with his vast knowledge
on airplanes assured me I was still on the right track.
We set out to build 4 tailwheels. We tested the first one to
destruction. We added only additional welding to the second
and took it to beyond the strength of the spring. While it
did bend on the tongue, it still functioned as it should
So with that background in
mind, lets talk tail wheels!
The design- I
started with something
that would function but was difficult to manufacture matching
parts, and more difficult to make them interchangeable. I kept
working at it, until I got to a point that in 5 minutes I could
take a main body, pull a 8" out and slide in a 10" or a tundra
and in a few minutes have a completely different set up, yet
still maintain the simple lock/unlock steering setup. I changed
the locking pin to a shoulder bolt set up that provided a
predictable part for manufacturing and quality control.
Improvements: (most of
these can be seen in the web site photos)
a) The top cam on the
main body and the main body is one piece, NO WELDING and the
main body has a grease step built in from the beginning. Those
that may have been built without the grease step, the bearing is
really just a bushing at that point, but it still works.
b) The top steer assembly that holds
the spring and locking pin is ONE UNIT. That is to say, the
collar that is around the king pin and the tube and cam pin
notch collar are built as one unit, no welding of parts, no
hoping for alignment when done. Now those of you with plans for
the tail wheel will appreciate how much 4130N metal is laying on
the floor for these two parts to happen in this fashion. There
is far more milled steel in shavings than what there is in the
We do this for three reasons: 1) it is
making a stronger and better part; 2) the time savings in
not having scrap parts pays in the end 3) the end results
are perfectly true.
built a special
machine to make the yoke arms. I can make 40 sets of yokes and
they won't vary 1/16". Those of you that saw my display at
Sun-N-Fun or Oshkosh can attest to that. The yoke arms are a bit
time consuming, as you form the steel to the radius required,
split in half, cut the proper angle wedges out, weld together,
cut in the 1” and 5/8" notches and then weld these to the king
pin and axle bushings at the proper angle. I provide side load
strength with egg-shaped side plates. This provides tremendous
side load and twisting stability. The side plates cut out about
7” of welding per side and really beef up side torque load
strength in the yoke.
d) I TIG weld the double pocket on the
underside of the cam body where a 1/4" spring plate, .190 side
plates and .100 cam body come together...Those of you that get
this done right with a torch of any type, I commend you
highly... Budd and I have talked about these two pockets of
fire breathing hell as being one of the hardest places to weld
correctly on the entire Bearhawk plane. Every time I complete
one, I sit back in amazement of anyone that can sit down and do
just one only without my welding fixture and have it come out
perfectly the first time. Eric Newton and others my hats off to
e) I love to weld these items
"correctly " and "perfectly". That is not to say welds that
LOOK perfect, but rather welds that have melded these parts into
All of this results in parts that can come
out of my parts bins...and each and every part can interchange
with the next part. In fact, that is how I put them together. I
make a group of parts of each type and then put them together by
assembling the parts. Though it looks like it will not be an
issue with the prototype having nearly 1000 hours on it and the
pickup trailing version that gets more abuse in one day that
most planes can put on it in 20 years.
The wearable parts amount to about $25 to
$35. Please compare that to your Scott 3200-3400 or Alaskan
bush wheel versions.
All this being said, I can't say I have not had problems,
I have scrapped nearly $4000 worth of parts before getting all
the kinks straight and on track. And, I wish I had a couple of
parts back, now that we have found a better way to build. Today
you are getting more for the same dollar. That is a fact of
manufacturing production items. And, I am still working
out the Chromate- painting- finish look details. The
Chromate is just too caustic for the parts and my views on the
environment. It has mostly come down to a satin black and or a
few shades of grey. The tail wheel is always dirty and is always
bringing up the rear, but I like to have it look good when
I could not be where I am today without the help of my
forward thinking, out of the box, CNC machine programming
brother, a neighbor that TIG welds in his sleep (my
teacher), words of encouragement from Fred and Shelly out
east and Budd in AZ, and Super Cate the great demo pilot. .
These guys know who they are... and my heartfelt thanks to
I have a lot of tail wheels nearly ready to ship. I also
farm row crops and run about 400 ewes under a very
intense pasture management plan. I pasture lamb nearly all
of them in May and June. Those of you flying over and think
you see 1000 cotton ball rocks in the fields, they are
really sheep. To fill in my blank spots of time (there
are none left), I also do contemporary art works in metal.
That is a whole new story in itself.
Lastly, I love flying, I love to meet the people who are all
about flying...I have so many invitations to "come fly" that I
could spend a year flying around the country doing just that.
(Budd, is there a book in there somewhere?) This tail
wheel work is about being able to see and be around aircraft,
aircraft design and the great people involved in it.
I live for better designs, ponder the economy and how we got
where we are and where we are going.
I take pride in making forward
thinking in the USA a goal worthy of production, product and
revolving dollars. I won't preach it, but I do try to live
it. Fly safe, land safe, and may you always have tail