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Story of the release

Please, sit back and let me tell you a story. This is not a bedtime story, unless you like nightmares. Take a moment to imagine the following scenario:

You are on the launch cart, hooked in, all lined up for takeoff. You have done a pre-launch release test, it’s a gorgeous day and others who launched before you are climbing out like crazy. It looks like it’s going to be an awesome day! Are you imagining this? You give the signal to accelerate and presently you hear the tug rev up and the tow bridle tightens up as you begin to roll. You didn’t notice the grass twitching up there ahead of the tug or the trees rocking indicating that one of those boomer thermals was just about to track across the runway. As you gather speed you feel the wind in your face and you feel the keel rise off its cradle on the dolly and about four seconds in you know the glider is ready to fly and you are just waiting for the tug’s wheels to rise as you begin to fly and it is safe to let the cart go. Then your left wing slices into that thermal and the strong gust sharply banks you to the right. You put a strong left correction in but this gust is not to be denied. The tug is just about to rise off ground. As a tug pilot myself I can assure you there is a good chance your tug pilot is not watching you in this moment. He is focused on having the right airspeed to lift off and begin the tow and his next quick glance in the mirror may not be until he is 10-20 feet up or so and he is starting to sense that something is not right as his airspeed is being robbed by the diverging glider on the back of the tow line.

Meanwhile, back at the glider, despite your strongest effort to shift left the tow bridle has now contacted the left nose wire and now the tow force is pulling the A-frame up and to the left, countering your best efforts to straighten it out. The glider isn’t responding to your weight anymore and it is the force of the tow rope on the control frame that is causing the glider to turn more and more rapidly to the right. ┬áIt’s time to get off tow NOW. The decision to abandon the tow should have taken place when you first sensed the power of that gust, but you won’t realize that until much later that day. You spot the release handle you are so familiar with and has served you well on so many happy flights. But now, that release handle over on the right upright suddenly looks a long way away while you’re up close and personal with the left down tube. It dawns on you that your arms are straining against a huge force and that’s not what you are used to. You have no choice though so you let go with your right hand to do a fast karate chop to the release but instead to your disbelief you slice thin air. Once you let go with that right hand there was so much force on the other arm that in the blink of an eye your body pivoted around that one hand that remained on the base bar and as a result that release handle was nowhere near where it was when you looked at it. Now it’s down around your right thigh! The glider is rapidly approaching ninety degrees of bank as you make your second attempt but it’s not going to be a karate chop this time, it’s got to be more of a palm heel strike in an odd direction but your chest mounted parachute is kind of blocking your view. The tow forces are nearly high enough to pop the weak link. This time you actually connect with the release handle, but for the second time this day you are dumbfounded to discover that even though you hit that thing, it didn’t release! You had never gotten around to testing it under high load so you didn’t know that you’d have to hit it hard enough to bruise your hand to get it to release (if it wasn’t completely jammed under that load). Finally the weak link pops as you cling to the right upright in a state of shock and adrenaline. Luckily that booming thermal lifted you through the whole ordeal just high enough for you to level the wings before you pound in downwind. By some miracle you’re alright as they come running over to you. WHAT THE HELL just happened!? Someone in the crowd informs you that you just did a wingover at about a hundred feet and everyone laughs with the relief that you survived despite the fact that everyone assumed you were about to die, including yourself. This is a true story, even though I just made it up. Something very similar has happened to several people, just ask around.

I chose to end that story on a happy note. It could easily have ended with the lights going out on your hang gliding life forever. This story illustrates why it is critically important for the hang gliding pilot to have the release lanyard in hand throughout the tow so that both hands can remain in contact with the base bar when things start to go bad. It also underscores the need to have a release which is designed and tested to be consistent and reliable under any conceivable load from zero up to what a tandem sized weak link can apply to the release. This is why I designed the Get Off Release. This is why I make it with painstaking attention to detail from the best quality materials so that it just works reliably and will withstand many years of hard use. I don’t want to hear any more stories about someone who couldn’t Get Off.

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