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P2 Course - Module 13 – Surface Towing

For SIV Clinics, Maneuvers Training, or Flat Land Flying

**Special thanks to Riss Estes and Luis Rosenkjer for submitting and revising this chapter.**

Towing a paraglider aloft is an excellent method for getting airborne when hills or mountains are unavailable, inconvenient, or not subject to an up-slope breeze. Paragliders can be towed aloft in any direction to allow for an into-wind launch and require a strip of open land, road or lake, a tow-rig, and a tow-operator to get airborne. This makes it an ideal and popular launch method for pilots who live in flat areas, or for maneuvers courses where they are towed over water. Towing has an excellent safety record though may feel strange to pilots who are accustomed to foot launching. It is important to relax, pay attention, and be situationally aware.


A typical tow team consists of 3 people to manage the equipment and procedures. The Tow-Operator or Tow-Tech, the Launch Director, and you, the Pilot.

The Tow-Op is responsible for managing the tow rig, line tension, and clearing the runway of obstacles. They do not need to be a pilot themselves, but must be appointed by a USHPA Tow Administrator or Tow Supervisor. If you don’t know the tow operator, make sure they have been appointed as a TECH. You should feel confident of their skills as a Tow-Op before connecting yourself to the line.

The Launch Director serves as Air Traffic Control for the tow and is usually positioned at the end of the line connected to the pilot. It is recommended that they also be appointed as a Tow-Tech but is not necessary. The Launch Director manages all communication between you and the Tow-Tech and acts as the “close-up” eyes of the Tow-Tech. They work closely with the Tow-Tech during the tow and often share duties, taking control from launch to some point on the tow where they turn you over to the Tech. They are responsible for issuing “ABORT” commands to the Tow Operator during the first phases of the launch and flight and for directing you to follow the tow line. If a pulley is being used and you are taking off from a position next to the tow rig, the Launch Director may serve as the Tow-Tech.

You, the pilot, will be connected to the tow line, on the opposite end of the line from the Tow-Op. In order to safely execute the launch you must be aware of and responsible for doing a proper pre-flight, inflating the glider, running during the launch, avoiding lockout, and releasing from the tow line. You are also responsible for where the tow line falls after you have released it. Don’t drop it on power lines or spectators! Once you have demonstrated your ability to work with a Tow-Tech, Launch Director, and perform your responsibilities, a surface tow (ST) special skill may be issued to you by a USHPA official.

These topics below are full of valuable information. Be sure to read through them carefully and ask your towing instructor or Tow-Op Manager any questions before hooking into any tow rig. 

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