Personal Journals about Hang Gliding

Re: Rethinking towing

Postby MikeLake » Tue Apr 12, 2016 4:41 pm

“ 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.”

You could easily turn the tables on that one. People who prefer towing have no trouble citing non towing fatalities.
If I decide never ever again to cliff launch then cliff launching would be the safest form of flying for me???
Maybe I’ve misunderstood what you are saying.

Rick, we must agree to disagree.
If I stand ready to tow launch I am in control. I call “ALL OUT” when I’m ready just as when I’m on a cliff edge I call “RELEASE”.
With both disciplines I am committed to some degree. If a wing pops up or there is some other problem just at the point of takeoff I could be in trouble.
However, it’s not hard to argue that the first two or three seconds over flatland is likely to be a bit more survivable then the first two or three seconds when you have a drop of however many hundreds of feet to deal with. Also I always have the option to call STOP I can’t do that on a cliff edge once my feet leave the ground.

With light wind conditions cliff launching might require me to turn quickly to hug the lift band. How many pilots have misjudged that manoeuvre? There are no such issues with towing.

Towing is not a different sport, a very strange statement indeed if I may say so. It’s just a different way to get you high enough to go gliding, a means to an end. If I tow launch and go on a three hour XC the tow launch is incidental.
A different sport grouped with speedflying? Frankly, I’m at a loss to understand your thinking.

I have done lots of cliff launches and lots of tow launches. With the setup, equipment, procedures and crew at my disposal I can say, on balance, the latter is less likely to kill me. I don’t know what tow systems are like in the US but I would guess there are good ones with good people and bad ones that are an accident waiting to happen.
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby Rick Masters » Tue Apr 12, 2016 7:57 pm

Frankly, I’m at a loss to understand your thinking.

My thinking comes as a result of examining a reasonably comprehensive global fatality database.
There haven't been any footlaunching hang gliding fatalities so far this year in the USA that I am aware of.
There have been two towing fatalities during training.
That tells me that tow training new pilots is a problem.
An obvious solution would be to have towing restricted to advance-rated pilots.

To understand my thinking, you need to know that I am a purist.
I believe hang gliding in its purest form involves footlaunching off mountains.
I have been around long enough to have witnessed training morph from slope footlaunch training by friends
to serial tow training by guild-certified entrepaneurs for a whole lot of cash.
The typical novice has morphed from an eager-to-work-and-learn, often impecunious lad studying Dennis Pagen's books and carrying his glider up hills
to a more well-heeled, older thrill seeker after instant gratification via the service of tow operators.
I do not like this change. It appears to me to be very bad for the sport.
This goes far beyond two advance-skills pilots choosing to disagree.
People are getting killed in new ways. This is not necessary.
And in many cases that I am aware of, these novices are not being told the truth about the risks. This slides into criminality.
Criminality and death are big issues for any sporting association to avoid, even if some members suffer financial loss.
In the USA, the sport is in crisis due to increased insurance costs.
I have called for a reduction in risky activities.
I don't think this is going to happen because advanced pilots prefer to argue about what a novice should have done than admit the risk is too great for their skill level.
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby Merlin » Tue Apr 12, 2016 8:56 pm

For me it always came down to strengths and weaknesses of the Rogallo design. Of course the incredible simplicity made it perfect for foot launching and landing. But I have to say I would never tow one.
My prereqs for towing would be:

single handed control (a stick, say)
one hand on a release
trim capability ( this helps remove all the pitch drama)
better roll authority than many models exhibit

I flew sailplanes a few years and must say the tow could easily be the most demanding part of the flight. Yet, there was the simple fact that nowhere in training was there "lockout avoidance". Yes, you can screw it up, but there is nothing like this looming danger that exists in hang gliding. It just gets absorbed into the culture as a normal consequence of the sport.

I would never suggest "outlawing" towing, but I agree with Rick that it is something quite different from what I knew hang gliding to be. Many tow operations launch pilots on wheels, and even encourage landing on wheels. If you are launching on wheels and landing on wheels you should not be flying a rogallo in my opinion. It is not suited to that. Something like a Goat would be far better.
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby MikeLake » Thu Apr 14, 2016 2:54 am

Rick,

The pursuit of purity could be considered a noble cause but in this instance it might be obscuring rational thought.

Consider a recent flight of mine as an ordinary pilot. I’m sure most tow pilots will have their own version.

When ready I run hard and the ground falls away below. In a few short minutes I’m at 900 foot. I feel a bobble, take a gamble and ping off early. Circling in lift I feel lucky, it was the right decision.

I climb out with not the slights worry about ‘going over the back’ there are hundreds of huge landing fields in all directions.

I’m over the roadway now observing tin boxes just missing each other at a combined speed of over 100 mph. I feel sorry for all those poor people down there who will likely go through their entire life never having flown like a bird.

Loss of concentration I blunder out of the lift. Note to myself, I must concentrate harder. With a reflex twitch of a muscle I open out my circle, with some luck, find even better lift.

I am now climbing steadily and assured of a good flight by my standards. Two birds come and join in using ME as a thermal marker, what a privilege.

Comfortably high now and the patchwork lush green and gold of the flatlands stretches out as far as the eye can see, peppered with small villages. I feel thankful to all those dedicated people for giving me the technology to enable me to fly and to fly here.

Finally, after an hour or so, I chose a landing field, a very big field next to a village I land like a swan on water. I’m in luck a village with a pub. I am elated the elation lasts for days until my next fix.

Rick, with respect.
Please, don’t tell me this is not ‘proper’ hang gliding, as implied, just because I get my initial height, mandatory for all gliding, from spending a few minutes being towed by a line instead of a 20 minute (or whatever) drive up a hill in a 4x4.

What has the first few minutes of my flight got to do with the gliding I do and with what we all do so as to categorise it as something else? You are well off the mark here.
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby Rick Masters » Thu Apr 14, 2016 10:04 am

I would go so far as to say towing is a different sport.
One that belongs in the USHPA alongside speedflying.

        
Please, don’t tell me this is not ‘proper’ hang gliding

There is my opinion. Note that I refer to "towing," not "hang gliding.
A hang glider being pulled on a string is not gliding. It is something else.
Advanced, experienced, skilled pilots can evaluate the risk.
I fit that description and I have chosen never to tow.

There is my conclusion. Note that I refer to myself, not you.
I know you are a competent tow pilot.
But if that meant something, the fatality list of competent pilots would not be so long.
There is a rather obvious problem.
I brought up the topic in the context of two towing deaths of novices.
Do you have an opinion on that?
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby MikeLake » Thu Apr 14, 2016 11:30 am

“A hang glider being pulled on a string is not gliding. It is something else”

Correct of course. The dynamics are different in most respects. However, the tow up is just a tiny part of the overall experience, a means to an end to get you high enough to go gliding in exactly the same way every HG pilot goes gliding.

A different sport? Yes if you isolate the tow up part but that‘s not how it works.

“I brought up the topic in the context of two towing deaths of novices.
Do you have an opinion on that?”

I certainly do. A worthy topic to open if ever there was one, something I planned to get on to. Perhaps someone could enlighten me on the details.
Also I get the impression that ‘low and slow’ HG tow training is relatively new in the US is this correct? Anyone?
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby wingspan33 » Thu Apr 14, 2016 11:44 am

MikeLake wrote:Rick, . . . What has the first few minutes of my flight got to do with the gliding I do and with what we all do so as to categorize it as something else? You are well off the mark here.


Mike,

In serious consideration of both your perspective and Rick's - as well as having a hundred + aero and ATOL truck tows under my own belt, . . .

While under tow, a hang glider is very much a "powered" aircraft. Simply because the power source is to some degree separated from the towed wing is practically speaking, irrelevant. If a mechanical power source is allowing you to gain altitude, how is a hang glider (in such a situation) different than an airplane or powered ultralight?

I would describe a hang glider under tow as a "Kite", or as "being Kited". It could also be described simply as "a hang glider under tow". But a hang glider "under tow" is not the same as a hang glider in "gliding flight" - which is what they are specifically designed to do.

Connected with Rick's thread topic title, "Rethinking towing", . . . Imagine that hang gliders were specifically designed to be towed. I would expect that such wings would NEVER lock out. That student pilots on such wings would NOT be flown into the ground and killed - for any reason that is likely to have been avoidable and/or preventable.

Rethinking towing also involves HOW hang gliders get towed. Which systems have shown to have a greater history of safe operation? Is safe operation a result of HOW that system is used or how it is designed - OR (likely) a combination of BOTH?

Rethinking towing also involves what systems are more likely to kill pilots. Are certain systems more prone to incur accidents? Are the ways certain systems are operated a BIGGER factor in the cause of accidents?

"Rethinking towing" is about, I think, FIXING tow related problems. I don't see it as "rethinking = abandoning".

*(However, if you don't tow your hang glider, you reduce your risk to ZERO of being injured or killed in the process of being towed.)*

Finally, in connection with the quote at the head of this post - "What has the first few minutes of my flight, . . ." THUD!!! - You've slammed into the ground and are dead.

You can't enjoy the rest of your flight if, while under tow, you are killed! :thumbdown:
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby Rick Masters » Thu Apr 14, 2016 11:59 am

"Rethinking towing" is about, I think, FIXING tow related problems.


Not if the problems cannot be fixed.
Then it actually does become the choice of abandoning towing in favor of driving to a bunny hill or mountain slope or cliff.
Mike brings up a method of towing with low accident rates, increasingly used for training.
Advocates believe this is the future of training.
I don't. I think hang gliding should be learned on hills.
This should be discussed.
Last edited by Rick Masters on Thu Apr 14, 2016 12:35 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby wingspan33 » Thu Apr 14, 2016 12:05 pm

MikeLake wrote:. . . Perhaps someone could enlighten me on the details.
Also I get the impression that ‘low and slow’ HG tow training is relatively new in the US is this correct? Anyone?


Mike,

If you begin at the top of the first page of this thread and read till you get here, you should be "enlightened". There is also a much longer thread on the topic at HG.org.

Besides this event another inexperienced pilot was killed on tow only a month or so back. He was a beginner pilot from the Ellenville, NY area (where I started flying back in 1975). Taking advantage of the nicer weather in Florida, he and a couple more experienced pilots drove down to get him more flight experience at a commercial tow facility down that way.

Considering two fairly inexperienced hang glider pilots killed in the space of the first 2-3 months of this year - while under tow, . . . no one can be happy about that. :cry: :cry: :cry: :thumbdown: :thumbdown: :thumbdown:

Also - Low and Slow towing has been going on in the US for a long time. A business called Blue Sky (found here - http://www.blueskyhg.com/ ) developed what's called Scooter Towing - which has subsequently been endorsed by Wills Wing. Wills Wing's endorsement was at least 10 years ago, I'd guestimate.

It sounds like you aren't based in the US? I'm wondering where you hail from?
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Re: Rethinking towing

Postby MikeLake » Thu Apr 14, 2016 12:30 pm

Forgive me if I respond out of sequence and find it hard to keep up.

"Rethinking towing" is about, I think, FIXING tow related problems.

I have no problem with that, indeed I’m not averse to expressing my thoughts on towing and often do at my cost on other forums. Tow launching hang gliders is far from a perfect pursuit.

“*(However, if you don't tow your hang glider, you reduce your risk to ZERO of being injured or killed in the process of being towed.)*”
Well yes and if I never cliff launch again I won’t get killed cliff launching, base jumping is definitely out and I’m slowly going off mushrooms, just in case. :)

“Finally, in connection with the quote at the head of this post - "What has the first few minutes of my flight, . . ." THUD!!! - You've slammed into the ground and are dead.
You can't enjoy the rest of your flight if, while under tow, you are killed! ”
Regrettably the same could be said for any launch method.

UK pilot of over 40 years (with a rest break).
UK pilots have been trained on tow for over 30 years with an excellent safety record.
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