THE INCIDENT AT JONESBORO
Shortly after writing last month’s article about tow pilots I heard about a towing incident in Jonesboro, TN involving a Blanik L-13 being towed by a Pawnee. The L-13 was on an instructional flight and they (the student and CFIG) were attempting to box the wake. The Blanik got too high but did not release. Here is the account of the incident from the view of the tow pilot.
"Tow Pilots, I was the tow pilot in question with regard to the incident. I have over 7000 hrs including 4 type ratings as well as having been a Captain on an Airbus A320 flying international routes--I have seen a few hairy situations before-- but I have never been as terrified as I was that day. The Pawnee was actually pulled past vertical and the rope was against the rudder (I could feel this through the pedals). Now I have been in unusual attitudes before (I own a Pitts S2B) but that isn't what scared me. It was the complete lack of control that I had as well as the speed at which this all happened. Before I could even reach for the release the Pawnee was in about a 60-degree nose down attitude and the engine had quit because of the negative G's. I pulled the release handle (so hard in fact that it broke all of the cable tie-wraps that secured the cable housing in the fuselage) but to no avail. Thank god for weak links. Also, I didn't have my harness very secure and I raised out of the seat a few inches (very bad feeling--like you are going to fall out of the plane). I got hit in the head by a big bottle of sun block lotion (not enough brain in my head to worry about!).
The Blanik started boxing the wake at 1100 AGL and I recovered after the rope broke and the engine restarted at 700 AGL. You never think it will happen to you in such an easy going and relaxing sport such as ours, however, heed the lesson and never, ever let your guard down. Yes we are a new club but we have some very experienced pilots (the 2 in the sailplane have approx. 15,000 hours between them and are very good pilots). Remember the basics-- if things don't look right you must release. This goes for tow plane as well as sailplane. And for the first 1000' AGL the tow pilot should be thinking of releasing the sailplane if the sailplane starts to get way out of position. Don't be afraid to fly behind me on tow because I won't cut you loose if you pay attention and fly like you were taught, but if you start daydreaming and get out of position... well let's just not let it happen! My glider instructor always says that before any flight think about what you'll do if the rope breaks or if any problem arises and be prepared to pull the handle--He is truly a wise man and good instructor (our very own David Cahoon). We should remind each other constantly of the need to be safe because if we do our very best it is just barely adequate. Good luck and safe soaring."
Pretty scary stuff, huh? We, as glider pilots, must learn that it is absolutely, without fail, necessary that we release if we get so high that we cannot see the tow plane. We, as tow pilots, must learn to pull the release before things get so far out of shape that it is too late. Had the rope not broken we, in all likelihood, would have been talking about a major accident instead of an incident.
One final thought. Should we not look into redesigning our tow hook on the tow plane so that it does not get progressively harder to pull the release as the sailplane gets higher? This would be a simple redesign of turning the tow hook upside down. Maybe more on this in another article.
Fly Safely and Continue to Have FUN!