Cody Mittanck and Gavin McClurg on tow from Hebbronville, Texas. Photo Greg Bryl
I just spent three+ weeks down in southern Texas chasing a world record with team members Cody Mittanck and Donizete Lemos, and our tow techs/ retrieve drivers Greg Bryl, Greg Cusick and Ricardo Costa. We had marginal weather at best, which leaves the world record hunting for another year, but we did a ton of tows in very strong conditions and we all learned a ton (and thankfully we did get a few pretty awesome flights). This podcast is dedicated to towing and towing safety in an interview I did with the “eWinch” inventor, Greg Bryl with Miami Paragliding. Greg is an expert tow-tech and his knowledge of tow systems is vast. We used his all-electric winch in really rocking conditions and were all blown away with it’s lightness, ease-of-use, and redundant fail-safes for safety.
I am convinced after this trip that with a good winch and good tow-technician, launching via tow is much safer than foot launching and gives the free flight world access to incredible flying in conditions when terrain flying would be too risky. If you are currently doing any tow launching, or plan to in the future give this podcast a listen.
Interested in purchasing an eWinch? Get 10% off using this exclusive discount code during checkout (valid for 2 months after publication of this podcast, July 17, 2020): cloudbasemayhem
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4 main areas: rig safety, pilot knowledge/skill, attachment, and conditions
rig: almost any rig can seize/bind or otherwise put too much tension on the pilot.
With payout you add the power of the car – pay-in may be safer in this regard
so care should be taken to eliminate that as much as possible
use a weaklink: it’s a double-edged sword b/c you remove some risk factors while introducing others; if recommend no WL, probably hasn’t towed enough
use lower pressure in initial phase of tow; watch the pilot closely, etc.
have hook knife at rig
if rig binds and brakes WL close to ground, better to overbrake and stall the wing and fall down than pendulum into ground
even if it’s weak, it will not break in time if rig seizes and goes from paying out to static line with the car moving and full car power applied to pilot. So don’t fall in trap of thinking a weak WL can’t get you in trouble; use a strong enough WL and change it OFTEN, especially in high winds
must hold wing overhead enough for tow to start safely; strong wind –kiting skills, weak wind — must run backwards or forwards to create airspeed and keep overhead; must fly wing at all times and stay on course, including running out launch; must have hook knife
must manage cross-wing (see Conditions below)
also here: weak winds, driver rolls to take up slack as pilot walks back towards car; strong wind — leave slack or keep tension down so that pilot can run towards wing to pull it up (or better yet- use cobra launch).
no tow bridle on market that’s satisfactory in all respects. some let you put the pin ring through the loop so can’t release – bad; some don’t allow you to release easily at full tension and/or at no tension; some have metal – not ideal, some don’t attach to glider/beaners the right way, etc.; gotta make sure you use your model correctly
speed assist: like WL, good and bad. good: it auto-corrects heading of wing so that new pilots don’t’ get too far off course; also lets wing pitch back less; cons: accelerates wing so less climb and less altitude/more runway, at high angles pulls down – not good. overall, good for newbies, and most others can do without it later in their towing
you can tow in weak cross or strong straight-in wind, but not in strong cross wind (unless expert). driver use less tension in stronger winds, a bit more in weak
managing cross-wind: if crossing from right, wing will want to fly right, so drift left and align the tow force with direction of wing; if see bow, drift down-the-crosswind to take out the bow; stay more or less square to the line; on launch and pulling up wing in cross: if crossing from right, be ready to pull left brake and immediately drift left after lift-off; have no bow in line and you’re good
releasing from tow: taking both brakes in one hand is recommended, but if good bridle that can release at high tensino and no tension, can just take hand off brake and release
Mentioned in this show: Sebastien Kayrouz, Thomas Theurillat, Cody Mittanck, Donizete Lemos, Cedar Wright
Speaker 1 (24s): Hi there, everybody. Welcome to another episode of the cloud based mayhem. I have just returned from a little over three weeks in Texas, Cody MetaBank, and Don is that the limos and a few others were down there chasing big distance. We were going after the world record, we did not get whether that was even remotely conducive to that, but did get a taste for, I guess I would say the NAR of Texas. It's pretty interesting flying down there and we'll think there'll be the mad gold rush for distance that I assumed after Sebastian case crushed my record a few weeks back and went 502 K from foot launching in the foothills in Texas and on a really stellar day and amazing flight.
Very inspiring. We will be getting him on the show here shortly, but yeah, we had an interesting time in Texas. It's it's pretty burly landing. There is quite an event flying a little lot of wind, but we were obviously towing to do all of that and flying out of a place called Hebbronville out of their little airport, little airstrip, which is the only way to do it there because it's all just flat lands. And I have done quite a bit of telling in the past in Australia and down in the SureTel in Brazil and other places.
And, but this was a good refresher. And Tony was my first experience using the that Greg Brill, who is my guest today, brought out for us to use and experience pretty interesting. It's a fully electric winch and it removes a lot of the challenges of other winches, whether they be hydraulic mechanical and other winches that have been used in the past. This is kind of the latest and greatest, and really adds quite a bit of safety. And it's a payout as well as pay in winch, which is really cool because you can do the standard car payout winch for everybody.
And then the last person can still get in the air doing a pay in with a remote control. So very cool weights don't need, obviously you retrieve driver in case of Texas kind of thing, but so I've wanted to get, we haven't done a towing show and I realized this isn't going to be relevant for a lot of pilots that are just exclusively foot launch, but towing is God does give us access to flying and a lot more wind. And it does give us access to flying in a lot of conditions in the mountains that just aren't conducive to flying. So, and I'm pretty convinced after these three weeks, that towing is also a much safer way to get in the air this, but there are a few little contingencies to that.
And you know, the tow tech operators pretty important and the systems are really important. So this show is all about towing and Greg's a real expert. He's firstname.lastname@example.org and he's been doing it for a long time in his winch. The winch is a really remarkable piece of equipment that you could fly with. It's much, much, much lighter than standard winches. It's every payout charges, the battery, which is what you use for rewinding it.
So it's a pretty neat piece of kit. I invite you guys all to go to. If you're interested in telling or been thinking about getting a winch, check out Miami paragliding.com and he will give listeners of the mayhem a 10% discount. That's worth about 600 bucks on everything, but the batteries, the batteries are lithium and they're very expensive and he doesn't have any margin there. But if you use the coupon code, cloud-based mayhem at checkout on that site, Miami paragliding.com about 600 bucks off.
So if you're in the market for a winch little plug for him, I really appreciated his time and his coming out and spending three weeks in the extreme heat and Texas helping us out. And it's a, it's a really cool piece of kit, the best I've seen by far. So check that out. One little bit of housekeeping before we get to the show is Willie canal is running the inner mountain wide open. Again, all of our comps course in the States, North America have been canceled for the summer, but we are still going to run that inner mountain wide open.
This is just a very fun event. It's your four best whites it'll take place in the entire month of August. So your four best flights, pretty much anywhere in the Rockies and all that they could be telling as well. So Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana. If you're in any of those places and you want to participate, just do a search on Facebook for the inner mountain wide open, you'll find it it's a hundred bucks to enter and it's just a blast. And at the end of that, we counted all up and all that money gets distributed.
So there's two classes, there's the scary, hot ships and everything else. And then there's a prize for the longest, just one, the single longest flight in the whole thing and the four best whites, and then just a random winner. And then in the two different classes. So pretty good chance. You're going to actually make more money back than you put in. And it's just a great way for all of us to go have fun and have something to chase in the month of August, especially right now where we can't do much else. So check that out.
And then if you're interested in towing, enjoy the show. If you're not, and it's not going to be part of your future, then you can maybe skip this one. But there's a lot of great information here mostly about mostly we covered safety, safety, and towing. So you are doing some telling stick around Greg, we should have done this live last week or the last weeks down in Texas. We tried, but it was brutally hot.
And it's good. It's nice to connect with you now over the phone. I'm, I'm sitting in Albuquerque. I know you're back home in Miami, but we had a great time towing and Jason distance down in Texas. And I learned a lot about towing and I know you're a tow expert and you've been working at this for an awfully long time. So I thought we have a great conversation about towing safety. I know, you know, a lot of people don't use tow rigs to get up into the sky, but it's began becoming more and more popular and it certainly gives way more people access to this sport than foot launch.
And I'm pretty convinced after our time together in, in Texas, that it's also a safer way to get the air. Certainly when there's a lot of wind, there's no doubt about that, but probably just in general as well, but you, you sent me a great email about towing safety that I thought we could just kind of go through for those listeners who are towing or planning to do some towing in the future. Maybe heading down to Brazil to take chase distance in the SureTel or Australia. These are often places with a lot of wind and having a good toe tech is super important, but I think a lot of the dangers or risks are pretty easily mitigated if you know what they are.
So let's, let's start there, take us through what you've learned, doing all the towing you've done in Miami and Florida and, and other parts of the world.
Speaker 2 (7m 26s): Yeah, sure. I like to look at tow safety in terms of like four broad categories. You know, you look at the tow rig, the tow system that you have and its design and implementation. You also look at the pilot and their skill or lack of scale. You also have to really consider in detail the way you attach the pilot to the tow system. And finally, you look at conditions that you tow in. Those are important as well.
So we can just go through those categories, you know, and, and see what we can glean in terms of towing safety. Perfect. Yeah. So as far as the tow rigs, well, you know, there is a lot of different kinds of tow rigs and of course it all started with hand towing back in the seventies, on the hang lighters. And I actually have the privilege of knowing a gentleman here in Boca, Raton, Florida, who was handling hang gliders, like as far back as 1974.
And he, his name is Mike for, and he also taught me how to pilot the wing when you're at towing. So I was very blessed to have known to, to have gotten to know him, you know,
Speaker 1 (8m 41s): By hand you mean like somebody just running down a road with a rope,
Speaker 2 (8m 45s): Right, right. You take like a thick rope, that's easy to hold and you attach to a hang glider or a paraglider. And then of course you need a lot of wind so that you don't have to run like 25 miles an hour or something, and you take like two or three guys and they will run down the beach usually and pull you up. And then you're just going up. And, you know, until you release, basically
Speaker 1 (9m 9s): Just holding onto the rope at the other end, or just kind of wrapping it around,
Speaker 2 (9m 14s): I'm sure people were doing that in the beginning, but even back then, I mean, they were making their own like total releases. You kind of rig, you know, two pieces of rope into our release. And of course, part of it came from the skydiving community that you have all these various releases there. And so people read their own toe releases and they use that to hint
Speaker 1 (9m 37s): Crazy. That's wild. That's great. We saw, we saw Kriegel doing that. I think it was in a 2313 race. Thomas Thurlow is his supporter is a mountain guide, towed them up over the money. Rose Monta, Rosa glacier. Cause it was so flat. I was like, wow, that was genius. They have since been that of course. But yes. So hand towing in the modern age still happens.
Speaker 2 (10m 1s): Yeah. I have also handout a friend on top of a Hill. It was kind of a shallow Hill, but the wind was over the back and we did not want to pair away at any longer. So we told him up to like 50 feet and he went straight over to the back. No feral waiting. So yeah, it's still can do it today.
Speaker 1 (10m 20s): Cool. Okay. So rigs. Yeah. And we'll, we'll, we'll go in depth a little bit more down the road on, on, you know, how rigs have changed and you know, what and where they are now of course, with the winch, but let's, let's go through what you're looking for in a rig and what you'd be, what to be aware of.
Speaker 2 (10m 37s): Right. Well, in the rig, you want to, first of all, check how it makes, how it creates tension. You know, you can have a stationary pay in rig, or you can have a payout rig for a stationary rig. You're just going to be reeling and the tow wire. So you don't really need to create any tension. And that's kind of like a scooter toe. You use one wheel of a scooter to, you know, as a drop with your toe line on it. And you will just pay the line in until off the pilot at a pretty weak tension. You know, as long as you're a scooter engine is relatively weak.
So that's an example of a stationary, which by contrast, you can have a payout winch, which has mounted on a fee, had called and you drive the vehicle forward and the winches moving. So it's not stationary. And then you pull the line out as you're towing up the pilot, you're spooling out the line under tension. That's very efficient logistically because you don't have to worry about stretching the line or having like this nice field or whatnot, lots of space to stretch, rewind with no obstacles and whatnot.
Instead you just keep the line on the school and then you just spill it out in the air. He should toe up to pilot. So to do that, you definitely need some kind of a system of producing tension. And so what you want to look for and to rig is how does it produce tension? You can have a mechanical break, you know, creating tension. You can have a hydraulic pump used, you know, mounted to the spool to create tension. You can also have an electric, electric mechanical brake, which uses magnetic particles and is electrically controlled.
And people have built rigs with that as well. And of course today, the newest way to do this would be to use an electric motor as a generator, kind of like a windmill. And then it will create electric torque completely without any friction. And you can create tension that way as well. Gotcha. And so in terms of safety, once, you know, the way that your really creates tension, then you can right away look into the safety aspect of it.
For instance, if you have a mechanical brake, the metal parts will heat up and expand, and it may cause your tension to build up a lot more than you would like. So that's a problem. You have to look out for that. If you have a hydraulic rig, you have to make sure that you pace your changes in intention at a certain pace. Otherwise you may also have some kind of an unpredictable buildup intention. So you have to be aware of that with electromechanical breaks, with magnetic particles, that's mostly, you know, the wear and tear on the brake.
And there is some other things that you have to be aware of there. And with an electric motor it's, it's the same thing. You just basically have to correctly size the motor so that you don't run it too hot and you don't burn it.
Speaker 1 (13m 46s): I was down in Australia towing a few years back and a good friend of mine, Alex Yushchenko who unfortunately had a really bad accident this last year in Pakistan was, was building these beautiful winches, these electromagnetic winches, and that he got this completely sorted. It was, it was a gorgeous winch, but the first few toes, I was kinda the toe lemming, I guess you will. And, and one of the problems we had there was because the, the control was I believe digital.
And it, it kept going out of control. You know, you, you, you would set it at a certain tension, you know, to get the pilot off the ground and kind of the first half of the toe. And, and it would, it would, I'm using numbers that probably don't that weren't accurate. I don't remember what they were supposed to be, but let's say it was supposed to be 60 and it would just I'd get off the ground 20 feet. And it would jump to a hundred and I'd, it would break the weak link, the weak link immediately. And it was basically a web stall, which I know we're going to get into later in the show, some of the risks of towing, but you know, it, it required incredibly active piloting to them land, you know, cause I was only 20 feet off the ground when this would happen.
And so, you know, the wing was basically almost in a stall and then shot forward dynamically as soon as the, the, the weak link broke of course. And just, you know, it was basically grabbed the wing and land. And, but yeah, so I, like you said, it's important to know where each of these rigs have a potential weak spot.
Speaker 2 (15m 26s): Yeah. Yeah. And actually you can even take a broader approach and just say, you know, regardless of the design, I'm just going to assume that this rig is capable of going from like pinging out to a completely static line. And the full power of the car is going to be applied to me as a pilot. And so that's why we do use weaklings. Right. You know, I have come across several people who recommend against them, but my response to that is that if you recommend no weak link, you probably have not told enough.
Speaker 1 (15m 57s): Yeah. And, and you know, one of the, one of the problems we had a lot with, with our tow rig, which was quite simple system on the boat all those years, was it, it was a, it was a brake system. So it was a mechanical brake system, but the wheel was quite wide. And so if you didn't get a really good and it had this kind of secondary wheel for when you were, when you were rewinding, you know, if you didn't get a really good layout, you'd get a line over. And those, you know, you can't anticipate, you know, so the next tow, you didn't know it was there.
And, you know, it would just, it would just totally stall the winch. It would be
Speaker 2 (16m 34s): Right. So I actually, I would like to make a few points about that. So to safely tow and pay out, you need to have a tight stack of line on the school and the line needs to be either manually or automatically level weld. So it needs to be reasonably level. And the third thing you can do is you can use tow line that is slick enough to pop out any line digs that you might get, and you should also use lower tension.
So if you combine lower tension with a slick line, then even if you have unpredictable aligned dicks, they will pop out easily and the pilot will feel them, but there will be no change in the toe force. And you're going to be fine with that.
Speaker 1 (17m 19s): Interesting. Yeah, I think, I think the only time that would potentially not work was like in our case where we didn't have a very, the motor was electric rewind and it wasn't fast enough. And, you know, if I put a bigger drug on it, they would just fry the battery. And so it wasn't fast enough. So at the end of the tow, we really had to put a lot of tension on people and kind of Slingshot them up and get them really tall. Otherwise I'd never get the drug back to the boat, but yeah. So many nuances in there.
Speaker 2 (17m 50s): Yeah. And of course I assumed in my last discussion that we have a type stack. I mean, you have to have some tension there on rewind. You have to have a tight stack, but right. If you have just a few loops here and there, it does help if you have a slick tow line. And if you use milder pressure, because then you won't dig the line to the extend that you're going to have a big problem. You might have some minor problem, but not a big one
Speaker 1 (18m 15s): About this slick toe line. Is that just a different, do you still get at that from like Tomi up systems or something? Or is that, is that a different kind of,
Speaker 2 (18m 23s): Yeah, I actually get it from Europe. It's a Dyneema Insta, as opposed to a spectra, it's still chemically. It's very similar, but it's just the coating and how it's processed at the end, that there is a slight difference. And so the tow line that I use is slightly slicker than what you would get from Tomi up for example.
Speaker 1 (18m 44s): Okay. Okay. Well, I've taken you on a sideways tangent here it is. Get back to the rig and your notes were you have a hook knife at the rig. That's a good idea.
Speaker 2 (18m 55s): Yes. You certainly. So to continue with a rig side of the safety, you definitely want to have a hook knife at the rig and you want to use a weak link. And of course, a weak link, we can discuss more in detail here, but just to recap with the rig, yeah. You want a tight stack. You want to have a line wild, correctly, or level you have, you want to have a good level of wind. You want to use mild or tension and you want to use a slick line that will top itself out easily.
So those are the points about the tow rig
Speaker 1 (19m 30s): Weak link. So what, yeah. Give us some details on that. How often do you change it? What kind of knots are you doing and do you need to change it for different sized people?
Speaker 2 (19m 40s): Well, sure. Yeah. I mean, first of all, if you're introducing a weak link, you have to be mindful that you're taking away some risk factors, but you're introducing others. You know, a weak link is just a piece of rope that is tested to break at a certain strength. We usually use the one that breaks a 230 pounds or so. And you want to tie it with a double fishermen's not, or a single, fishermen's not, I frankly use a single fishermen.
It's a lot more because it's quicker. And I don't really have many heavy pilots to tow so I can get away with a single fishermen's. But the thing is the weak link can wear out a lot faster than the rest of the tow line. So you have to, if you're introducing that into the system, you've to make sure it's predictable in terms of, you know, it's breaking force or breaking tension. And so you should either have each pilot using their own weak link and they could, for instance, put the, put it on their own bridal, or you should just change and change the weak link often.
Like if you're towing in high winds and it's a pretty, you know, high risk situation, like we were just doing in Texas, I was changing weaklings every time with every pilot. Really that's the safest. Yep. That's the safest way to go. It's not the way we are, you know, you guys, we're not sinking out. So we were not doing that many toes per day in term of at least what we had to do on those super strong wind days. So I was using a new link every time. I just don't want any, you know, any predictability there,
Speaker 1 (21m 23s): Greg, if you're, if it goes to 230 pounds, I realized that it's not you, it's not just, you know, 230 pounds of 230 pounds. There's obviously all this give in the system, you know, with the line and the farthest,
Speaker 2 (21m 34s): The car is away from you. It's like, is there a,
Speaker 1 (21m 36s): I'm just stretching the tow line, but would you have to up that if you had say a 280 pound guy on a big XL wing, what'd you do to, or is it not that simple?
Speaker 2 (21m 48s): I actually, well, you can use the, what they do is they make a tandem weaklings, which are like three to three, 2300 to 320 pounds. And you can just use one of those, or you could use two traditional, weak links, or actually I used to have this and I still do. I have this green twine, which we tested was breaking up like 380 pounds. And if your tie on lot in it, it breaks up like two 80 or so. So I would use something like fat for I'm super heavy guys, but frankly, a lot of it is also the toe tension in the system.
And so if you tell people at a light tension and you have at least moderate winds, the wing, you know, the extra large wave will be efficient enough so that you will have good climb at, at low tension. And you can get away even with a standard weak link then. Okay. Got you. Well, you don't want to do is you don't want to use a weak, weak Lang on a heavy pilot in light and variable winds, because then just by sheer nature of physics, you have to apply a lot of toe force to get him up.
And that weak link will not be enough if it's a super heavy guy.
Speaker 1 (23m 0s): Okay. Got gotcha. Yeah, go ahead.
Speaker 2 (23m 4s): Oh, another point to keep in mind about weak links is that there is kind of a school of thought that if you use a super weak, weak link, you can not get in trouble. You can have a complete, you know, newbie tow you up on, on a rig that you don't know at all, and you won't get in trouble. That's not the case. Even a weak, weak link will not break fast enough for you to not have a significant surge on your way. So don't fall into the trap of thinking that you can use a super weak, weak link, and then your towing is safe.
No, the tension still travels at a finite finite speed through the system. So you can still be, you know, messed up if you even on a weak, weak link. So make sure that the tow rig applies the proper tension and don't put your safety solely in the hands of your week.
Speaker 1 (23m 57s): Okay. So it's not a, it's not an end all, it's not just a safety car that you can throw and forget about everything else. Let's move on Greg to pilot. So that's your, that's your, your second piece here,
Speaker 2 (24m 11s): Right? Right. So the other end of the, of the system, you know, you have the pilot and there are scale or no scale. And so the first thing that they need to do is they have to be able to kite the wing long enough for a tow to start safely. And so if you have light winds, of course, they have to be able to bring up the wing and maneuver their body and their seed in such a way that the wing light stays long enough overhead so that you can safely start the toe.
So those cutting skills are paramount. And on the opposite, you know, on the other hand, if you have strong winds, then you know, the pilot needs to Kyde well in strong winds so that they don't get like yang top or whatever, so that they can still bring up the wing overhead, turn around and start the tow safely. So that's the most basic requirement of the pilot on toe. They also have to understand that, you know, they still have to fly the wing, just like with a foot launch, they should do it or pee though, for as long as it's there for as long as it's possible for them to do so because they have to keep that wing inflated and overhead.
And then the toe force will of course straightened them out of the torpedo and there will be airborne, but they still have to do all that stuff they do with foot launch to keep the wing, you know, in proper shape. And then of course the next thing that's required of them is to manage crosswind. You will almost never have to win, you know, straight down the pipe when you're towing. And so the wind is going to cross from one side or the other. So let's say the wind is crossing from your right, you know, as a pilot, quite strongly, what you have to do is when you bring up the wing, you have to be prepared to apply your left brake.
If you're already facing the tow car, if you're doing like a forward launch, that will be your left brake because that side will inflate and come up first. And that happens a lot. And you'd be surprised. You know, you give these pilots a simple tip that look, it's crossing from your right, be prepared to use your left brake. And then there, so their second toe is a lot easier. And then of course, you know, again, continuing this thing, if the wind is crossing from your right, your wig will want to fly to turn right. And to fly that way.
And so if you just let it happen, you're going to be the right of the tow vehicle, your way we'll keep taking you to your ride. And the tow force will be pulling you to the side, like to your left. And so the direction of your wing and the toe force will be completely misaligned. So what you want to do is as soon as you're airborne, as soon as you lift off, you'll want to crab to your left. If the wind is crossing from your ride, you're pretty much allowing yourself to drift down the crosswind, so to speak.
And so that will align the tow force with the direction that the way he wants to fly. And so of course you would do, you know, the same as, but opposite. If it's crossing from your left, that's how you manage crosswind. And I would, I would
Speaker 1 (27m 30s): Comment to that, you know, I've, I've now done quite a lot of towing, nothing like you have, but you know, I've done it for many years in various parts of the world. And it's very, it's still to me, very unnatural. And there are things about it that kind of grab you by surprise. It doesn't feel very normal to have your wing behind you. Like it is and towing, especially when there's a lot of wind. Like I said, it actually kind of feels the same way that there's a lot of winter. Yeah.
Speaker 2 (27m 59s): It's just more rambunctious
Speaker 1 (28m 0s): And there's a lot of wind or a rich, it's very thermic, but I know we're going to talk about risks of towing and things like lockout, but, you know, we even saw it in Texas with a really good pilot, how quickly you can get caught out by just not paying attention to that toe force that you're talking about and letting yourself drift. And we almost killed a guy in the Maldives who had, you know, he'd done like one flight and there was no wind. So nobody on board was kite surfing.
And my friends, a couple of friends that I had on board that were good pilots,
Speaker 2 (28m 36s): We're having a blast because we were doing all this towing and flying over these amazing
Speaker 1 (28m 39s): do an acro and having a blast. And he just was dying to go, what are they wanting to go? And I was so nervous cause he had never, you know, he'd only done like one mountain flight ever in his life. And,
Speaker 2 (28m 51s): But he was, he was a good kite surfer and he had some wings skills. So we spent some time yeah.
Speaker 1 (28m 55s): With him, ground handling. And then, you know, we thought, okay, well, you know, we'll tow him off the beach. You're immediately over the water. You know, how bad could this be? Right. And
Speaker 2 (29m 6s): Of course, you know, as soon as
Speaker 1 (29m 9s): She left the ground, he didn't steer straight. Didn't follow the boat, locked out. I mean, I, I had no idea how fast it could happen. I mean, I was actually, I was the tow tech. I was the one that was in charge of the rig and I just didn't react fast enough. He just went sideways and flipped upside down and smacked his head on the water. And you know, he was, if it had been concrete, I think we would have lost him. You know? I mean, he would,
Speaker 2 (29m 34s): It's hard enough, you know, it was only 15 feet,
Speaker 1 (29m 36s): Not off the ground, but he hit hard enough that it knocked him out. And I just, you know, until you see it live, you don't really appreciate it.
Speaker 2 (29m 46s): Well, I've seen people smacking into a car like that, going completely sideways and pounding into a car. So, you know yeah. But to, to address your point as a general matter, or as the general practice, we try not to tell new people in light and variable winds. It is so much harder to keep the wing overhead. And so your first toes should be in moderate winds where it's easy for you to kite. And then everybody, you know, you can start the toe at any moment that you wish that you're already, and then you can signal the tow operator.
Now I'm completely ready. I got it under control and now let's go. So that's what you want to do. And I'm actually just to add to the crosswind point. If you have a bow in the lines, then you should generally go, you know, drift sideways, continue to drift down the crosswind until you take out the bow. That's another good tip for managing cross winds. But then yeah. What you were saying about the lockout. Yeah. Like enlightened variable winds, you know, it takes a lot of skill for pilot to keep their wing overhead, and frankly, to do that, they have to always walk back, you know, if they're in reverse and they have to run forward if they're in forward.
So the tow operator needs to roll the car. As soon as the pilot is trying to run, you know, towards the vehicle to keep the wing overhead because otherwise the pilot will step over the line and you can have a tango between his feet and stuff like that. So you, this is even though we're discussing the pilot, there is a portion here for the tow operator to do as well. And they need to be taking up Slack as the pilot is managing that wing and legendary about wins so that, you know, as soon as they start running, you know, they get the toe forests and they get old smooth liftoff.
Speaker 1 (31m 39s): One of the things that I learned in, in Texas that I had never really appreciated before that, the day that, you know, Cody and I, it was nuking and Cody got dragged cross the airfield. And I got plucked a couple of times, part of our problem that day was that it was really cross from the right and we're both right Turners. And so what I learned to appreciate a lot more is if it's crossed from the right, you should turn left, either that, or really get the wings stacked over. If you're looking back, you're weighing to the right and realize this is hard to describe it, an audio podcast, but you know, if you, if you're turning left, when the wind is from the right, you're going to have a lot less distance to turn around to and grab that left side of your wing, if you're turning right, instead of going 130 degrees, or even like 90 degrees, if you're turning left, you're going all the way around before you can grab it.
And it's not, it's not nearly as efficient or safe. And so, you know, it's, it's a reminder that we shouldn't all get locked into turning one way. You know, you should be able to turn both ways just as, you know, as easily it should be, you know, it should be easy to do and you should be comfortable with both ways.
Speaker 2 (32m 54s): Yep. Yep. And when you bring your wing up like that in turn, of course, if you have more, more of a turn, you know, to cover and stuff, the, the tow operator should keep the tension down during that time and should be rolling forward if necessary to take out any Slack that may form. And so all of this is basically two people managing the system of the wing and the tow line until they're ready for the liftoff.
Speaker 1 (33m 20s): It's another good point that, you know, I found that I think getting plucked at a mountain site is one of the more risky aspects of, of flying that there is. And it's certainly one of the causes of a lot of, you know, accidents. But I think with towing, it's kind of the same thing that, that we, we, we specially learn this down in Texas when it was so windy, is that it was way better for the pilot to just have tension, but not too much on the rig.
So it's not going to get tangled up, but that you could run at the wing, you know, either do a Cobra launch, which is really the safest way to do it, for sure. Or to just be able to run at the wing 20, 30, 40 feet if necessary. But if you, but you can't do that. If the toe tech has, has you tight, you're just gonna get
Speaker 2 (34m 11s): Right. Right. And some people actually like to be tethered as they bring up the wing because, you know, they think they will not be dragged too far, but there is a limit to that. The kind of winds that you guys were launching in and Texas, it wouldn't work in those winds. You have to keep the tension down far enough so that the pilot, as you say, can run away from the tow vehicle and pull out as much line as necessary to bring their wing out without getting plucked, you know, to bring it up safely and turn around.
Speaker 1 (34m 42s): Yeah. Okay. So we've covered pilot or have we, if we do we move on here to attach?
Speaker 2 (34m 49s): I think so. Yeah. We pretty much covered the pilot. I mean, you have to have the coding skills and you have to have Crossway and management and that, well, maybe, you know, when you release, you can grab your, you know, both of your toggles in one hand and then release with the other. Or frankly I have been releasing just by laying off one toggle and quickly releasing, but that depends a lot on your toe bridal. And maybe this is a good segue to go into the attachment category, so to speak.
So the way you attach a pilot to the tow system is you use a tow bridle and a weak link. Well, we already discussed the weak link. So let's get into the tow bridal stuff. Unfortunately, as of today, there are no like all around good toe bridles on the market. All of them have their own shortcomings. Some of them don't allow you to release easily at no tension or at full Tench, either one, you're going to have a hard time releasing.
Some of them allow you to attach yourself in such a way that you won't be, won't be able to release, you know, without the tension being completely dropped. And you pulling in that toe, bridal back into your hands and, you know, does attaching yourself manually. And of course you can't file it your wing during that time. So it's a very bad situation. And then some of them, you know, have like metal parts that can, you know, presumably hit you in the face or the way they attach the toe bridle to the Caribbean does not take account of the metal fatigue that can happen with aluminum carabiners.
So all of those bridles unfortunately have their own shortcomings. I happen to prefer the one that allows you to release with no tension and full tension. Cause I I've realized that for me, that's what I come across the most. But then, you know, other bridles, they have a better attachment points and you know, they are, you know, more comfortable in other respects. So it's, I guess it's individual pilot choice and
Speaker 1 (37m 4s): That's a good point reminder again, how important a hook knife is when we're flying, not just for towing just period, but every pilot shouldn't have a hook knife with them, but especially when they're telling
Speaker 2 (37m 17s): Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes. And even if you're not towing, it's a great idea to have. Yeah.
Speaker 1 (37m 21s): Great idea. Yeah, for sure. Reserves, if you land in a ton of wind or, you know, cutting and risers, if you land in a ton of wind and they're just, they come in very handy. Yes,
Speaker 2 (37m 30s): No, you are. You're strapped into like a big piece of equipment. You never know when you have to like cut yourself out of it. So it's a great idea to have one, to have a hook knife. And so, so with the toe bridles, you know, a lot, a lot of times what happens there is a popular model in the market and it has like a skydiving style pin, like either a bent crooked pin or a straight pin, but the pin has a ring and it's possible to put that rings through the loop that actually completes the whole attachment.
And if you do that, then you will not be able to release from the, from toe if, you know, if the ring is through that loop. And so the only way you can release yourself is by cutting yourself out. Or, you know, if the pilot, if the tow operator drops the tension completely, you can go ahead on then, you know, release herself. So one way to handle that is that loop that completes the attachment. It can be sewn up to be so small that you can put the pin through it, but not the rain.
And as long as you people modify that, you know, their individual bridals like that, they can salvage, you know, the old bridle that they have that they technically shouldn't be using, but everybody's using them. And so that's one thing you can do to mitigate the risk here.
Speaker 1 (38m 50s): Hmm. Yeah, let's go through, let's go through kind of your checklist. What are you, you know, when you're standing there getting ready to tow, what are all the things cause we've already got, you know, we've all got checklists for when we're foot launching, you know, our shoulder straps and our leg straps and our helmet and our instruments and everything's on and radios and you know, the live tracking on inReach, all that kind of stuff. Well, what, what do we have to add with towing?
Speaker 2 (39m 17s): Well, the main thing that I add is that my toe bridal is hooked up correctly, which was my bridal. You can't really hook it up any other way. So I just briefly glanced at both sides and that's it. And most other people have to make sure that that pin is positioned correctly and there is no other like twists or whatever tangles. And then one more item that I add to the preflight is that the toe line is on the same side as you're going to turn, like if you're turning right, I am a left Turner, you know, you seem to turn right when launching and reverse.
So you have to make sure that that toe line is on your right. And I make sure that it's on my left. And then of course I wait for the, go ahead from the tow operator that they're ready and that the tension is set, you know, according to, you know, if it's light winds, then the tension is already there. If it's super strong ways that then I want to hear that there is no tension and I can bring out my wing and have room to run towards it. And then, then you can tell at that point,
Speaker 1 (40m 17s): Yeah. And I would say, I would say maybe, you know, the radio communications are, are really important and, but often the pilot's too busy to deal with trying to communicate, you know, that's the last time you want to take your hands off the toggles when you're just leaving the ground. And so I think a series and I don't know that there's been something totally worked out and it's kind of universal, but it's nice to have some kind of signals, you know, like the bow when you're ready to go. But you know, when people are talking down in Texas about, you know, flapping your legs back and forth, and or that the toe that the rig, if, if for some reason they can't communicate with pilot, whatever you're on the wrong frequency or you haven't done the checks, right.
Or something's wrong with the radio, then that the, that the driver can do various things to tell the pilot to either paying off or maybe something else. I don't know what that would be, but
Speaker 2 (41m 10s): Oh, absolutely. And yes, you know, you mentioned radio communication. Yes. That's of course, you know, should be part of your pre-flight even aside from towing, but yeah, if you're a towing, then you are going to check with your tow op that you are in radio communication with him. And then yes, generally we, we use a signal such as a bow if we're doing a forward launch, because then when you're all set and ready, you just those good bow with like bending your knees and completely, you know, stooping down as opposed to just bending your, your head down, giving like a small head bow.
And then if we are in reverse, then generally the signal is discussed with the tow operator beforehand that it's going to be you bringing up your wing, getting control of it and then turning around. And that's when you give a nod and then the person can start towing. So that's the simple signals that we use, you know, in, in Florida most of the time where we tow and that's, you know, that's pretty much it.
Speaker 1 (42m 15s): So conditions,
Speaker 2 (42m 18s): Well conditions, we kind of discussed them to some extent I'll rate a lot of it is, you know, if it's raining, obviously you don't want to fly, but mostly it's the wind and it's a wind direction and wind speed. And so what I like to say is that you can tell in, in a strong, straight in wind, or you can tell in weak crosswind, but don't go in strong crosswind. So it can be either strong or cross, but not strong and cross in simple terms, of course, if you're an expert and you know how to manage crosswind and you have a toe op who's done, you know, high wind launches and all of that, you can get away with it.
But as a matter of general practice, we don't recommend towing when it's strong and cross 90% of the pilots and tour operators will have, you know, big enough problems so that you should just avoid that you should reposition or do something else or, or wait for weaker winds. But I would not tell as a general matter in strong and cross winds,
Speaker 1 (43m 23s): Good advice. What are the main danger issues that you can run into with towing? We talked a little bit about web stall. We talked a little bit about lockout. Let's go into those a little bit more in depth, but, and others.
Speaker 2 (43m 38s): Yeah, sure. You know, which stall is a real quick, I mean, you actually told a very good story about that. That's basically when a tow rig for whatever reason applies the whole power of the vehicle to the pilot. And so the wing pitches back and eventually, you know, your weak link with break. I mean, what we do to prevent that is we, you know, do rig design, you know, a certain way or use a certain tow line like we discussed. And we also use a weak link. But even with all of that, if you have that, you may get, you know, like a whip stall or a wing, like pitching so far back that as soon as the weakling breaks, you're going to have this massive surge.
And from what I know, if you, if I I've actually, I've had that a few times back in my, you know, experimental days and not using weaklings or towing with like a static. Cause we also, I forgot to mention that you can tell with a static line attached to a moving vehicle and have a load cell to read the pressure. You can do that too. I'm not recommended by any means anymore, but basically, so if you're getting into this situation, you have a sudden surge intention to weekly breaks, and you're about to have a massive surge.
What you should do is, you know, take a few wraps if you can, but mostly you want to err on the side of overbraking then not breaking too much because if you over break, you're going to fall from maybe 10 to 20 feet and that'll be the end of it. But if you under break, if you don't control the surge, you may actually pendulum into the ground with a lot more force. And as a general matter from the anecdotes that I have heard, you're going to have much worse, you know, massive injuries from something like that.
Then just by, you know, from falling on a stalled glider, that's a lot more benign compared to the other scenario
Speaker 1 (45m 34s): That, yeah, that's, I have found that the right kind of brake pressure is just kind of heavy hands. Is that basically what I mean? I just do that even if it's really windy, you know, even if it's 2000 feet off the deck, you know, I find that I get a little better toe because of that and maybe I'm wrong, but I find just being a little bit heavy in the hands is, is, is about perfect.
Speaker 2 (46m 0s): Yeah. I mean, different people prefer different things. Like I remember in my, my early toes with the Southern guy, he kept telling me, you know, let the plane fly fast, let it fly fast and stuff like that. Generally speaking yet, if you keep the weight of your hands on your brakes, you're going to have a little bit better control. So you will be correcting sooner and you will have a slightly better climb, you know, your toe will be more efficient. And so if you have a short runway, you're going to make the most of it by applying some brake.
Okay. Yeah. Okay.
Speaker 1 (46m 35s): Is just way too much pressure. And they're especially dangerous obviously right off the ground. In that case better to be just break it, basically stall the wing or deep stall, the wing to the ground and potentially, you know, being pendulum into the ground, if you don't catch that surge a lockout.
Speaker 2 (46m 54s): Yeah. And just to, you know, whip stall, technically I think would be when the wing will fall completely behind you and you would fall to the ground. I don't think that ever happens anymore. Even if your rig goes straight to static client, it's not going to out, you, you know, if you have a weak link in the system, it'll break. And so your wing will not fall behind you. It'll surge in front of you. Right. So the search control advice applies. Okay. Now, as far as the lockout, you know, you have two main scenarios. Number one is you have a new pilot kind of like you described in the Maldives that you guys were towing or some other plays, I forget.
But anyway, so you can have somebody super new and they just can't control the glider. And the thing is, they will tell you later, well, I try to control it, but I was pulling break, but the glider wasn't, you know, obeying my commands. And it brings up a point that you need more brake input to control the wing on toe than you normally do. So if you expect your wing to react as usual until it's not going to happen, you need to, you need more brake input to make the same correction.
So, so that's what you gotta do. So the reason this lockout happens with new guys is because even if they know what to do, they are not doing it enough. They're not using enough pre-EQ to, to correct. The course. Just describe exactly Greg, for those who haven't towed or haven't heard of it. What exactly is lockout a lockout is when your wing changes course too far to the side so that the toe forest starts pulling you sideways and basically pulls you out of your center of gravity so that the wing falls either behind you or to the side of you.
But you basically, it's almost like you're on the ground kiting. And if you stop cutting, your wind will just fall because you are not a stable system. So this is the same thing because the wing is so far, of course the system is no longer stable. The pilot is brought up so high above the proper center of gravity that the wing can no longer fly. And it just falls like a piece of cloth basically. And on the pilot falls with it. And so one scenario I described was, you know, it happens close to the ground when you have a new guy and they cannot correct course.
And then the tow operator should immediately drop tension and stop the vehicle. And basically a board that, so at that point, yeah, but frankly I have seen quasi lockout situation with, with advanced pilots as well. And what usually happens is they start to fiddle with their harness or their instrument. And, and this is all like, you know, real life experiences that I'm describing. They will be doing it for so long that they're not piloting the wing in the meantime.
And even with a slight crosswind, it's very easy for the wing to start to get off course and, you know, closer and closer to a lockout. And the guy is just not paying attention. And then the tow operator maybe is in a phase that he cannot see, or he is not monitoring the pilot correctly. I mean, that's why you always want to use like those wide angle mirrors attached to the top of your regular mirrors. Or you could have a camera or a rear view camera or some device like that too, so that you can ideally see the pilot at all times, because even if you have a Yahoo is just filling with his equipment too much, you can at least, you know, the tow operator can be spotting him and afford the tow or dump the tension or just radio the guy and say, Hey, Hey, stop it.
You know, pilot your wing until you know, the problem is correct.
Speaker 1 (50m 45s): Yeah. And I would just say as a, as a warning to the listeners, if you haven't done a lot of towing or even if you have that, it can happen really, really, really fast. And I remember when I first did my first couple of SIVs with Santa Croce, way back in the day behind him on his boat, I was surprised. And there were times where he'd be like, follow the boat, follow the boat. And I thought I was, I mean, I was at that point, no thousand feet off the deck and not just kind of looking around, having a good time and I had wandered off a little bit and it just doesn't, it doesn't take much, but it, but you're really in trouble if you're low to the ground.
Speaker 2 (51m 22s): Yes. Yes. And of course the higher, the tension, the more in trouble at the quicker and trouble you will get. Sure. And that's why in this regard, I like to tell people, keep yourself square to the line, you know, consider, you know, the leading edge of your wing, look at it. And it should be roughly perpendicular to the first, you know, hundred feet of line that you see. If that's not the case, then you are doing something wrong. So that's another way to look at it. So that even if you're kind of pointing in the general direction of the tow vehicle or the boat, you can still kind of figure out that, ah, maybe I'm not doing things right here.
I have a bow here in the line I got to take out or my wing is not really perpendicular to the line. So I'd better. Correct us quick,
Speaker 1 (52m 4s): Other risks,
Speaker 2 (52m 7s): Other risks. Well, I hope we've pretty much covered all of them that I know of. Oh, you do? Okay. Yeah. This was,
Speaker 1 (52m 17s): It was a combination of factors, all very unfortunate, but the editor of the show, the man, and very good friend of mine, miles Connolly was doing an SIV course, I believe out in California. And I'm not going to name any names beyond that obviously, but he, he's a big guy, really big guy and a tall and he's heavy guy and strong as an ox. And he, they were towing in a place that was like pretty short. It was with a boat Ang is or doing SAV.
And there was pretty short little area to get them up off the ground. And then beyond that sounded it wasn't there like a whole series of kinda Rocky, you know, like small boulders before the water and no wind and big guy, you know, so obviously the, what you had to do there as the tow operators, the boat had to be going full speed and then yank them off the ground pretty fast. You know, as soon as he brings up the wind, he was doing a forward, you know, they had to adjust for the added weight and weighing and tension and all that.
And they did and dragged him the boulders and, and, you know, pulverized one of his knees, you know? So to me it sounds like, you know, not an ideal place to tow obviously, but also the other side of that is, you know, you've got to take some time and talk about with the boat operator, to operator, car operator, whatever it is often, you know, with, with your guys set up, it's just one person driving and running the winch that, you know, you've got to be thinking about these things, you know, not, everybody's not the same.
Speaker 2 (53m 58s): Well, yes. And to me, that falls into the obstacles category. And that's actually, I should mention that you want to look out for trees or fences
Speaker 1 (54m 6s): Or anything sharp sticking out of the ground
Speaker 2 (54m 9s): Or even cars. You know, you'd be surprised how many times people will park their cars and the wrong space at the wrong time. And then you end up, you know, with a pilot lifting off and immediately flattening into like, we even had those guys slam into his own car. Right. And so all these obstacles and not to mention, you know, boulders, you know, our car will absorb an impact, but if it had been some kind of a concrete structure, I mean, you'd break a bunch of bones. I mean, you're done at that point that's for sure. Sure, sure.
And so, and another thing I thought of when you started telling this story is, you know, getting back to stationary winches, if the winch is stationary, sometimes the pilot will, instead of a lockout, he will attempt to fly completely away from the winch. And I have, I have seen, you know, situations that a person was completely, you know, he got into a lockout and smack the ground and basically broke his back because the rig was not paying out line.
A stationary rig was pulling the line in, but then when the person stopped, when the pilot completely turned around, you know, turn his back to the Reagan slew, try to fly away from it. He got into a complete lockout and basically, you know, got hit real bad and injured. And so with stationary rigs, you want to make sure that as soon as you drop tension, the rig is able to free spool because somebody might want, they might decide to fly away from that rig. And you have to, you won't even cut the line in time.
You have to let that line pull out and then ideally you will go and cut it as soon as you can. That's what should happen.
Speaker 1 (55m 53s): So what I think we're both saying there is, you know, tow tech is a really serious job and it's not something that's totally intuitive even for pilots, but you know, it does take some training and it definitely takes quite a bit of time and you know, you're going to make some mistakes doing it. And so you want to have both pilots and rigs that can accommodate that to an extent, because now that we've kind of scared everybody with these potential problems, I still, you know, and correct me if I'm wrong, they seem like incredibly, incredibly low frequency events.
I've never been, you know, other than the, the time in the Maldives, you know, I've seen some things that were like, Ooh, that's a little bit scary, but that was the only incident I've ever seen towing. And it seems to me like, you know, all up, if we put it all together, towing is a much safer way to enter the air and do what we love to do than foot launch. I mean, just period, most, you know, most accidents happen launching and landing. And I think that towing resolves a lot of that.
If it's done correctly,
Speaker 2 (57m 3s): I would totally agree with that. I would totally agree with that because, you know, we're kind of dissecting here at worst case scenarios and some other things, but the biggest danger that we cannot really account for is nature itself is these invisible, you know, dust devils or thermals or other things in the air that if you do a foot launch and you take a collapsed, you know, over a 50% collapsed, close to the ground, you know, there is a high probability that you will not survive that flight.
And that's what foot launch by contrast on toe, if everything is done properly, like we discussed today. And ultimately it's relatively easy to get to a good point. And again, you don't want to combine a new toe op with, with a new pilot. You want to have an experience to OB and a new pilot or a new toe op, and then you would want an experienced pilot to address on the prior points. Yeah. But, but then if you do everything by the book, so to speak, you're going to have a wing that is loaded a lot stronger than, you know, your regular free flight.
And we've had, does devils come through on tow in Florida and generally speaking, you get rocked and your wing kind of wiggles and stuff. And maybe some, maybe occasionally you will take a tip collapsed. I've never taken a tip collapsed on top, but I have seen people who, who have that, but generally speaking, that's the most you're going to get, you're going to get some rocking and stuff, but you are gonna, you know, pass through that, that demon of, of a piece of air and, and everything will be fine from that point.
And so if you look statistically about, you know, into tow accidents and things, I think you will conclude very quickly that towing has been statistically safer than mountain launching. Even if you account for the difference in use, you know, the frequency of use. And so that just proves the point that towing can and is, you know, very safe when practiced properly. And actually it's even safer than, you know, a lot of foot launches.
And if you want to be on the safe side, do a learn towing and do practice it, Greg, thank you very much.
Speaker 1 (59m 22s): I really appreciate it. It is a fantastic method for us to go flying. Certainly like what we were doing in Texas, when you're chasing distance and flying in a lot of wind, those were absurd amounts of wind that I would never toy with in the mountains at all. So it's a, I'm really enthused. And your idea of potentially, you know, using something like your , which is compact and light, and you could put it on an airplane with you as luggage, which is just incredible, you know, we could, we could potentially do some really cool vole bibs with the winch, which is really neat.
You know, you know, we'll get back in the day, flew across the United States pair motoring, but you know, how sexy would it be to do it? Oh, you know, with your normal gear in a winch, that'd be really cool. So yeah, I think it's, it, it opened my eyes a lot to the possibilities and it gives us access to a lot of unflappable days in the mountains and yeah, man, I'm sold. So it was great spending the time with you. And this was super instructive and I appreciate it, man.
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