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Judy Birchler: Tailwheels and heelsJudy Birchler: Tailwheels and heels

The lady still loves taildraggers

If you see an American Champion Decathlon on the ramp with a pair of stiletto shoes planted next to it, the airplane and the shoes might belong to Judy Birchler of Indianapolis.

John BraggLadies Love Taildraggers—the online community Birchler founded so that she could meet other women who share her passion for conventional-gear airplanes—turns 10 years old in 2019.

Growing from about 100 members in 2009 to more than 2,000 today, Ladies Love Taildraggers celebrates tailwheel aircraft and the women who fly them. In addition to hosting a forum where pilots can talk about their aircraft, each year the group hosts a fly-in or a fly-out so that members can meet in person and, of course, fly their airplanes. Ladies Love Taildraggers also provides scholarships; recipients can earn an initial taildragger endorsement or become more proficient in some other aspect of tailwheel flying, such as aerobatics or backcountry flying.

Tricycle-gear pilots are warmly welcomed into the community. “How [else] are you ever going to build something when so few women are flying taildraggers?” Birchler said. “I really encourage all women to come [to the fly-ins] and participate, and, if nothing else, take a ride around the patch with the other ladies to see what it’s about. I would like to offer every nosewheel pilot the chance to earn a tailwheel endorsement.”

The FAA doesn’t break out the number of active women pilots who also have tailwheel endorsements. The agency estimates that in 2017—the latest data available—there were 42,694 active women pilots. If even 15 percent have tailwheel endorsements, that equals approximately 6,404 women; 20 percent would be 8,539.

Tailwheel flying opens the door to so many different types of flying—backcountry and aerobatics, not to mention many vintage and almost all antique aircraft, Birchler said. “There really are no negatives to flying [taildraggers],” she said. “With a little skill and finesse, there’s only positives.”

A pilot since the age of 19, Birchler owns and flies the Decathlon, and her husband, Boyd, flies an RV–7. After being diagnosed at age 33 with Type I diabetes, Birchler used Sport Pilot privileges to fly Light Sport aircraft, including an Aeronca Champ and a Rans S–7. She qualified for BasicMed and promptly bought the Decathlon. “It was as exciting as the day I soloed,” she said of transitioning to the new airplane.

What about the stiletto shoes? Ladies Love Taildraggers members displayed them in front of their airplanes during 2018’s fly-out, and “that turned out to be the most awesome thing,” Birchler said. “Everywhere we went, people loved that. They’d walk up and down the ramp and hoot and holler at all these stilettos.”

This year’s Ladies Love Taildraggers fly-in will be held October 3 through 6 at Natchitoches Regional Airport (IER) in Natchitoches, Louisiana. For more information or to register, visit the website.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.

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