Towing above Illinois

Towing what? No, not advertizing banners, but ...gliders.

Illini Glider Club

The Illini Glider Club is based at Piatt County / Monticello airport (2K0), about 2-3 hours from Chicago, Indianapolis, or Saint-Louis. Our Club does not operate winches, so the gliders are exclusively launched by aero-tow, behind our Restricted Category PA-25 Piper Pawnee.

Now, as the Tow Scheduler of the Club, I am always looking for nearby power-rated taildragger pilots who may want to tow for us. We have a low-cost Service Membership designed especially for tow pilots, and you do not need to be a glider pilot or a commercial pilot to tow gliders. The complete pilot requirements are specified in PDF file Tow Pilot Requirements. Time-wise, you can select to be a scheduled or a substitute tow pilot.

Our Pawnee N8902L

The Pawnee is a very easy taildragger to take-off, fly, and land (either 3-point or wheel landings). It is very agile, with a big prop, thick wing, and a large power-to-weight ratio. On take-off "empty", by the time you reach the end of the runway, you are at a 1000 feet above the ground. Except during the critical phase of take-off, there is not much the glider behind you can do to put you into trouble. As a comparison, I had learned to tow in a Piper Cub, and with instructor aboard, when slowly accelerating in ground effect above the soybeans with a heavy two-seater in tow, I just did not dare to breathe. The only Pawnee peculiarity to remember is that it is a little nose-heavy on the ground. If you do not cross the controls correctly or taxi too fast when it is windy you may strike the prop on the ground. Also the long slanted nose makes a normal approach look like a strafing pass, which is only surprising for the first flight. Otherwise, it does not have hidden flaws, and where can you fly a single-seat 235 HP airplane for free? Of all the airplanes I have flown, the Pawnee is the most fun.

Towing Gallery

To make you think about this, here are some pictures of our towing, with some didactic captions:

8902L_JCZ_Rope.jpg The tow rope is to be considered as a dangerous weapon; keep people away from it at all costs.
8902L_JCZ_EngStart.jpg Starting engine on one mag as per POH; don't forget to flip on the second mag later.
8902L_JCZ_RunUp.jpg Engine run-up checks; notice the elevator full up (remember long-nose-heavy).
8902L_JCZ_TaxiInPosition.jpg Taxiing in position; the glider dive-brakes are out on purpose to mean the glider is not ready.
8902L_JCZ_CockpitDoor.jpg A windoor sometimes slams open during take-off, with a big bang; do not abort the take-off just for that.
8902L_JCZ_RearViewMirror.jpg Watching for signals from the wing-runner in the 1964 Studebaker rearview mirror; wait for the rudder wiggle.
8902L_JCZ_Liftoff.jpg About to leave the ground for a cruddy sky; you cannot miss the simple but effective fuel float gauge.
8902L_JCZ_From_2-33.jpg Towing as seen from the Club's Schweizer 2-33. Remember that we have many student pilots.
8902L_JCZ_Cockpit.jpg The tiring job of scanning for traffic. The tow plane has the right of way over gliders and airplanes but...
8902L_JCZ_Towing.jpg Turning with the required max 15 degrees of bank. It is OK to "thermal" with an experienced glider pilot in tow.
8902L_JCZ_ReachingCloudBase.jpg Getting close to the cloud base. If the glider does not release under an overcast, wiggle your wings.
8902L_JCZ_AboveClouds.jpg For some "mile-high" guest rides, and aerobatic glider flights, one may have to tow above the clouds.
8902L_JCZ_TowReleaseLeftTurn.jpg Immediate left turn after the glider has released. And don't mix up if you also fly gliders.
8902L_JCZ_FullFlaps.jpg Full flaps and never ever less than 2000 RPM, Alaska-flying style; we don't crack cylinders anymore.
8902L_JCZ_AimingForHole.jpg Quite a cloud layer buildup; the last above-cloud flight for the day. Diving for a hole at 1000 fpm.
8902L_JCZ_Harness.jpg Entering pattern. When turbulence bangs your head on the windows, you know it is a good day for gliders.
8902L_JCZ_Final.jpg The flaps are smallish and not very effective; this is not a barn-door-flaps Cessna 170.
8902L_JCZ_Buzzing.jpg This looks very fast but the Pawnee is probably only 50 mph at this point (approach is 70 mph).
8902L_JCZ_Landing.jpg Landing 15 feet from the corn fields, that is, expecting windshear in any crosswinds.
8902L_JCZ_Waiting.jpg Waiting for the next hook-up, with one eye on the oil temperature, and listening to Unicom.
8902L_JCZ_EndOfDay.jpg Day's end; still have to clean propeller and cowl before hangaring.

If you are interested in towing for our Club, check out http://www.illinigliderclub.org/docs/Tow_Pilot_Requirements_doc_2006-291.pdf

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