Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Fetching cables

You may have noticed on the photos of previous posts that a cable is in front of each glider on the grid. At some European contests, and particularly French contests, each pilot is typically required to bring his/her own tow cable. The reason is not totally clear (liability? cost? prohibition for towplanes to land with cable attached?), but having a cable ready at each glider certainly speeds up the launch. The drawback is that the towplanes release all the cables at a designated area on the field -- here at the threshold of runway 18 -- leaving to the crews the duty to drive to the drop area after the launch has been completed and to find their cable -- among sometimes impossibly tangled mess.

The trick, of course, is a colorful and unique set of tapes on the cable for easy finding and recognition, but even that does not guarantee a frustration-free retrieve.... A lot also depends on the release accuracy of the tow pilots.... On the first practice day, a Team complained because they walked and searched all over the last 1000 feet of Runway 18 in vain, and therefore assumed that someone must have inadvertently "borrowed" their cable. A similar issue occurred on the following practice day, this time with several other teams unable to locate their cable. Serious conspiracy theories were starting to develop, until one of the crews had the bright idea to extend the search area a bit. In the photo below showing the crews wandering on the runway in search of their cable, the key is the chest-high wheat field on the right hand side of the photo. Every runway at the airfield is bordered by such fields, and it appears that one of the eight towpilots could use serious practice at cable-dropping accuracy, because all the missing cables were subsequently found in wheat fields, about a eighth of a mile away from the runway centerline.

From here on, every crew has been dreading for their pilot to be towed by the culprit towplane, knowing that if they get unlucky (one out of eight chances), they probably will have to wade through chest-high crop for possibly a long time to retrieve their cable. Hopefully someone who will remain unnamed has used the rest days to practice his cable-dropping and improve a bit on his accuracy for the rest of the contest.. :-)



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