The only two Chipmunks remaining on the UK military register are the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s WG486 (c/n C1-0536) and WK518 (c/n C1-0555). The need to instruct modern pilots, without taildragger time, to fly the most priceless airworthy pieces of our national aviation heritage led to WK518 being acquired in 1983 from Manston and WG486 from Laarbruch, where it spent a year after the closure of Gatow, in 1995.
So, how does the BBMF train ham-fisted jet jockeys on these delicate vintage machines? Firstly, they need an introduction to ‘tail-dragging’ and the problems associated therein, namely the causes of tail swing and trying to land when the nose blocks out all sight of the runway ahead of you. These pilots are highly experienced on very complex fighters, with plenty of mental speed and capacity. However, in these modern-day thoroughbreds, the rudder pedals are little more than footrests. Developing fast feet is the first thing new pilots must master to prevent a ground-loop and the shame of denting one of the BBMF’s beautiful aircraft. Crosswind effects, torque and prop-wash are common to all propeller-driven aircraft but with a tailwheel we also get asymmetric blade effect and gyroscopic precession, more notably as the tail rises on take-off, when the throttle setting is greater than on landing. That is where the Chipmunk comes into its own. It is a great trainer, as it will bite if you let things get out of hand.