Writings on the Wittman Tailwind over the years
The Wittman Tailwind came from the drawing board of the undisputed master of the homebuilt aeroplane, with a long ancestry of highly successful racers behind it.
Here's what one builder in the USA - Wilson Werhan - wrote about it in 1984:
Newer members of the EAA are perhaps not aware of the fact that the Tailwind was once the darling of the homebuilder crowd, much like the T-18 and Mustang II were in later years and the Long-EZ, Glasair, and Quickie II are today. The Tailwind has the distinction of being the first of the high speed, two place, enclosed cabin designs available to homebuilders and is still being built in reasonable numbers today.
There is a lot to be said for Tailwinds. I happen to think that the airplane is beautiful, although I can readily understand how younger Star Wars enthusiasts might disagree with this. It is fast, comfortable, and inexpensive to own and operate. It is also inexpensive to build, when compared to the prices of some of the current kits so popular today. It is a straightforward machine, where either the pilot or his 80 year old grandmother can walk over, open the door, get in and sit down, with no difficulty - no gymnastics required. Its flying characteristics are excellent, thanks to Steve Wittman’s genius, and if well built and maintained, its safety and reliability are the equal of most factory planes.
Tailwinds are not hangar queens. Once finished, they remain finished, not needing the constant rework, adjustments, and other fiddling around that so many of the current designs seem to require.
I personally know of two airplanes pushing 25 years of age, each with over 2000 hours in the air and each flying with its original cotton fabric. Neither of these airplanes has ever required any more maintenance or attention than one might expect to lay on a Cessna 152. I could go on and on, but so much for the sales pitch on Tailwinds here. Suffice it to say, I have never had the slightest inkling of regret over my decision to build one. WW 1984
In 2010, the RVs have perhaps replaced those earlier designs in the popularity stakes, but nothing else has changed.
Don’t be misled by the boxy outlines of this attractive and speedy aircraft. Steve Wittman is widely considered to have been a genius - a leading designer and air-racing champion in his class from 1928 to 1984. His licence was signed by Orville Wright: Oshkosh, the greatest annual assembly of home-built and experimental aircraft in the world is held at Wittman Regional Airport in Wisconsin, named in his honour.
Steve used to fly his racer to the meetings, and his wife carried the spares in the Tailwind. An earlier design - Buttercup - was to be put into series production in 1940 by Fairchild but WW2 got in the way, and the military forbad its production as contrary to the war effort. His next attempt was the prototype Tailwind first flown in 1953. He called it his ‘Magic Carpet’ until he told Tom Poberezny “It’s like having a permanent tailwind…” “That’s a better name, then.” came the reply.
And it lives up to its name. This is a genuine two-and-a-half mile-a-minute aircraft, even with the modest 118hp 0-235.
A mile every thirty seconds (or twenty seconds if you really do have a tail wind) places a premium on navigation, but what a great way to travel. Even against a twenty-five knot headwind you are still doing more than 100mph over the ground, and that’s what counts when going places. My first solo cross-country was a trip to the TT Races on the Isle of Man. Outbound was via Caernarfon to top up the tank before the sixty mile sea crossing, and a straight climb-out to cross the Anglesey coast at 8000'. The descent to Ronaldsway began at thirty miles out and 160mph all the way to a straight-in approach from the east. Homebound followed a line drawn from Ronaldsway to Husbands Bosworth directly over Rhyll and Lichfield. With a twenty-five knot headwind bang on the nose, average groundspeed was 104mph for a journey time of one hour fifty-five minutes, and less than 45 litres of fuel. Going downwind, a groundspeed of 170mph on the GPS is not unusual.
With performance like that, cheap to run, and a delight to fly, with no vices: What more can you ask?
The Tailwind is built from plans, and it requires real dedication to build one from scratch. The appearance of easy-build kits has led to its being eclipsed by aircraft such as the Europa, Sportcruiser and the Vans RV range, but the strange thing is that these modern darlings of the self-build world show no real improvement in performance over the original Wittman designs.
Of course there are variations in models, but the only real improvement - at a cost - is the fuel economy. Engine for engine, the Tailwind will match any of the modern competition on performance. Compare the prices and it really is 'no contest'.
Valerie is a QFI in the USA, CFI of a small flight training operation. Her Tailwind W10 (with a bigger, thirstier engine than ZIPY) blew its elderly Lycoming engine a few weeks ago, and she's clearly missing it. Here's what she wrote about it recently (January 2010):
"At my flight school there is a Liberty XL2; new these things cost about $170,000 and are day/night VFR/IFR airplanes. Not Light Sport. The owner of the school has been going back and forth on whether to check me out in it. I've had a couple of people want instruction in it at $100/hr. The owner eventually decided that I don't fit in it! What a wimpy airplane!
My little Tailwind (even though it is far from being a stellar example of the type) weighs 200 lbs less, has almost 200 lbs more useful load, 20 knots higher cruise speed, higher service ceiling and more baggage room. They claim to be super efficient at 115 kts with a 6.5 gal/hr fuel burn using a FADEC controlled IO-240-B Continental motor. I don't ever cruise that slow, but if I did I'm sure it would be less than 6.5 gal/hr."
I miss flying the Tailwind :(
Dave Magaw, another Tailwind owner, responds.....Yes it is quite amazing that an almost 60 year old design still is a lot more efficient than most modern aircraft. And with the various recommended upgrades and modifications developed to it over the years, there are very few experimental designs that do as well. The results that Red gets in the Airventure Cup race are testimony to this, as are your observations. I am really looking forward to Red's race results this year--I think he is going to set the bar a bit higher again!. My latest project is rebuilding a Thorp T18 (my "low wing Tailwind"), and as revered as the Thorp design is with the stalwart supporters of it, I don't think it will ever match the efficiency of a Tailwind.
Compare the modern competition...
I discussed a SportCruiser with its builder recently. He told me that two-up they can carry only half-fuel, and that if they filled the luggage lockers and the tank, it could probably only be flown solo. The SportCruiser might have a great short-field capability, but its low wing-loading means that, unlike the Tailwind, it gets bounced around in any turbulence. You pays your money, and takes your choice. As ever!
That particular home-built was recently on the market for £56k. It sort of highlights the great value of the Tailwind.
June 2011: Red's Tailwind rules the roost.
Red Hamilton does it again! Flying their 0-320 powered Tailwind W10 at the Wenatchee Air Races 18th June 2011, Red and Marilyn won their class at a race average of 231.94mph. They also took the Grand Champion Plaque for Fastest in All Classes.
Staggering! How do they do it? Congratulations to both of them.
Steve's 'Buster' with a young admirer
Steve Wittman with 'Bonzo' (ca 1950?)
G-ZIPY - a W8 - has the same wing and struts as Red's W10. The only differences are in the W10s strengthened fuselage and tailplane needed to carry a heavier motor at higher speeds. (Red's W10 also has additional tapered wingtips that increase the span for the same area.)
What a great confidence-inspiring design.
What a history!
O "Do It Yourself Dynamite" - Science & Mechanics, December 1959
- MUST READ - The first BIG Tailwind development
In December 2013 the EAA announced that the late J "Steve" Wittman is to be inducted into the National Hall of fame, Dayton Ohio.
You will see references here to the W8 and the W10. The original Tailwind W8 was powered by a Continental 0-200 with the sort of performance that ZIPY gets from its 0-235 Lycoming. It was only a matter of time before builders in the USA demanded a bigger engine, and the design was tweaked to take the heavier 0-320s and 0-360s which give them a cruising speed of around 200mph. Very attractive in the wide open spaces of the USA, but possibly something of a liability in the crowded Open FIR of our small island.
Caernarfon, en route to the Isle of Man
Off the hard at Spanhoe
On the hard at Haywarden
Andreas camp, Isle of Man
At the pump, Husbands Bosworth
Off to the TT Races
Last update:Jan 2019
for the TT Races
Paul, Colley, and Scrofty
by road 2hrs 20
by Tailwind 55mins
18th August 2014, on the TW Forum, Red Hamilton wrote...
"We just now got the data from the 496 to show the time and miles of our recent Tailwind trip to points east (of CA) Baraboo and OSH. Total miles flown, as defined by the GPS, and time in flight was 3987.7 miles and 19:10 flying time for a trip average of 208 mph. Normal cruise is 24” MP if we can get it; full throttle if we cannot get 24”; RPM varies of course with fixed pitch prop.
You folks that are building know that you will have a travelling machine when you finish!"
Much as I love my Tailwind, there's much more to sporting aviation... Click here to take you to my gliding adventures....
Note that the final photograph is Jim's interpretation of Wittman's Buttercup, NOT another Tailwind as stated. Although he has used many of his Tailwind 'tweaks' the giveaway is the 'V' wing strut.
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