A few months ago, Joe Ward put out the call for companions for a trip to Oz, in particular for doing a tow endorsement & some flatland XC in Conargo, NSW, with Brian Webb.
Towing has been getting more popular, we’ve been seeing some big flights on XContest & Leonardo over the last couple of years, and Brian Webb is highly regarded as an XC coach & mentor, so I didn’t want to miss out. Neither did Rodger or Evan, so we all locked it in. Early December was the plan, so we could take advantage of long summer days.
Brian got us doing some self-reflection in advance – goals for the season? Flying strengths & weaknesses? Important things to consider when you are looking to improve your flying.
The trip started with a bit of history & theory around towing, and some practice with the bridle. Brian uses a pay-out winch, on a trailer behind his van. A hydraulic brake system regulates the tension of the tow line, but the tow driver can also adjust the tension on the line as they are driving. It’s a fairly simple and reasonably reliable system.
The main tow field in Conargo is massive – about 4km long and 1km across. In fact, most of the paddocks in that area are huge – landing is a dream. The key consideration when you are flying is following roads, because there aren’t that many of them, and you might be in for a loooong walk in hot sun. And no passing vehicles.
We had some early starts for a holiday, 7am at the tow field, to get some practice tows in before it became too thermic. Quick tows to about 800 feet to start, so we could get a feel for what we were doing. As the days warmed up, we’d go higher, aiming to stay on tow until 2000+ feet, and if there were reasonable climbs, stay with them.
Brian had warned us to make sure we followed roads when flying, and not to be fooled by irrigation channels, which might look like roads from the air. The advice he had to be sure something was a road? Watch for cars. I tried watching for cars whilst flying, but you’d be amazed how little traffic there is in the Australian wop wops. So when I found a road, I stayed on top of it. My bravest decision was in one flight, cutting the corner where the road did a dog leg, and I’d have had a good several km walkout if I’d bombed. I also noticed that after landing, even 100m away from a road, it was hard to see where the road was!
Nothing ever goes 100% according to plan, and this trip was no exception.
Evan had to pull the pin on the trip due to an injury (not paragliding related).
Joe came down with some sort of joint stiffness & pain, which put him out of action for a couple of days. Poisonous insect bite? Not sure.
|You look silly, Joe...but can I borrow your hat? The flies are killing me.|
When testing the line pressure in preparation for one of Rodger’s launches, the weak link broke, with a bit of metal breaking under pressure & hitting Rodger’s hand. The weak link exists to provide a maximum limit to the possible tow line tension that can be exerted on a glider, so you know that when it breaks, there’s a sizeable tension. Ouch, it would have hurt – he had massive bruising & swelling. But again, it didn’t stop him flying, so all good.
There was a problem with the pressure during one of Joe’s tows, where he wasn’t really getting up, and after about 400m of getting pulled forward, and up only about 100 feet off the ground, he started coming back down, and ended up releasing from the line and coming back down to the ground. Your wing pitches back when you are on tow, and when you release, there can be quite a surge. The risk when you are low, is that you hit the ground hard as you are pendulumming. Fortunately, Joe had it all under control and managed to hit the ground safely.
On one launch, Rodger had a C-line snagged on his harness zipper. It didn't get noticed until he was in the air, but we couldn't help but notice his glider close to locking out. Joe called out on the radio, and Rodge released from the tow when it was safe, to land & sort it out.
|See the line coming from his riser across to his harness? Oops.|
The tow line broke on another one of Rodger’s flights, in quite strong wind. Luckily he was quite high, probably around 1000 ft, and was able to fly upwind across the tow paddock, with the line, and release it on the edge of the paddock so it wasn’t at risk of falling on the road.
Of course with a massive tow paddock, there is a drama then finding the line after all that. All eyes were on the drogue at the end of the line, checking where it landed to make sure we could find it again. Then we needed to repair the line, which is another mission. OK, there was no “we” in all this; Brian did all that hard stuff, while Joe & I went off to retrieve Rodger.
Now that I think about, it, Joe & I didn’t hassle Rodger nearly enough for his hopeless retrieve calls on the radio that day.
Retrieve: “Rodger, we’re following you in the car. What’s your location?”
Rodger: “I’ve landed.”
Retrieve: “Which road did you follow north of Conargo” [there is a Y junction past Conargo]
Rodger: “The one past Conargo. I’m on the ground.”
Retrieve: “I’m not seeing your SPOT; send me your coordinates.”
Rodger: “The radio is so clear.”
Retrieve: “Can you send your location, please, drop pin or SPOT or something?”
Rodger: “You must be very close.”
Retrieve: “WHERE THE F*** ARE YOU, RODGER?.”
He was right, we were just about on top of him. J
Well we didn’t break any records, but I did get a new PB with a 115km flight.
Seiko Fukuoka and Charles Cazaux were visiting from France, aiming to break some world distance records. They were on a totally different playing field, only really flying on days that it was close to blowing a gale, and we wouldn’t even consider unzipping our bags.
Check out a video here of Charles practicing for strong wind launches behind a winch:
We booked the tow endorsement & clinic with Brian Webb, XCkms - http://xckms.com/. I highly recommend anything you can do to bring yourself into contact with Brian – he’s a very skilled pilot and coach. He sent us away with a load of homework to improve our XC flying, so hopefully the NZ weather will give us a chance to practice over the holidays.
Brian also has contact details for some local retrieve drivers on his website, if you wanted to organise something independently. Note that you are required to have a tow endorsement in order to tow launch. In any case, you’d be mad not to learn to do it properly.
Finally, a couple of recommendations around comms:
A GPS satellite tracker, eg SPOT or Delorme, is a necessity for flying XC in Oz. In fact, they’re rather useful in NZ too. If you don’t have one already, get one.
Brian heavily encouraged us to get a good remote finger PTT system, and for me, it was up there in the best $70 I’ve ever spent. It’s so handy to be able to talk without taking your hands of your controls. This is especially true for towing, where things can happen quickly & you can’t afford to be dropping your controls to reach for a mic; but I also found it valuable in rough air or when I was getting low, to be able to communicate easily without distracting me from flying.
Towing in Conargo is getting more & more popular, and with good reason. Get into, guys. I’ll be back for sure.