Thursday, 2 July 2009

Glider towing for beginners

I had a go at glider towing today and it all started with a BDFA meeting at Lasham. While I was there I took the opportunity to get a briefing just in case I need to fly in (or out) at some stage.

Lasham is home to one of the world's largest gliding clubs, and if the weather's great it is wall-to-wall sailplanes with simultaneous winch launches, aerotows and trial flights, all of which use sort of parallel(ish) runways. It is also a jet maintenance base, so there's the chance of the occasional 757 and 767 movement from time to time. I can see why they want people to be fully briefed before they fly in. Trying to join overhead, flying a long shallow approach or even a wide circuit has the potential to make life all a bit interesting.

Gordon McDonald, Lasham's ex-CFI talked me through the procedures and then offered to show me the ropes (no pun intended), by taking me along on a couple of aerotows in one of the club's Robins.

He talked me through two launches and then invited me to fly a couple for myself. As you can probably imagine, the acceleration is not too impressive, particularly with a large, two-seat glass ship hooked on the back. Most of the two-seat glass sailplanes are launched at 70kt, but the wooden training gliders (K7s I think) like to be towed up at 60kt which makes life interesting as the view forwards can only be described as blue and cloudy. The only thing louder than the engine at full power is the blaring stall-warner which spends more time on than off. I'm told that once airborne the pull on the rope is only about 40lb, so when the glider releases (good tug pilots will do what they can to fly their hitchiker into an area of lift) there's only a very smal jolt, it's then a case of looking in the rear-view mirror to see which way the glider is turning and then heading off in the opposite direction. All that remains is to return to the airfield as quickly as possibly while managing any engine cooling issues and of course avoiding all of the gliders that are being launched, or flying the circuit or just in the area.

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