Personal Journals about Hang Gliding

Rethinking towing

Postby Rick Masters » Mon Apr 11, 2016 6:02 pm

My research on towing clearly indicates the practice is one of the most dangerous things one can do on a hang glider.
A lot of people blame this on weight shift.
Weight shift certainly aggravates the problem but an awful lot of sailplane fatalities are also towing accidents, so there's more to it.
Essentially, the way I see it is towing may have its place as a last resort - for instance, where there are no hills within a couple hours drive.
Maybe advanced pilots can accept the risk, but I think they do it too easily.
Novices in training? H1s?? Hell, no.
Who talks a novice into towing? Commercial instructoes withtow operations, for the most part. There is a lot of money in it.
Who else benefits from tow training?
Why in the world are instructors training novices with towing equipment when training hills are within reach?
---------
Mark Forbes, (USHPA Insurance Chairman
Posted to HangGliding.org: Wed Apr 06, 2016 8:41 am
Post subject: Fatal HG crash in Tres Pinos CA 4-3-2016
There was a fatal crash on Sunday at the training site in Tres Pinos, near Hollister. The H1-rated pilot apparently turned away from the line, locked out and failed to release. An investigation is under way to review the facts and produce an accident report. Please be careful out there. We have lost four pilots already this year; a towing accident in Florida, a mid-air at McClure, a speed wing at Jungfrau in Switzerland and now this training accident.
---------
1) Dying on a tiny paraglider is the end result of a death wish. It should eventually be expected. What should not be expected is the USHPA inviting speedflyers into a hang gliding organization. Parachute deaths reflect negatively and unfairly on the sport of hang gliding. Once that happens, there is no longer a genuine hang gliding organization.

2) January 28, 2016: Flying hang gliders with other hang gliders nearby requires skill and attention. It is relative work and the participants must be capable of doing it well. Causing the death of a fellow pilot is a horrible thing one will live with for the rest of his life. Mike Brewer told me, long ago, standing on the slope of Gunter in Owens valley while watching the 1981 XC Classic pilots launch into a huge gaggle, "If you're going to screw up, you shouldn't be here." That is the standard. Pilot error is avoidable.

3) February 2, 2016: Low-airtime pilot Tomas Banevicius traveled from New York to Florida, bypassing along the entire Appalachian Mountain Range to continue his hang gliding training in Florida with U.S. Hang Gliding, Inc's winter training operations. This makes no sense to me. But, boy, do these commercial towing operations rake in the cash by towing hang gliders to altitude. Hang gliding instructors have found a way to rake in cash and it is by towing - towing anybody.

4) The H1 who was killed near Hollister had no business towing. I would hardly expect him to understand why. It is the task of experienced pilots to keep novices safe. Putting them on tow rigs is insane, in my opinion. For God's sake, NO ONE who is not innately familiar and capable of flying a hang glider by instinct can be expected to use a hook knife to to save his life when something goes terribly and so typically wrong during tow. This madness has to stop.
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby wingspan33 » Mon Apr 11, 2016 7:14 pm

I just heard about the fatal HG towing accident near Hollister, CA. It was a female student pilot that was killed.

What can I say, . . . The female pilots I have know are typically MUCH more enthusiastic then their male counterparts. But I think they may also be more trusting, innocent and gullible. I would also say that NEW pilots of either gender can be taken advantage of.

I remember investigating the HG and PG fatalities over the last (around) 2 years, last fall. As I recall, the majority of the HG fatalities involved towing. What did the U$hPa learn as a result? Not much it seems. Even more inexperienced HG pilot towing deaths this year! :cry:

The U$hPa's "Safety First" promotion comes off as just so much BS.

A 12 year old boy killed during a tandem HG tow up last year, Max Marien still doing PG tandems with children at Torrey, and Novice hang glider pilots being sent into the sky via ground based or aero tow lines to meet their end.

I agree with Rick. When will the G.D. madness end?
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby Rick Masters » Mon Apr 11, 2016 7:23 pm

It will end - or begin to decrease - when enough pilots get off the fence and decide to make a difference by joining the US Hawks.

- Competition is healthy. Form a better national hang gliding association. -

Another towing accident this year:

Mariano Albergó Jurgens, who operated the Phoenix School of Hang Gliding in Pinamar, was killed in Argentina on January 17 when his hang glider locked out at 100 feet. Some US pilots may remember Jurgens who became a USHPA instructor here. His tandem passenger, Juan Francisco Quiroga, survived the trip to a hospital with a broken back, broken collarbone, broken ribs, broken pelvis, broken hip, broken femur, broken tibula, broken fibula, broken forearm, broken jaw, massive internal bleeding and a lung injury. I don't know if he is still alive.
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby Bob Kuczewski » Tue Apr 12, 2016 12:24 am

I had a good conversation with Wingspan earlier this evening, and during that conversation it dawned on me that commercial operators (towing or otherwise) always have a little whi$per in their ear that's not always aligned with safety.

That's one of the things that I really admire about Bill's club (Rio Grande Soaring Association, or RGSA). When I visited them, they were all about just helping new people into the sport. I didn't see a dime change hands, and all decisions were made for the benefit of the pilot ... ALWAYS.

I wasn't there when the sport of hang gliding got started, but I like to believe that's the way it was back then. If it wasn't, then we'll do it better the second time around.   ;)
"People talk about the sport of hang gliding dying. It's not dying. It's being murdered. By the U$hPA." - Rick Masters

Join a National Hang Gliding Organization: US Hawks at ushawks.org
View my rating at: US Hang Gliding Rating System
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby MikeLake » Tue Apr 12, 2016 9:39 am

My options are towing or cliff launching. Give me towing every time.
However, it needs to be done properly.

Properly in my book is with a well thought out set of procedures, foolproof releases, trained winch-men, tension controlled winches, observers, guillotines and weak-links that are not celebrated to be just above reasonable tow tensions.

A trained winch-man with his eyes glued to the pilot can perform a launch every bit as safe as a pilot running down a ramp or hanging over a cliff edge.

Crap equipment, procedures or getting some nearby body to operate the winch is a recipe for disaster.
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby wingspan33 » Tue Apr 12, 2016 10:10 am

I've done some research on the latest hang gliding fatality this last Sunday the 10th of April.

It took place at Mission Soaring Center's Hollister facility as described here - http://www.hang-gliding.com/lesson/towing

The pilot who died held a U$hPa Beginner rating.

The tow system, although set up similar to a scooter tow, used a Toyota TRUCK motor as the power source. Over on hg dot org Dievhart posted -

Dievhart wrote:. . . I still can't get why they(MSC) think pulling a H1 off a cart into the air with a (Toyota) truck motor (not scooter mind you)
and also expecting them to play with that crazy AOA needed (and the skills to recover from any issues)while S[tatic?]T[owing?]...is safe....
I don't care how good of a throttle operator/instructor one is...i feel this process is just wrong period....and I have said this
in the past..... So sad and makes me sick, pissed, angry, frustrated.... Diev


Mission Soaring Center has been in the business a LONG time and I wonder about $ leading them to push a student faster than is safe. But this is where I also wonder about the nature of this specific tow.

From reading the above, there was a launch cart involved. This was not a "low and slow" foot launch scooter tow on a big floater. In this case the Beginner rated pilot was expected to understand the complexities of a cart tow system along with having the skills, experience and reflexes to deal with anything that might occur during the process.

Now, it could be that this Beginner rated pilot had had multiple successful cart tow ups before her fatal accident. But I haven't found any info regarding her prior experience with the same tow set up.

Obviously something went wrong and bad things progressed to even worse things. Being such an established HG instructing shop, (this was not a "fly-by-night" operation) I can't believe that the tow operators (people in charge) did not know everything about the tow field and its peculiarities - under all suitable wind/weather conditions. That leaves some unexpected technical problem, or the pilot's lack of skill as being the most likely of causes.

Of those two, lack of pilot skill is the most likely. But this also involves the requirement that the Beginner rated pilot's Instructor/tow operator UNDERSTAND the experiential and skill related limits of their student pilot. The Instructor has to have adequate experience, skill, knowledge and JUDGEMENT of their own so as to safe guard their student.

I never heard the following phrase before it came to me as a hang gliding instructor. "Consistency is the mark of skills attained." So I wonder, had this inexperienced Beginner rated HG pilot shown consistency in all of the skills she was taught prior to her last fateful flight? Was the progress toward the last flight slow enough to properly determine if she had mastered the skills needed to complete the task successfully?

I would not doubt that many of these questions will be, or are, a part of the investigation into this unfortunate fatal accident.

Were I on the investigating body, I'd be looking to implement standards for how high a Beginner rated pilot can be towed. Not only that, but also the degree of complexity (or required simplicity!) of the tow system being used.

I also think towing systems used in instructional settings should reflect the step by step progress which occurs during long proven hill training methods. I would also recommend that more complex tow set-ups be restricted to at least advanced Novice rated pilots, if not perhaps even Intermediate rated pilots.

Tandem towing is another topic, yet somewhat related to this one. So, it should be noted that lots of tandem tows do not give the student every necessary skill, unless they have been pilot-in-command during a good number of those tow-ups. Such a pilot's first high solo tow-up will certainly involve many unique first time factors. Those include, at least, no "co-pilot", a different, smaller glider and faster control response. In addition, the low experience pilot (tow or foot launch) should be able to demonstrate some ability to cope with "new" in-flight situations.

Remember that the US Hawks may not be able to stop accidents like this from happening, but I think that that should be one of our future goals, . . . In memory of those who have passed. :|

Enough for now. Feed back is welcome, constructive or even critical.
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby Bill Cummings » Tue Apr 12, 2016 10:55 am

Hey Mike,
I've been to and watched tow operations at the two Florida (USA) tow sites mid state.
The operations in my opinion favor quick turn around times between tows at the cost of pilot safety.
The creep in weak-length strength, the non locking connection from the towline to the pro tow bridle do in fact help reduce (EDIT - inserting : the time between -) launching cycles but that shouldn't be the priority.
While ground towing:
I've witnessed a tow death as a result of a constant line tension device.
A pilot can be gusted into a lock out under normal line tension.
The pilot wanting to reduce line tension to regain control is negated by the mindless pre planned and engineered constant tension mindset.
It doesn't provide for times when less tension is necessary for survival. (Recovering from a lock out.)
Suggesting to simply release arrogantly assumes that the release will always work. What happens next is the pilot is thinking,
"Why the hell did I get talked into increasing the strength of my weak-link?
_________
I did rethink towing when Rod Houser got turned 180 degrees back into the face of Mingus Mountain and died on impact after foot launching.
I was rethinking, "Why wasn't he down below at the Cottonwood Airport, like he had been many times, towing where a 180 degree turn would cause some runway rash."
Part of the rethinking even covered if it had been platform launch he would have been well above stall speed before committing to launch instead foot launching that had him trying to get above stall speed while running.
_________
I have to agree with you Mike,
However, it needs to be done properly.

For foot launching or towing.
For some aspects towing shines.
For other aspects foot launching shines.
_________
I learned to water tow where all learning mistakes were uneventful for body and equipment.
Once I added the further complexity of foot launching and landing on land I started getting a few marks and breaking equipment.
Last edited by Bill Cummings on Tue Apr 12, 2016 11:34 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby Rick Masters » Tue Apr 12, 2016 11:21 am

However, it needs to be done properly.

Mike, if H1s did all their cliff launches and tow launches properly, there'd be no need for this topic.
What is happening is too many people are getting killed IN CONTROLLED SITUATIONS.
This shows that something is not being done properly IN CONTROLLED SITUATIONS.
I have called for a rethink because the sport is suffering insurance problems due to TOO MANY ACCIDENTS.
All these pilots keep saying there are ways to do it properly.
They don't get it.
The horse is already out of the barn.
It's gone.
It's taken the USHPA with it.

- Form a national hang gliding association that does not endorse towing as an accepted practice. -
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby wingspan33 » Tue Apr 12, 2016 12:29 pm

I think Rick's definition of "IN CONTROLLED SITUATIONS" hits the nail on the head.

In my (longish) post above, I also make the point that Beginner rated pilots, while in controlled situations, don't have the knowledge, skills or experience to handle the (possible worst case) situation. Those that DO have the knowledge, skills and experience (the instructional personnel) are NOT taking adequate control to ensure that things remain safe for these inexperienced pilots.

Teaching hang gliding should never be a "Sink or Swim" type of endeavor.

You can't throw beginner HG pilots in "over their heads" without KILLING a few in the process!



RickMasters wrote:
However, it needs to be done properly.

Mike, if H1s did all their cliff launches and tow launches properly, there'd be no need for this topic.
What is happening is too many people are getting killed IN CONTROLLED SITUATIONS.
This shows that something is not being done properly IN CONTROLLED SITUATIONS.
I have called for a rethink because the sport is suffering insurance problems due to TOO MANY ACCIDENTS.
All these pilots keep saying there are ways to do it properly.
They don't get it.
The horse is already out of the barn.
It's gone.
It's taken the USHPA with it.

- Form a national hang gliding association that does not endorse towing as an accepted practice. -
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby Rick Masters » Tue Apr 12, 2016 1:04 pm

I am not calling for no towing, ever.
Advanced, experienced, skilled pilots can evaluate the risk.
I fit that description and I have chosen never to tow.
Others who I respect choose to tow pretty regularly.
They figure they can deal with whatever goes wrong.
We each look at the same thing and come to different decisions.
Nobody who thinks the way I do has ever been killed towing.
But an awful lot of people who think the opposite are no longer around.

Mike, I completely disagree with you about cliff launching.
First, cliff launching is a choice.
Like towing, you don't need to do it to fly.
But when a pilot launches from the ground, be it cliff launch or slope launch, he makes all the decisions.
He decides when the wind is right and when it is safe to launch.
I taught my wiremen to open their fingers to make sure I was flying my wing 100%.
Only then would I yell, "Clear!"
But every tow pilot places his fate in the hands of others for an extended and dangerous period of time.
It's an entirely different game.
I would go so far as to say towing is a different sport.
One that belongs in the USHPA alongside speedflying.
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