The pilot of a Bellanca 8GCBC Scout, Registration N4116Y, died when the aircraft crashed at Byron Airport on May 9th. According to a witness, the tow plane took off pulling a glider. While still at a low altitude, the glider climbed abruptly. The maneuver pulled the tail of the tow plane into the air, pointing its nose down. “The tow plane cut the cord and tried to recover but it was too late.” The tow plane crashed onto the runway and caught fire.
This particular accident profile is not uncommon. That’s why it is the responsibility of the glider pilot who is being towed to keep the tow plane in sight at all times. If the glider pilot climbs abruptly and, as a result, loses sight of the tow plane below, it’s the glider pilot’s responsibility to release the tow rope so this sort of accident does not happen.
According to the FAA Glider Flying Handbook:
One of the most dangerous occurrences during aerotow is allowing the glider to fly high above and losing sight of the towplane. The tension on the towline caused by the glider pulls the towplane tail up, lowering its nose. If the glider continues to rise, pulling the towplane tail higher, the tow pilot may not be able to raise the nose. Ultimately, the tow pilot may run out of up elevator authority. . . Upon losing sight of the towplane, the glider pilot must release immediately.
The tow plane belonged to the Northern California Soaring Association. According to another witness report, just before the glider zoomed up and forced down the nose of the tow plane, the glider’s canopy opened for reasons unknown.