Thursday, November 26, 2009

Winch-launched gliding

Gliding mostly requires a tow plane to tow your glider to altitude. Following a tow plane one can be towed to a large height to begin the glide; as long as the climb remains safe and stable one can be towed up in theory as high as the climb performance of the tow allows.

But there is another way. Winch-launched gliding is highly popular in Europe, where I understand General Aviation is a lot less accessible to the general public than it is here, which I imagine makes it more challenging to obtain a tow. Tow planes also cost money; the pilots don't work for free after all, and the tow planes don't fly without pricey avgas. While I am sure winching still costs money, it does somehow add a layer of independence to the concept of gliding.

And winching isn't low-powered, either. These winches can fling a glider into the air at a whopping 1,900 feet a minute, which for someone who has flown in 400 to 500-foot-per-minute Cessnas is astonishing.

And if one winches in the right places, one can soar for hours. Pilot Mag had a feature about winch-launched gliding in Switzerland and told tales of one glider pilot who soared, from a winch launch, for nine hours, covering almost 1000 km in the process. Granted the thermals and wind activity in Switzerland are extremely good for gliding (epic vacation, anyone?) but still, nine hours aloft in an unpowered airplane subject to the whims of the sky is a pretty astonishing thing.

Anyway, enjoy these videos of winched gliders. I did!

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