Chief Tow Pilot Start of Season Briefing Notes

Posted 14 years, 2 months ago by Richard Small, Chief Tow Pilot    1 comment

[These notes were from Richard's talk at the 2008-2009 Start of Season briefing.]

I want to ramble around a few topics that cover things I have noticed over the last couple of years and also points of discussion that come up occasionally with glider pilots relating to towing and safety. Please consider the following factors as part of your situational awareness every time you fly.

1. Turning right after takeoff from 28 to get to the ridge.

We often get requests from glider pilots to turn right after takeoff from runway 28. Presumably the thought is that this will get them closer to the ridge on release. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won't. The difference is actually only about half a mile if things go well. Sometimes the tow pilot is happy to do this, other times not. Things that affect our decisions include: model aircraft activity, strength of the crosswind factor (many glider pilots comment that they dislike turning downwind at low level on tow), circuit traffic, overhead rejoin traffic, parachute activity, and the fact that a right turn is not the published circuit direction.

The tow pilot will make his decision based on his assessment of the conditions at the time. To put it bluntly, the wishes of the glider pilot in this instance are at the bottom of the priorities in the decision making process. Safety comes first.

2. Tow Speed

The normal tow speed is 80mph or 70kt. If your glider has water on board please make sure you inform the tow pilot and the tow speed will then be 75kt. If you have an issue with the tow speed please do not request a specific speed as the ASI in the tow plane will read up to 7kt different from the ASI in the glider on tow. Instead please ask to either increase or decrease the speed (as desired) by a certain amount eg 5kt.

3. Gliders rejoining the circuit to land

When you rejoin to land please consider your position if you are joining crosswind or from a standard overhead rejoin position. The SOP in this instance is to pass overhead the departure end of the active runway prior to entering downwind. If you fly the crosswind leg further out from the airfield you are flying directly across and in the path of departing aircraft including the tug with a glider on tow. I have discussed this with Bob and as a result of his actions there has been pleasing improvement in this aspect but it still happens occasionally.

With the increasing activity of GA and microlight traffic at Matamata I think it is an important safety aspect to fly how others (particularly power pilots) are trained to expect you to fly in the vicinity of the field. It can be difficult for others to spot you if they are looking for you in one place and you are nearly a mile away from where they expect to see you based on a standard circuit position report that you have just made.

4. Radio calls

We all get foot in mouth disease occasionally on the radio and make a mess of our calls. However it is helpful to all in the vicinity of the field if your calls are accurate, timely and concise. The tow pilots really appreciate being able to build an accurate picture of the traffic in the vicinity of the field. It helps us greatly with decision making and collision avoidance.

5. A hint for the ground crew.

Tow costs are dear to every glider pilot's heart. Every minute that the prop is turning on the Pawnee costs money. If the prop is turning while we are sitting on the ground waiting for a hookup then the fuel cost is not that much but the interval to the next scheduled maintenance is reducing for no real reason. We often sit there for a couple of minutes while waiting for ground crew to wander over from the caravan. This is a situation where simple awareness can have a positive effect on reducing costs without compromising safety.

Maintenance schedules are based on engine running time. FYI our average tow takes about seven minutes of aircraft operating time, so you can see that if we waste 2 minutes per tow sitting on the ground with the prop turning, this is about 25 percent of the engine running time! (not quite true because of run up time and a few other factors but it is significant).

This is not to be confused with rushing the glider pilot to complete his/her preparations. Under no circumstances should tug operating costs be a factor in the glider pilot completing preflight checks. If you are going to be a while, simply signal the tow pilot to shut down,

6. Factors affecting what a tow pilot does (or will not do).

We have ten individuals on the tow roster. We all want to do the job properly and professionally. We have vastly differing levels of experience and we all have our own personal operating minima based on the things we are comfortable with at the time.

You are unlikely to get "unusual" requests granted in the first couple of tows of the day. This is the time we use to get re-familiarised with the operation, get a feel for the weather/wind/thermal conditions, and get a feel for the other operations happening around the field.

You are also unlikely to get "unusual" requests granted later in the day. The tow pilot will be getting tired and will not want to explore the outer edges of his personal minima.

It might be your first or only flight for the day but imagine for a minute how you would be feeling on your 25th circuit for the day in a busy operating environment in hot and bumpy conditions with a 10kt crosswind for landing.

We also take into account the competence of the glider pilot on tow. If our previous experiences with you on tow are all warm and fuzzy then you are more likely to get what you want based on our assessment of the risk involved in granting your wishes. If, on the other hand you have a history of dragging us all over the sky then you can expect a thoroughly standard tow to the safest place for the tow pilot with no turns until we have a lot of air between us and the ground.

7. Pilot in command

Please remember that from the time you hook up until the moment you release the tow pilot is the pilot in command. We have a lot of things on our mind during a tow. Firstly we are responsible for your safety as well as our own. We have all our own pre takeoff checks to do as well as monitoring all the usual in flight conditions including fuel, airspeed and engine instruments. The most stressful time for us is from the beginning of the takeoff roll until we are about 500ft AGL when we achieve a margin of safety if things go pear-shaped. We have to have one eye on the glider and one eye on where we are going. We need a third eye to monitor the instruments!

If you have a request then please go ahead and make it, but equally please respect the tow pilot's decision if he decides that what you want can't be accommodated.

The place to discuss any differences of opinion is on the ground and away from the aircraft. If you have any issues regarding towing or tow pilots then please feel free to contact me. I am always looking to do things better and I appreciate constructive dialogue.

Richard Small
Chief Tow Pilot


14 years, 2 months ago
very astute and profesional discourse on towplane operations from Richard Small there - with permission I'd like to print it out for our club !

AAV 2730

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