Risk Management Plan for recreational towing operations

by Had Robinson and others
updated June 21, 2019

A. Towing is done on Highway 9, west of the abandoned go-cart race track.

B. Minimum pilot rating is P3 with ST (surface tow) rating

C. Information communicated to pilots before each tow

  1. Towline alignment  A tow on Hwy 9 is the same as pay-in tows at the turf farms. Pilot should ignore the tow vehicle and, instead, focus on keeping the towline just in front perpendicular to his glider.  This requires a continual glance up at the left and right tips of the glider wing and then a look at the towline.
  2. Forward inflation  Pilot will bow when he is ready.  The winch operator will begin to apply (and then increase) the tow force.  Pilot should resist the tow force as long as he can and then run forward with as much energy as possible!  This will help insure that pilot leaves the ground quickly.  Tow operator may signal when it is time to go.
  3. Reverse inflation  Winch operator will not begin the tow until the pilot turns and faces forward with the glider over his head and stable.  This is the signal that all things are a go.
  4. Towline or weak-link break  The first 75' or so of vertical tow will be done with minimum force in case of a towline or weak-link break.  This will help minimize the danger of the pilot not controlling the surge of the glider.  If there is break, IMMEDIATELY PREPARE TO LAND ON THE HIGHWAY.  IGNORE THE BROKEN towline DRAGGING BEHIND YOU!  Here is what a break looks like from the pilot's view.
  5. Land at any time  Inform pilot that he must be prepared to land at any time.
  6. Do not get in harness  The pilot should not get in his harness until he is at least 100’ off the ground.  If possible, hold brakes in one hand and use the other to safely get into the harness.
  7. Weak link  A weak-link is inserted between the tow bridle and the drogue parachute in order to protect the pilot in case of a malfunction in the towing system or the towline is caught on some object.  IT IS POSSIBLE FOR THE WEAK LINK TO BREAK AT ANY TIME!  BE PREPARED TO CONTROL THE SURGE!
  8. Clear tow area  We will not tow until there are no vehicles in sight on the highway.  This means at least a few miles in either direction.
  9. Glider drift  During the tow, let the glider drift with the wind direction.  It is not a problem if the glider does not center over the highway.
  10. Stop tow  Pilot may release from tow at any time.  Normally, the winch operator will let pilot know via radio when the end of the towline is approaching and the pilot must release.
  11. Release of tow  The winch operator will give a countdown at the end of the tow and the towline will go slack briefly during the countdown.  This is by design and is not a safety issue.  The slack line will allow the tow operator to start the winch engine in order to retrieve the towline.  Please do not release from tow until the operator gives the OK.  If the line goes slack for too long, it makes it more difficult to retrieve.
  12. Radio check  It is not a bad idea for the pilot to carry a spare radio.  Do a radio check with pilot before launching.  Pilot must lock radio into the respective frequency.  During the tow it is important that the tow operator and the pilot check in every 5 minutes or so.  If the pilot suspects that radio communication has been lost, he can continue the tow normally and release from tow at any time.  The tow operator will know when the pilot releases from tow.  The pilot will know that the tow has finished if the line goes slack.  When this happens, it is important for the pilot to release from the towline immediately (it helps the retrieve).
  13. Fence  There is a barbed wire fence on both sides of the highway right of way.  Aside from the occasional vehicle, it is the greatest hazard we face on Highway 9.
  14. LZ options  Pilots may land on the highway if it is clear in both directions, on the dirt road just north of the highway, or anywhere else, north or south of the fence. The winch operator can inform the pilot if the highway is clear of traffic.  If there is any doubt, land in the desert somewhere.  It is OK to land in Mexico but it will be a long walk back and the pilot must immediately report to the Santa Teresa border station or, better, we can find a nearby BP Agent that the pilot can report to.
  15. XC options  Pilots may go cross country in any direction but should radio coordinates of proposed landing area while still in the air to the winch operator.  Finding a downed pilot in the region is akin to finding a needle in a haystack so make sure you let us know if you are going down – with your coordinates!
  16. Eye protection required  In the event of a break in the towline, or any part thereof, hardware and/or the bridle can snap back and hit the pilot, including the face.  In the video here, the weak-link breaks about 1 minute in.
  17. Towline snag  If the towline breaks, that part which is dragging along the ground can, though rarely, snag on something.  At this time the pilot should release from tow immediately.  If the pilot remains attached to the towline and the pilot keeps flying in the same direction, the line will tighten up and pull the pilot back.  If nothing is done, the weak-link will break before the glider begins to accelerate towards the ground.  If the pilot cannot easily release from tow for some reason, turn 180 degrees.  This will loosen the line and the pilot can take whatever measures needed to release from the towline.  Remember that there could be 1,000's of feet of line below so there is no need to panic.

A pilot experienced a line break, disconnected the drogue, and holds it.  He will fly back near the highway and drop it in a convenient place for the tow operator to pick up.  Nice job, Steve Crye.

paragliding pilot flying with loose drogue in hand

D. Winch operator checklist

  1. Run towline all the way out on ground, if necessary, to check for knots and snags
  2. Install SPOT communicator in drogue
  3. Check that towline is tracking correctly through winch
  4. Warm up winch engine in preparation for towline rewind
  5. Make sure hydraulic control is at minimum force
  6. Assist pilot in laying out glider and checking for knots, debris, and cravats
  7. Connect pilot’s tow bridle to towline
  8. Ensure that correct weak-link is being used!
  9. Check pilot’s glider connection to harness
  10. Check pilot’s hand positions are correct for either forward or reverse launch.  VERIFY THAT PILOT'S BRAKE LINES ARE FUNCTIONAL
  11. Do not begin tow until highway is CLEAR IN BOTH DIRECTIONS
  12. Lock truck radio to chosen radio frequency (new for summer 2017).  Have backup radio handy.

E. Towed Pilot Checklist 123ABCD

F. Inventory of man-made and natural hazards at pay-out location

  1. There is a fence 50’ from the center of the highway on each side.
  2. There are no natural hazards.
  3. West of the abandoned race track we can tow almost 40 miles (if needed) without hazards other than the fence.
  4. There is sparse traffic on the road.  It is easily visible for miles from both directions.

Turkey Vulture