The Value of Great Tailwheel Instruction

Donna Svoboda and her Bearhawk, Patrol

Wow, this lady taildragger pilot nailed it. The value of great tailwheel instruction comes through loud-and-clear in this testimonial from LLT member Donna Svoboda. Taildragger instructors, take note!

Donna has logged nearly 5,000 hours, has worked flying pipeline patrol, and in 2017 completed construction of her Bearhawk Patrol. Her ratings include Private, Commercial, Instrument and Glider. She loves to fly the backcountry and camp out under the wing!!


The person who taught me to fly taildraggers was the kind of instructor that wouldn’t fly on nice calm days, only windy ones and NEVER into the wind, always crosswind.  That type of instruction is worth its weight in gold and saved me and my airplane on many occasions.

His name was Tony Hurst and he owns the Napoleon Airport in Napoleon, Michigan. We used several different aircraft; my Citabria, a J3, a Chief and a Champ.

Napoleon Airport

Napoleon Airport is the old and original home of the Maule Aircraft.  We had crossing grass runways, so no matter the wind, crosswind was available.  And the runways were very wide, the perfect place to learn taildragger flying. Tony was tough and LOVED windy days. He never did fly with me on a calm day, as much as I begged. 😉  He taught me the difference between crabbing and slipping, and loved to have me fly slow 3 feet off the runway crabbing into the wind.

By the time I finished training I was totally comfortable in just about any wind that came up and I could run my plane down the runway on one wheel, switch to the other and back again at will.  In the years and hours since, I have encountered winds gusting over 40 MPH. The first time I landed in winds like that by myself was at Idaho City, Idaho and it didn’t matter what runway you landed on as the windsock was switching directions constantly and the tip was flipping up and the plane was all over the place. Yea, it was scary to think how this all could end up, but I reminded myself it could be done, I had already done it with Tony.

So I guess the moral to this story is he’s my hero!!  Being that comfortable in winds opened up all kinds of wonderful experiences in my Citabria. Having an instructor willing to fly and teach in those conditions in a taildragger, to me, is worth its weight in Gold!!

Donna Svoboda

Sidenote from Donna:  Tony is still in Michigan and I am in Oregon. We had a visit when we went back to OSH 2017 and he is the only person who has sat in the front seat and flown my Patrol. I trust him with my life, so the least I can do is trust him with my airplane, right?  😉  Donna