One of the critical items on the pre-takeoff checklist is the ‘emergency plan’. Whether an OSCI member is flying solo or is flying with someone else, a review of the ‘emergency plan’ is completed before the tow begins. The plan is a review of what to do if there is a problem on tow at any point between the start of the tow and being on tow and at or above 500’ AGL. How we react depends upon whether the glider is still on the ground, or if the glider is in the air but below 200’ AGL, or if the glider is above 200’. We review that the first thing we do in the event of a rope break while we’re in the air is to get the nose of the glider down, to keep our speed up so we don’t stall. We review which way we’ll turn if we need to make an immediate 180 degree turn to return to the runway. Sometimes we’re asked what we’ll do if the canopy were to pop open while on tow, or if a mouse were to run up your pant leg. The answer: Fly the Glider!
I recently experienced a premature tow rope release (which is very, very rare), at approximately 3,000’ MSL. I don’t know what caused the tow rope to release, but it was unexpected. So, how did I react? The first thing I did was to get the nose of the glider down, to keep my speed up. Next, I checked my altitude, which was about 3,000’ MSL. That’s plenty of altitude to prepare to fly a normal pattern for landing on the grass runway, and that’s what I decided I’d do. The next thing I did was look for the airport, and when I saw it, I turned the glider and flew east towards the area where the initial entry point to my landing pattern would be. Finally, I made a radio call to state that I’d lost the tow rope, and that I was going to return and land. While this wasn’t an emergency, I was pleased to find that the training I’ve received allowed me to manage the event safely. I followed the steps that I’ve been trained to follow – aviate, navigate, and then communicate.
As someone who started glider flight training with no previous flight experience at all, I’m very grateful to my instructor pilots. I think they’ve done an excellent job of teaching me proper fundamentals and procedures to fly safely.
Someone sent me a section from a training manual that has a chapter dedicated to premature aerotow releases. It’s good information, and it mostly follows the procedures we’re trained to follow. I’ve attached it for reference.
8.1 Introduction to Premature Aerotow Release
In the event of a premature aerotow release (i.e., a rope break or tow hook malfunction), you may only have a split second to react. It is important that you have a plan of action, so that all you have to do in an emergency is carry out the plan. In this lesson, you will learn how to plan for premature aerotow releases. In later lessons you will practice executing your plan.
Rope break procedures vary from airport to airport. What is given here is an overview of the general options. Make sure you understand the specific procedures used at your airport. There are basically three options when the tow is terminated prematurely after takeoff: continue straight ahead, return to the runway to land in the opposite direction from which you took off, or return to the runway using an abbreviated pattern. Which option you should choose depends on your altitude and location at the time of the termination of the tow.
If you have taken off but are below about 200 feet AGL, your plan should be to continue straight ahead and land on the remaining runway if possible, or in the surrounding area.
Once you have passed an altitude of about 200 feet AGL, you should plan to perform a 180° turn and return to the runway for a downwind landing. Often, the tow pilot will veer to the downwind side of the runway after takeoff to make it easier for you to make this turn, should a rope break occur. You should not attempt a downwind landing if the winds are greater than about 10 knots. In higher winds, you should plan to land straight ahead.
Once you have reached an altitude of about 400 feet AGL, you should plan to do an abbreviated pattern. The size of the pattern depends on how high you are. As you climb higher above the ground, you can perform a normal, or near normal pattern.
You should make a plan for dealing with a premature termination of tow before each flight, taking into account the wind, traffic, and any other factors that might affect your plan. For the preflight checklist item “emergency plan”, you should review your plan with your instructor.
You should monitor the radio during takeoff so that you will know of any traffic that might conflict with your rope break plans. For instance, if someone reports that they are taking off right after you, a 180° turn back to the runway may not be an option.
Your instructor will have you call out the transition points in your plan as you climb on tow. On a typical flight, you might make the following calls:
On runway: ”Land on runway.”
Once landing on the runway is no longer an option: ”Land in field over the airport fence.”
Once 200 feet AGL is reached: ”Perform a right 180° turn for a downwind landing.”
Once 400 feet AGL is reached: ”Perform a left abbreviated pattern.”
Once 1,000 feet AGL is reached: ”Normal pattern.”
It is important to plan which direction you will turn in the event of a rope break. At low altitudes, hesitation or a turn in the wrong direction may eliminate a safe option.
- Failure to review your rope break plan before taking off
- Failure to announce when your options change as you gain altitude
- Failure to monitor the radio/airport environment for possible traffic conflict