The Wallaby Ranch

Dual Aerotowing, USA

By Patricia Smith
SkyWings Magazine, March 1995

If like me, you thought aerotowing was only for those few bold, intrepid pilots with more than their fair share of rugged good looks, intelligence, charisma, etc., think again. Aerotowing is great for just about everybody who flies a hang glider, from low-airtime pilots to the Sky Gods mentioned above. Here's how it happened for one pilot still sporting a red ribbon on her kingpost. 
Inspired by Graham Malone's article Florida Flying in October's Skywings, Ray and I booked the cheapest charter flight we could find and arrived in Florida on Christmas Eve. Located just south of Orlando at Davenport, the Wallaby Ranch is just about as close as you can get to heaven on earth. 
Once an actual ranch owned by a cattle breeder, the barn and tractor still remain, though it has now been transformed into an airfield of over fifty acres with every possible amenity. Swimming pool, sun deck, picnic area, trampoline (for kids and the energetic), a swing seat and hammock (for those less so), a kid-sized motorbike (popular with adult kids) and every facility you could wish for: shower, bathroom, king-sized fridges to cool your apres-flight beers and camping available for the outdoor types. And this haven is set in beautiful country with pine forest either side; motels, diner's and a 7- Eleven with excellent coffee are literally a five-minute drive away. So, while you lot were gazing forlornly at grey skies before resigning yourselves to Christmas telly and the rest, we lucky devils were contemplating blue skies and mellowing out in the Florida sunshine. 
Experienced pilots with thermalling and cross-country experience and an appropriate number of hours logged may aerotow solo after ground school and briefing. Less experienced pilots are given tandem instruction on aerotow flight plus ground school prior to solo launching. Low- airtime pilots and those unused to thermic conditions are given tandem tuition from Malcolm Jones, an excellent instructor and former competition pilot, winner of the first Open Hang Gliding Championships in Guatemala and member of the victorious US 1980 American Cup team. Now if sharing an A-frame with a pilot this good doesn't improve your flying skills, I don't know what will. Don't expect your tuition in the form of a demo either; you do the flying, taking control of a greater part of each flight, until such time as you are confident of going solo. 
A very simple and effective aerotow bridle is used which consists of a single line with a loop at each end, one of which is attached to the release at the glider keel and the other to the pilot's shoulder straps. When the release is operated the bridle line slips through the ring on the towline and releases the tow. All checks are carried out under the scrutiny of Malcolm's assistant Ryan who attaches the towline, sees that the runway area is clear, then indicates to the pilot that the glider is ready for take-off. The aerotow take-off is surprisingly easy. Solo launches make use of a specially designed dolly which acts as an undercarriage and supports the glider at the right angle of attack. The pilot holds on to it along with the bottom bar and releases it as the glider lifts. The tandem glider doesn't need the dolly as it takes off and lands on its own wheels on the bottom bar. This glider has an unusually long keel with a small pair of wheels mounted on the end. When resting on the wheels and keel it is at the right attitude for take-off. For both solo and tandem launches, pilots and passengers are in prone for the take-off. This eliminates the obvious danger of failure to clip in and also means that no change in position is necessary. 
Thermal-hungry pilots get towed up using any available lift (it gets you up faster) and the pilot will, if possible, find you a nice fat thermal to release in. Less experienced pilots and tandems get smooth air and gentle turns until they have mastered the technique of control under tow. The basic principles are quite simple: Follow the movements of the aircraft as closely as possible during take-off, then assume a position whereby the wings of the tug appear level with horizon and maintain your position directly behind so that you are looking straight down the towline. This position places the glider slightly higher than the tug and out of any prop turbulence. The golden rule is to correct both lateral and vertical drift early with small inputs of weight-shift (keeping your body in line to prevent yaw, returning to the neutral position on the bar and waiting for the glider to respond. Remember, if flying tandem a large glider with a high wing loading is heavy so your inputs must be positive and the response may be slower than with your own glider. This should effectively eliminate the problem of pilot-induced oscillation due to over-correction. An important point to remember is that, unlike other methods of towing, there are two pilots and two aircraft attached by few hundred feet or so of line, thus the action of one can have an impact on the other. A release mechanism and a weak link are incorporated at both ends of the towline but it is your responsibility to follow the instructions of the tug pilot and maintain the correct position. Resist the temptation to look at the view until you are free flying! The weak link is to protect against lockout, whether pilot-induced or resulting from turbulence. 
On receiving the signal to release at about 2,500 feet, get straight and level, increase the pressure on the bar then hit the release. The protocol is that the tug turns away to the left, the glider turns right . The next time you see the pilot he'll be several hundred feet below you (tip: look for something yellow, rotating and diminishing in size rapidly!) You will now have around ten minutes of glorious free flying in which to improve your skills, paying attention to such things as flying with constant airspeed, 360's, coordination of turns and getting your figure of eights and S-turns as precise as possible over a given spot before setting up an approach and landing in a predisignated area of the field. The great advantage of tandem flying is that you get immediate feedback on how you perform these tasks. You will then have the opportunity to work on any weaknesses with the sky to yourself instead of wobbling around on a small ridge shared with several other gliders. This is a great way for new pilots to get some confidence in glider control and will undoubtedly improve your flying on the ridge. 
So there you have it, the perfect flying holiday and a great deal more besides. You can take your own glider or hire from Malcolm's range of gliders- it's up to you. Everyone is so friendly, laid-back and relaxed you just won't want to leave. If you have a non-flying partner this is the perfect compromise, everybody including their kids and dogs are welcome at the Ranch where nobody minds what you do as long as you're having fun. All the major tourist attractions of Florida are right there on the doorstep with Disneyworld, MGM Studios and Epcot Center only a twenty minute drive away - if you can possibly bring yourself to leave this little corner of paradise. 

For Information Contact: 
Wallaby Ranch 
1805 Dean Still Road 
Davenport, Florida 33837