Towpilot killed during aerotow

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    • #8456
      Don GrilloDon Grillo

        A tow pilot was killed on May 9th in California while towing a glider.  Early reports say that the glider may have kited during the early stage of the tow while the towplane was either still on the ground or just lifted off since the tow plane crashed on the runway. This is a tragic loss of life that is avoidable.

        I remind everyone I fly with, whether a student or seasoned pilot, that if you loose site of the towplane, IMMEDIATELY RELEASE THE TOW ROPE, no matter what stage of the tow.

        Kiting by the glider puts the towpilot at extreme risk of crashing.

        Kiting by the glider pulls the tail of the towplane up and nose of the towplane down.  The towpilot tries to pull the nose up by applying more and more up elevator until he runs out. The towplane prop strikes the ground, flips over and in most cases kills the towpilot.

        Kiting can happen at any stage of the tow but is most critical in the initial takeoff stage when the towplane is still on the ground or close to the ground (less than 500-600 feet).

        I can’t express how important this is.

        Some ways to avoid kiting:

        1. Don’t use short ropes. The speed at which things happen varies directly with the length of the rope.
        2. Don’t let inexperienced pilots fly at anywhere near the aft C of G.
        3. Don’t let inexperienced pilots fly solo in turbulent conditions.

        Here is a Soaring Safety Foundation video on Kiting.

        Here is the news article about the accident:

      • #8463
        Don GrilloDon Grillo

          More information is coming out about the towplane crash that happened on May 9th. A dashcam video has emerged that shows the initial launch of a glider being aero-towed.  All seems normal until the glider seems to kite while still close to the ground.  You can see that the kiting took only 3 seconds.  There are reports that the glider was a 1-26 and that the canopy opened shortly after liftoff.

          Number one. Always fly the airplane first. It only takes a few seconds to get out of proper tow position. A distraction such as an open canopy doesn’t have to end terribly.  What would you have done?

          Here is a link to the video.

        • #8467
          Don GrilloDon Grillo

            Kiting 1


            Kiting 2

            Kiting 3

          • #8468
            Dennis BurkeDennis Burke

              Any comments on the Kathryns Report concerning the standard Schweitzer towhook on the T.P. ?……the report mentioned about the popular standard STC mounting and release swing……That the high-position kited glider can make the towpilot’s side jam,  no release.

            • #8469
              John LincolnJohn Lincoln

                For what it’s worth. If the canopy did come open there is a very easy fix. I know because this has happened to me. (Note that this was on my check list of before take off things to do but because it was a contest and we ended up in a hurry I missed it.) When this happened I yawed the glider such that the relative wind pushed the canopy closed. This happened in a Standard Cirrus, so I used my free left hand to latch the canopy. Of course you have to also do EXACTLY what Don Grillo says you MUST do, which is fly the AIRCRAFT!!!!!!!! Also like Don says if you cannot see the towplane release, RELEASE, RELEASE!!!!!! One final note I will add here. I don’t do my pre-takeoff check list once. I usually do it 3 or 4 times. I do this so that if something happens on takeoff (and things have happened) when I run through my check list again in my head I can remember that I did check the items on the list. What ever the issue is it wasn’t an issue at the start of the takeoff roll. John Lincoln

              • #8470
                Tim PonsotTim Ponsot

                  All good points made here. It’s true that it is possible to jam a Schweizer type release if the load is applied in the wrong direction, perpendicular to the long axis of the swinging link. Denny made a great point about the tow plane being susceptible.

                  I also wonder if the pitch attitude of the kiting glider rose to a point where the angle of the tow rope caused its release, also, to jam.

                  In essence I wonder if both releases jammed at once because of the unusual pitch attitudes.

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