By Thomas Knauff
Recently, a local pilot flying a Schweizer 1-36 made an off field landing in a beautiful farm field immediately beside the farmer's private airstrip. (No, the pilot did not have a sectional chart with him.) Since the field is short with wires, I elected to aero tow him myself.
This pilot has exhibited some of the five hazardous thoughts during his early flying career, so I figured I'd test him once again. Our towrope has a Tost ring set on the glider end as most of the gliders flown at Ridge Soaring Gliderport have a Tost release mechanism. I stuffed the short adapter rope with the proper Schweizer ring in my pocket, planning to see how the pilot would handle the situation when I arrived with the Tost ring on the end of the towrope.
I flew over the field and dropped the rope, turned 180 degrees and landed. The farmer was there and as I talked to him, the glider pilot hooked the towrope to the tow plane, and then used the larger of the two Tost rings to connect the Schweizer.
I asked if this would be OK, and he responded we had no other choice. I suggested the safe and proper thing was to return and get the approved tow ring rather than use the Tost ring on the Schweizer release as I then revealed the adapter rope. Further, I reminded him of the hazardous thought of invulnerability. (It won't happen to me.)
Today, I had a phone call from someone about a 1-26 being towed by the larger Tost ring. As has happened numerous times in the past, the smaller ring jammed the Schweizer release so the glider pilot could not release. After numerous attempts, the glider pilot then tried to pull the release knob with both hands, letting go of the stick!
Of course the glider zoomed very high, whereupon the pilot pressed the stick hard forward, gaining speed on the tow plane. The tow plane pilot noticed the goings on as he lost control of the tow plane, then looked to the left to see the glider passing him, still connected to the tow rope!
The tow pilot released the glider; the tow rope released from the glider in the landing pattern and no one was hurt.
The error of using a Tost tow ring on a Schweizer release mechanism has occurred on numerous occasions and several articles in soaring magazine, CFI clinics, safety newsletters, instructions in text books etc., etc. simply fail to get across to many soaring pilots.
You will find people using chain links, nose rings for cattle, home made rings, inappropriate knots, ropes that are too strong, and Wal Mart non-certified strength rope.
For that matter, you still find instructors using the coffee table book, "The Joy of Soaring" as the basic flight training textbook, key altitudes in the landing pattern, zero altimeter settings, and . . . well you get the idea.
Flying gliders is more dangerous than any other activity and the reasons why are clear. We are the weakest link.