Once you have performed your pre-flight, connected to the tow line, and the Launch Director has given you the OK, you are ready to launch. When performing a forward launch the Launch Director will direct the Tow-Op to gently add tension to the line. You should brace yourself against the pull of the line to avoid disturbing the canopy until you are ready to launch. When you are ready, begin running forward, bringing the canopy up overhead. At the same time the Tow-Op gradually begins reeling in the line until normal tow tension is reached and you climb at an appropriate rate. If you choose to perform a reverse launch there should be enough slack on the line to permit you to move toward the glider without tensioning the line. Once you have the glider overhead and stable, in the forward position, the Tow-Op can be directed to add tension on the line and pull you aloft. Remember to keep your feet down for at least the first 50’ feet of altitude. If the tow pressure suddenly decreases or the weak link breaks you should be prepared to land on your feet.
Settling Into The Harness
Once you are at an appropriate altitude and following the tow line properly you may get comfortable in your harness. The same rules apply as when foot launching. Getting comfortable is a low priority, maintaining directional control is a high priority! Using a foot stirrup is always the most effective and preferable but is not available on all harnesses. The one handed method may still be used during a tow though it is extremely important that you are not distracted by getting seated and inadvertently steer your glider off course. Use the hand opposite the reserve handle and bridle release to slide yourself into the harness while lifting your knees to your chest. If you are drifting left, push your control hand left. If you are drifting right, push your control hand right to correct your course. Never let go of your brakes and/or grab the risers to to help you get into the harness. Once you are comfortable, cross your legs at the ankles or put your feet together.
Actively Flying The Tow Up
When airborne you must concentrate on following the line to avoid lockout. If the tow runway is directly into the wind, following the line will be fairly easy as the tow line will remain fairly straight. However, if there is a crosswind or you strayed off course early in the flight there may be a large “bow” in the line. You must steer your glider gently toward the bow regardless of where the tow rig or runway is. The line should be perpendicular to your glider. With your feet together and in front of you the line should lay loosely between your feet. Think of it as a gun sight. If it is pulling to either side of straight ahead or pushing on one foot more than the other, you should correct your course appropriately with as much weight-shift as possible and only as much brake as you need. Control inputs on tow will be delayed but have a greater effect when the glider does react. When you are perfectly aligned with the line you will feel the “neutral point” where your glider needs no input to fly straight. Maintaining at least a light pressure on the brakes will help you find and feel the neutral point. Remember to be gentle and progressive with your control inputs. It is easy to overshoot the line and end up in a turn to the opposite direction resulting in a wobbly ride. If the Tow-Op sees that you are approaching lockout they will immediately decrease the tension on the tow line to help you then reapply tension when you are following the line.
While the Tow-Op controls most of the tension on the line, you may fine tune the tension and your climb rate by adjusting your brake pressure. Adding VERY SLIGHT brake pressure slowly will increase your climb rate, while decreasing your brake pressure will slow your climb rate. If the Tow-Op suddenly applies more tension, or you hit a thermal, your angle of attack may increase quickly and you should decrease your brake pressure immediately. Climb rates of 700-800 ft/min are acceptable.
Releasing the Tow Line
When you reach maximum height from the tow, see significant slack on the line, enter a thermal, receive a release command from the Tow-Op, or if anything looks wrong you should release. If you are still under full tow force on an uneventful tow, alert the tow operator that you are about to release. Releasing under full tow pressure will result in a surge, and the bridles may snap back toward you. You will place both brakes in the hand opposite from your release handle and stick your hand to the center of your forehead. With the other hand, reach forward and pull the release handle. If there is still tension on the line the glider may surge slightly. The line should release from your bridles and free you from the tow. If the release mechanism fails to release the line due to lack of tension you may have to grip the line between your feet and push it away from you while pulling the release handle. If there is any other sort of malfunction it may be necessary to use a hook knife to cut the weak link or release both brakes and fix the malfunction. It is important that during the release procedure you not fly beyond the tow rig or pulley or drift off course.
If The Line Breaks
During the tow there is a significant amount of force on the tow line and weak link. Old or worn lines may spontaneously break and cause a surge. You should be prepared at all times to deal with a sudden and strong surge, especially during the first third of the tow. If the line breaks you may be dragging a significant length of it behind you. It is important that you release the line from your bridles before it becomes snagged on a ground object. It may feel like a weak link break and you won’t realize that you are dragging line. Always check your connection after a line failure to make sure you are clear. If the line has become snagged on a ground object you must release immediately, use a hook knife, or fly circles (or figure-8’s) over one spot to avoid putting tension on the line. Flying circles will stack the line over the snagged object, allowing you to descend without tensioning the line.
Step-towing is a technique used to gain altitude beyond what the tow rig would otherwise be able to tow a pilot to in a given area. Once you have reached the normal release point you will turn and run downwind with the line which is paid-out by the Tow-Op. At some point you will turn back toward the line and be towed again to a new altitude. There are some added risks with this method and should not be used by inexperienced pilots or Tow-Ops. If the tow line snags on the ground or a pulley, the spool locks up, or the Tow-Op doesn’t coordinate the turn causing the line to tension while you are on the downwind leg, the result will be the same as overflying the tow rig.
Lockout occurs when the flight path of the paraglider diverges from the towline force by 45 degrees or more or if the glider rolls past 45 degrees from level flight. Lockout will occur if the Tow-Op applies too much force on the tow line, the pilot uses too much brake during the tow, or the pilot fails to follow the tow line. Typically a glider will begin to rapidly diverge from the tow line direction and point nose down at the ground. Once lockout has occurred the glider will be difficult or impossible to steer and if allowed to continue, will result in injury. To prevent lockout or fix it once it has happened, the Tow-Op should reduce the tension on the line, or you should release from the tow line. When the Tow-Op reduces the tow force you will be allowed to swing back underneath the glider and steer back toward the tow line to continue the tow. If the Tow-Op fails to reduce the tow force you MUST release immediately. Because of the high tow forces needed to maintain a lockout you should be prepared to manage the surges after release. If both the above methods fail, deploying the reserve will slow the descent and avoid injury.
Over-towing occurs when too much tow force or control input has been applied to the glider. It may also be caused by thermal activity during the tow. It is essentially a deep stall induced by an excessive angle of attack. Using large amounts of brake close to the ground (where over tow is more likely due to the tow force angle) can lead to an over-tow situation without the altitude required to recover.