Many potential accidents can be avoided simply by taking a moment before taxiing out in front of the glider on the line to assess the situation. Think about the gliders you have towed today. How many are still aloft? Take a moment to assess the runway in front of you. Is it clear?
Before you pull onto the runway, check the pattern to be sure you are not going to taxi out in front of someone on final. Check the downwind and base area to be sure no one is in the pattern. Sailplanes that are aloft may enter the pattern at any time. If there's a plane on final, stay on the sidelines, so to speak. Give him all the clear runway possible. Sure, a glider may be staged, ready for a tow, but that's only one plane. If you taxi into position and take out slack, you are adding to the number of obstacles that must be avoided by the poor fellow on final trying to put down in a clear area.
This “sideline” time is a great opportunity for the line person to get the towrope, pull it in and take the end to the staged glider and hook it up, thus saving you precious “stop and go” time as you taxi out. You are already hooked up, and ready to take up slack. Before this, the priority is safety. You are clear of the run- way, but what about the staged glider? Is it the smallest target" possible? Perhaps the staged glider should be turned perpendicular to the runway and pushed back. Otherwise, make the staged sailplane as small as possible by lowering the wing that gives a landing glider the most room.
After the glider has landed, it is time to taxi into position in front of the staged glider(s). Remember to stay aware of the pattern as you take the slack out of the rope and prepare to start the tow.
Before you add power, check: IS THE RUNWAY CLEAR? Has the glider that just landed cleared the runway? You are the person that initiates the movement—the glider cannot take off without you. So if you see anything alongside the runway and are not comfortable with its proximity, don't add power. Ask the lineperson to organize a plan to move things clear of the runway.
When it starts to move, a sailplane loaded with water becomes a heavy blundering object, until there is enough airflow across the wings to allow the ailerons to become effective. At low speed, if there should be a rope break, an inadvertent release, or a wing drop, the sailplane pilot is generally along for the ride during the ensuing ground loop. All things in his path are now targets, be they golf carts, people, sailplanes, parked power planes, tow planes at idle, cars, dogs, etc.
Any ballasted sailplane is likely to have difficulty on this initial pull from the tow plane, but those with CG hooks can be even more of a handful. Please be sure all objects, animals and people are behind the sailplane when it is hooked to the tow plane. Do not add power unless you are sure everyone is out of the way, especially Aunt Sara and her camera. She is “focused” through her camera and is clueless as to her proximity to the entire situation.
At two different contests this year we observed tow planes taking off with cars, RVs, people and other tow planes too close to the active portion of the runway. I was a tow pilot in one of the contests. On one occasion, an ASK-2I and a Super Cub took off down the runway, in a high-density-altitude situation with gliders and people along the side of the runway too close for comfort. They were barely airborne at midfield and missed the parked gliders by mere feet.
An accident occurred in Tonopah, Nevada, this past July at the I5-Meter Nationals which involved a glider ground looping. The glider's wingtip struck a man in the head and also hit a car. In a contest there is pressure on the launch personnel, including the tow pilots, to get all the sailplanes in the air in an hour. It is the responsibility of all people involved to make the launch as safe as it can be. Ask yourself: Are all vehicles and personnel behind the launch line? How far off to the side is far enough?
We all can play a role in making the launch safer. Take a moment before you add power and begin that takeoff roll to assess the situation in front of you. You may be able help avoid an accident.