1992-3 Norfolk Aerotowing!


Mundesley in May


Coastal flying, when it was possible, was still an attractive option. Yes - more Cromer pictures! My log book says I did in fact self-launch (despite my rantings above) from Mundesley. Mundesley has one small take off area that is almost like a rounded hill slope where you can run down it to take off. The wind was NE 14 mph - this would have been very manageable, and I seem to remember I was desperate too.


I flew westwards towards Cromer with good altitude, just managed to turn at East Runton (the far side), and came back past Cromer to photograph the church - with a lot less altitude (you can enlarge the Cromer pic to see just where the church is). I was probably sh*tting bricks at this stage. Old timers will no doubt point out that if they had had this amount of height on their single-surface kites they would have been real pleased. I did get safely back to Mundesley, I'm glad to say.

Hungary for More


Progress on getting aerotowing permission in the UK was painfully slow, and wasn't guaranteed to deliver a result anyway. We couldn't legitimately do it. Tony and Rona organised another trip to Hungary in July. This time Marton Ordody found us a grass airfield beside Lake Balaton, far away from the scorching plains of Kecskemet. The organisation was good, many of us already had our aerotow endorsements so we could start straight away, and the lake scenery was beautiful. But … Lake Balaton is vast, more like an inland sea - and there was the rub: much of the time the air was just like stable sea air, and not thermic. The XC flying prospects turned out very disappointing for me - eight days out of eleven were flyable, but we only managed to set four comp tasks, and only two of these produced results. On the positive side, other members of the group gained their aerotow tug pilot qualifications, and we all had quite of lot of flights in beautifully smooth air … Oh dear!
I have included the picture so that you can see the pilot's view of an aerotow. Believe it or not, that towline was attached to my harness chest bridle. I can't quite understand why it doesn't look possible, but I may have been experimenting with the camera mounted mid wing, not just beside me. The blodge in the towline is a small drogue 'chute that inflates to provide some drag on the line after the hang glider pilot releases it.
That's Lake Balaton of course, we're just heading out across the shoreline. The scenic mountains in the far distance are across about 10 km of water. No! we weren't going to fly across it! The lake itself is about 80 km long. I guess this was a smooth air evening flight.

1993 - The Norfolk Aerotow Syndicate!


What a stunning turn-around! So much for my customary pessimism. This was the first meeting of the Norfolk Aerotow Syndicate (NATS) in Fakenham, in March (I think). That is Stephen PH in the chair, Rona as secretary (probably) with Martin Woodroffe and Glyn Charnock on the top table, and it looks as though it was a well-lubricated event. Syndicate membership cost £500 per share. We had 10 syndicate members, a microlight tug aircraft, and we were flying! My log book lists three aerotows on the first weekend in March, with tug pilots Tony Webb and Stephen PH. Each launch was to about 1700' altitude, and the flights lasted 10-15 minutes each. It can't have been thermic then - it was early March after all. I don't recollect just how so much progress with aerotowing was made by the BHGA, but I think it was largely due to the enthusiasm and drive of Mark Dale - the BHGA's Technical Officer - who himself was involved in an aerotowing group in North Yorkshire {See Comments below}.

Aerotowing Tensions

If we thought we had enough potential conflict on the field between school and club operations, then we undoubtedly added to it with aerotowing. Aerotowing was necessarily a much more expensive technique and it did thereby exclude some people, but for those of us who wanted to go XC and could afford it, it was without question the prime choice. In the same way that winching required devoted winch operators, aerotowing required qualified microlight tug pilots - absolutely self-sacrificing heroes, in my view. It was never anything that I would have dared contemplate training for. Besides, it would have totally cut across my personal free flight hang gliding aspirations. People who seemed happy to fly to 2000' towing a hang glider, dive back down to the field, land, attach another hang glider from the queue, and then repeat the process deserved my most heartfelt gratitude, and admiration.
The job required considerable flying skills, courage and stamina. The times when hang glider pilots were most insistent on launching were very thermic and likely to be really turbulent close to the ground. These were the conditions when normal microlight pilots would stop flying because it was too rough!
We couldn't pay our tug pilots either. Air Law deemed this to be 'aerial work' for which they could not be paid within a 'club environment'. We could all contribute equitably to club expenses (i.e. the aerotow syndicate running costs) but we couldn't pay our tug pilots. I guess they did it because they liked it. Amazing!
The impenetrable convolutions of Air Law also cast doubt as to whether we could expand the number of members in the syndicate beyond the initial ten. We had more pilots wanting to join, and it made sense to spread the fixed overheads more thinly. We never got a definitive ruling, but it didn't seem to be prohibited so we later enlarged the syndicate membership to twenty.
Tony's unpaid services to hang glider pilots on the field were therefore stretched even further than they had been, but it certainly added a significant buzz of activities that attracted people to the Lejair training school and the NHGC. A number of club members did also get themselves qualified as tug pilots. My undying thanks go to Tony of course, and all the aerotow tug pilots who appear in my log books over the years: James Oxbury, Mel Thurlbourn, Roger Wood, Stephen Partridge Hicks and Pete Stevens were the earliest in East Anglia.

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