Flying the Beech 18

A while back, a Beech 18 appeared at the airport.  The delivery pilot landed and immediately ran to the refrigerator and popped open a can of beer, which set the tone for the evening.  He got on an airliner the next day and headed home, leaving me with a Beech 18 to figure out how to fly.  No checkout for you.

I asked around and couldn’t find anyone to check me out on it.  I find in aviation that there are plenty of people that like to talk, but precious few that are actually up for the moment.

So I read about it on the internet, where I learned that it was a fire-breathing dragon which could not be flown by mere mortals, unless they had tiger blood flowing through their veins, or something.  You know, the usual hangar-flying nonsense about interesting airplanes.

The Beech 18 which arrived at my airport was one of the later models, with a locking tailwheel.  What I learned is that you manually lock the tailwheel religiously before takeoff, and only unlock it when you have slowed down after landing.  Thinking about it, maybe the earlier Beech 18’s with the shopping cart wheel at the tail really were fire-breathing dragons.  But the later (and modified) ones with locking tailwheels actually aren’t.

It has a pair of Pratt & Whitney R-985 “Wasp Jr” radial engines, which is probably one of the best radial engines ever made.  Nothing mysterious there.  At cruise power the total fuel burn will be about a gallon a minute, though if you back the MP and RPM off you can get that down.

What it also had was two 3-blade propellers – all metal.  Nothing composite there! 

In fact, what those propellers did was the key to flying the Beech 18, which of course absolutely no one told me, which is why I am writing this.  This note is exactly what I wish someone could have handed me before I checked myself out in the Beech 18.

Anyways, as with any taildragger, the Beech 18 flies very nicely.  It’s the landings, and to a lesser extent the takeoffs and taxiing that can be interesting.  Just like any taildragger.

Flying the Beech 18 is actually very simple.  Line up for takeoff on the runway and manually lock the tailwheel.  Throttles – in the middle, weird – forward, and like any other taildragger, raise the tail.

Now, here’s an interesting detail.  When the tail is raised, the gyroscopic precession of those two big props push the nose over to the left side of the runway. 

I suppose you could stomp on the right rudder and brake, but that seems a bit counterproductive on takeoff.  Sure, get on the right rudder, but deal with the left yaw by twisting your right wrist clockwise, viewed from above, as the tail comes up.  Just a bit of differential thrust.  You want the left engine pulling a little harder as you pitch the tail up, ever so slowly.  Once the tail is up and you are no longer fighting the gyroscopic precession of the props, then you can straighten out your right wrist and bring both engines up to power.  And off you go.


The landing of the Beech 18 is interesting, too.  A lot of them were wrecked – or at least groundlooped – during botched landings.  I wheel land the Beech 18.  I suppose you could three-point it onto a short field, but be prepared to really slow that mother down on short final – probably slower that you might really like in the event of an engine failure if you had to overshoot.

The Beech 18 does a very nice wheel landing.  It sits down very nicely in a level attitude.  Now for the tricky bit.  As the tail comes down, again the gyroscopic precession of the props bites you – but in the opposite direction from takeoff.

When you lower that tail during landing, the gyroscopic precession of the props points the nose at the right ditch.  With a crosswind from the right, this could get nasty if you lower the tail quickly.  For this reason, with a direct crosswind, you might want to take it from the left during a landing, if you can.

What you want to do is lower the tail very gently – at a very slow rate of change of pitch, to try to spread out the gyroscopic precession.  To deal with it, you can try using left rudder, but it probably won’t be very effective.  You then get on the left brake, which must be in perfect condition.  Don’t fly the Beech 18 unless you have a functioning locking tailwheel and a good left brake.  You might even need a burst of right throttle – again, differential thrust - to stop the Beech 18 from exiting the right side of the runway, depending upon the circumstances (gusty crosswind, long runway).

Anyways, have fun flying the Beech 18.  As a supercharged, radial multi-engine taildragger, it oozes style on the ramp, and sounds simply wonderful flying overhead – a sound which is heard less and less, these days.


--     Jan 2012