Aerotow training !

The weather evolved over the week from a nice soaring day at Bo Peep to nil winds and blue skies which, ordinarily, would mean there would be no flying. Later Ozzie “called on” the Southern Club Aerotow Group and things began to quicken a little.

I frantically charged around the house making sure I had all my gear in place and ready to go. The night before was spent reading about towing: how it feels, what to look for, its pitfalls, its joys. I woke early my mind buzzing, feeling that itchy sense of anticipation I really should be too old to be feeling. I was worried, had knots in my stomach but at the same time I was confident in my flying, that I am current and the new glider feels solid in the air, what could go wrong ?

Firstly there was all the fetching and carrying to get the operation moving, the tug is kept in a big shed on a farm with hangar doors, all very unlike hang gliding and a lot like my old sport of skydiving. Only once we had all the gear taken up to the field it was time to rig. This is always a good time to reflect on what you are about to do, it was a good time on this day to feel the tensions grapple with my insides, I was thrilled to feel so vital on such a beautiful day.

Ozzie then gathered everyone to give us a briefing, Dave Mathews helped too with some input on the experiences we were likely to face. Put at ease with a comprehensive briefing I felt ready for anything. All the time there was an underlying sense that this would be an intense experience, something quite unforgettable.

Paul Harvey and Dave Mathews both launched first, both champion pilots it was good to see how it should look. Chris Townsend was the first student to attempt a tow. I watched uncomprehendingly, it took me a while to take it all in, the reality of what we were doing slammed head first into my stomach, all my running around making videos and taking photos stopped while I tried to visualise myself not doing the same thing.

Getting into the trolley is an interesting experience, it kind of signifies your removal from normality. Going through the formalised checklist reinforces this sensation, I felt myself begin to focus inward, vividly evoking a good flight, imagining myself smoothly ascending up to the 2000ft target. “Nobody ever gets there first time” I heard muttered behind me…

Calling “Hold” leaves you feeling like the bow is drawn you feel that there is tension in the system – power – a final check of the wind and a scan for obstructions triggers a semi involuntary “All out, all out, all out… !!!” after which at the rate my brain was processing its environs it felt like 30 minutes went past before I began to move…

When the weak link finally snapped the towline was going from me across my nose wires off into the pristine blue skies to an unseen tug somewhere in front… the moment it went was signified by a moment of pure silence…

You hold the trolley with your pinkies – this is so in the heat of the moment there is no chance of not letting go… once you begin to move the acceleration is mind boggling, all sorts of unusual sensations assault you, letting go simply amplifies this launching you up with a giant shove, any roll or yaw seems to feel amplified, the tug smeared across your field of vision, a blurry madness…

I kept trying very hard to hold the mental image I created of a calm smooth ascent but the reality of my inability to realise that kept intruding and so when I decided to release it was already too late I had “locked out” my glider now an anckor for the tug the 75kg weak link snapped and my new U2 went looking for airspeed slightly beyond vertical and at 113ft/ato.

Dive recovery on these gliders is amazing – I was straight and level way before I realised what had just happened only having dropped a few feet under my release altitude, very impressive. I took a breath and lined up a landing wondering when I could go again.

Later I did much better, I did tow up to 2000ft twice and once to 1600ft, the later through a drop in concentration meant that the vertical seperation between me and the tug shot up and the weak link went again proving that you have to actively fly all the way to being waved off.

The last two flights were beautifully calm – just as I had visualised giving me time to take in all the sensations to focus on keeping the tugs basebar on the horrizon to link my flying to his movements it was all so calm all so wonderfully sweet to release and peal off left watching the tug dive again for the ground taking in the stunning Sussex countryside.

What a privilege to be able to experience such joy.

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