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Cool Antique Glider Tow Winch

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  • Cool Antique Glider Tow Winch

    I saw a really neat piece of old tech at the airport today, and thought you guys might find it interesting. Nephi Municipal, the new home for ROTR and where we hangar the Sport Copter, is popular with glider pilots due to the terrain and thermal activity. But to share the airport with them requires communication to stay out of each other's way.

    For the first time today, I was on the radio a lot with the glider folks. I was doing lots of landing practice, and they launched glider students 18 times while I was flying. After talking with these guys all day, I drove to the edge of the airport property to meet them, and to see the winch they were using to launch the sailplanes. I figured it must be pretty stout, as I'd watched the gliders climbing out at a 45 angle, and reaching 2,000 feet AGL over a 5,000-foot horizontal distance.

    Photos are below. Stout is an understatement. The winch is built as a trailer, and is operated facing the opposite direction of the tow vehicle. It's owned by the Utah Soaring Association, and the guys told me it's over 50 years old, but was recently overhauled. The new engine is a Chevrolet big-block crate engine, horsepower not specified. It drives an automatic transmission and automotive driveshaft, with an automotive differential modified to turn a spool to pull the cable. They told me the engine runs wide open during the launch of a two-place glider. There's a single disc brake on the spool.

    In the photo with arrows added, the yellow arrow points to an eccentric wheel driven off the engine. It is coupled to the arm indicated by the green arrows, and moves it back and forth as indicated. The cable is fed through a fitting at the spool-end of the arm, and the side-to-side motion makes nice, neat, single-thickness layers as the cable winds up.

    After each launch, the end of the cable was being towed back to the other end of the airport by a small SUV. The end of the cable which hooks to the glider has a weight and a small parachute to allow it to descend to the ground quickly, but in a controlled manner. They were using 6,000 feet of cable today; the spool can hold up to 9,000 feet.

    I am impressed with the polished communication and checklists I head from these guys today. Next time I'm out to the airport, I'll see if I can get photos or videos of the launches. The ascent angle is amazing!
    Winch Side View Winch Engine View Winch Spooler Winch Cab Winch Rear
    Last edited by PW_Plack; 11-25-2017, 11:22 PM.
    Paul W. Plack
    Private ASEL, SP Gyroplane
    Secretary, URA & PRA2
    Editor, Western Rotorcraft

  • #2
    at Hobbs,NM the home of the soaring societys headquarters they have a couple of winchs still working,in the 80's I built my winch

    using a cadilac engine, you can tow a glider to 1,000 ft really easy and quick,and its very cheap to operate.
    Best Regards,
    Eddie Sigman,Polvadera,nm
    (575) 835-4921


    • #3
      About a dozen years ago my wife and I were touring around Australia in a C172. At an airport in the Snowy Mountains I met the Australian national soaring champion and he took me up for a flight using a winch launch. WOW....not for the faint of heart- the initial speed of the winch slams your head back into the head rest and the take-off angle is breathtaking. We were up to 1.000' in seconds - the rest of the soaring was a bit anticlimatic after that take-off.
      Rob Dubin