I get the feeling that if aviation was a religion and had a holy book, that book would be Stick and Rudder. Mostly because it's often spoken of with great authority by people who have never read it.

Well, I'm reading it right now. And let me tell you, Wolfgang has got some opinions. Here's one of them, from Chapter 11.

The important thing to understand about the rudder pedals is that they are unnecessary; like your wisdom teeth, they serve no very good purpose but can cause much trouble. The airplane needs no rudder pedals. It should have no rudder pedals. In all probability it will have no rudder pedals 10 years hence.

I have to give him credit: he put his money where his mouth was.

Ercoupe - an airplane without rudder pedals

However, the fact that it's now 2014 and rudder pedals are still very much in vogue makes me wonder: Did Wolfgang Langewiesche ever change his mind about rudder pedals, or did he go to his grave defiant to the end?

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    $\begingroup$ as @flyingfisch mentions, auto coordination is getting better, but there is one thing for which the pedals will always have to be there: de-crab. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 5:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Federico and directional control close to/in a stall, and directional control on the ground, and taxiing/takeoff roll with a crosswind, and, and, and... :) $\endgroup$
    – falstro
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 11:21
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    $\begingroup$ @falstro And during an engine failure in a multi-engine aircraft.... $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented Jun 14, 2014 at 5:34
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    $\begingroup$ This sounds like an opinion from the ivory tower. I guess he never made a crosswind landing, or he would not have entertained such thoughts. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 27, 2014 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW, RC planes can now automatically de-crab and fly in straight for crosswind landings without a user-controlled rudder by using active flight stabilization software. However, at least for RC, the rudder is still fun for doing aerobatics. If you never need to do aerobatics I can see how you can remove rudder controls completely with modern software (though obviously not the rudder itself) $\endgroup$
    – slebetman
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 14:54

4 Answers 4


That is how chapter 11 of the book begins. IMHO, I suspect it was a rhetorical statement. For he then spends the rest of the chapter explaining what rudders are used for in aircraft and he contrasts this by giving an example, as a thought exercise, of how it could be done without a rudder. One needs to read the whole chapter and the context the writer comes from rather than just use a sentence in isolation. Having said all this, the author is entitled to his opinion and to have that critically examined, which he does anyway.

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    $\begingroup$ Then why the statement: "It should have no rudder pedals. In all probability it will have no rudder pedals 10 years hence." It really seems like he thought the rudder should be removed. $\endgroup$
    – Zaz
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 14:29


There is no written record that I have found in researching this question that Langweische ever 'recanted' his beliefs. I cannot source or cite this negative however. I don't actually like this question, since only an answer that he did recant can be sourceable. Any cites showing him supporting his own written beliefs could be disputed by saying "but what about later in life?" This means that a negative answer can only be opinion.

It's not like he left in his LW&T the statement that everything he had written previously was a lie.


I think you gentlemen have missed the point. Ercoupe aicraft have no rudder pedals at all. The flight controls are designed to keep the aircraft in coordinated flight automatically, thus eliminating the need for the pilot to use the rudder. Since it is possible to build and fly airplanes without rudder pedals Wolfgang is correct. His main objective in pointing this out to the pilot is to emphasize that in the air the rudder does NOT cause the aircraft to turn.

Wolfgang also points out legitimate uses of rudder pedals if the airplane has them, or more precisely, MUST have them because of design inadequacies that leave the designer no choice but to make rudder pedals available to the pilot to address undesirable flight characteristics in certain modes of flight. But again, in the air the rudder does NOT cause the aircraft to turn.

Wolfgang did not need to recant his position on rudder pedals because he was correct. He did miss that the trend towards building automatically coordinated flight controls would be short lived. No doubt in 1944 he believed the Ercoupe was the start of things to come. This is understandable considering that no man can predict the future.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you mean to refer to the Ercoupe, not the Aerocoupe. $\endgroup$
    – RobP
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 20:44
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    $\begingroup$ Strictly-speaking, an aircraft can be turned using just the rudder. It's not normally best practice to do so, though. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 1:24

I don't think he every changed his mind because the statement, and the enclosing chapter, is a proof by contradiction. Assume the contradiction ("Planes don't need rudders!") then go on to show why they do, and therefore the assumption must be false.


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