Avoiding lockout while being towed up in a paraglider
by Had Robinson
Below, a beginning pilot launches and then quickly starts into a
lockout. Look carefully and you can see the pilot's left hand
extended, pulling his left brake down past the karabiner and causing the
wing to careen to the left. Why did he do this? Typically, he started to tip to the left right after the glider came up and stuck his hand out to the left to "catch the fall."
If he had let go of the brake, it would not have been a problem but he forgot and caused the wing to dive. If the tow is not stopped instantly, the glider will continue its turn to the
left and point straight down. Thankfully, he learned what not to do and, a short time later, successfully launches.
Lockout is when the glider dives to one side or the other (usually going down) with the towline, pilot, and glider in the same plane. Because of gravity, the glider and pilot will travel with high speed directly towards the ground. It is the same when a boy flies a kite, the kite begins a dive to one side, and, often as not, goes right into the ground. During lockout, speed and force build up very rapidly and, if the tow is not stopped immediately, the pilot will hit the ground with great force and can be seriously injured or worse.
The tow operator is carefully trained to avoid lockout which is first to recognize it is going to happen and then stopping the tow immediately. It is why pilots should never be towed except by a USHPA certified tow technician. Even when lockout is stopped, the pilot can still have an uncomfortable landing, as here. In this case, all was well. The pilot picked himself up and launched again, successfully. It is very important for pilots to keep their HANDS UP at launch and only pull on the brakes to steer. It's his job to keep the glider perpendicular to the towline at all times.
In the photo below, the pilot above had a rough but, thankfully, a harmless landing, doing a face-plant. He is lying down thinking, "What did I do?!?" If it happens on grass, it is a benign event. At mountain sites, however, it can be extremely dangerous. It is another important reason why we train at the turf farm. Soft, flat grass is more forgiving than rocks, bushes, or trees.
Just a few minutes later, he picked himself up and launched again without problem! The tow operator noted that the glider was not 100% inflated and gave a little extra tow pressure to fully inflate the glider for a safe launch. This pilot learned an important lesson about brake usage which he will not likely forget.
Below, the same pilot – correctly – is looking up at his glider and adjusting it accordingly (and always GENTLY).