Key points of attention:
  • Plan ahead and discuss the emergency procedures before every aerotow
  • Know the suitable emergency landing spots in the direct vicinity of the airfield
  • If the aerotow gets interrupted: follow the agreed procedure
  • Stay calm and decide what your safest option is

An aerotow very rarely gets interrupted, and rope break during aerotow almost never occurs. But we must prepare for everything. The procedures for an interrupted aerotow are different from a winch cable break. After all, the climb rate during an aerotow is much lower than it is during a winch launch. The most critical point for an aerotow interruption lies further down the airfield or beyond, at a much lower height above the ground.

Possible errors in the initial acceleration:
  • A wing is about to, or touches the ground
  • The glider veers off to one side due to the weathervane effect
  • The glider rolls over the tow rope with its main wheel
  • The towplane accelerates before the rope is tight
Possible errors during the aerotow:
  • The glider pilot is unable to maintain the correct position behind the towplane
  • A power loss or engine failure of the towplane
  • A rope break
  • The glider climbs too high and lifts the towplane’s tail (also see below)

In all these cases you must release immediately!

In the event of an interrupted aerotow at a low height or shortly after take-off; you should (if possible) land straight ahead. It is important to check and discuss the safe landing options before every take-off. Knowing all the possible landing spots around your airfield will be really helpful in the event of an interrupted aerotow.

Always take a few seconds to weigh your options after an interrupted aerotow. There may be off-airfield landing options, which can be safely reached with only a few course alterations from a low altitude. Unless it is absolutely necessary, do not attempt to turn back to the airfield at a low altitude! If you have sufficient height to reach the airfield, your priority is to make a safe landing, not to fly the prescribed circuit. If time permits, announce your intentions by radio. Keep in mind that a modern glider can fly several miles from an altitude of only 300ft.

When the glider climbs faster than the towplane, it lifts the tail of the towplane. This is a very unsafe situation, especially close to the ground. You need to release immediately if this happens. The same applies if the towplane gets out of sight, for instance because of turbulence or because the glider pilot does not correct in time. The pilot of the towplane will also try to release in these two situations.


If the towrope breaks, or the towplane pilot releases unexpectedly, what do you do next? Even though dragging the rope back to the airfield might seem the best option, in fact it isn’t. The rope might hit the glider or wrap around it. That is dangerous and for that reason you should release the rope (2x) as soon as you know that this is safe for persons, animals and traffic below.

Usually you are able to communicate with the towplane’s pilot by radio. If this is for some reason impossible, you can still communicate via flight control inputs.

1.) As a signal that you must release immediately, the towplane will rock its wings (rolls around the longitudinal axis). Release immediately (2x) and check if the towrope has released. Now initiate a climbing right turn.

2). To indicate that the airbrakes of the gliders are out of the locked position, the towplane clearly waggles with the rudder (yawing around the vertical axis). Check the position of the airbrakes lever and lock the airbrakes if necessary.


3). In the very unlikely event that the glider is unable to release the towrope and communication by radio is also not possible: fly slightly to the left, so the towplane’s pilot can see you in their rear-view mirror and rock your wings (rolling motion around the longitudinal axis). Left wing down first to stay visible, then right. You may need some airbrakes to prevent the rope from becoming slack. 


Landings on tow are possible. During descend you will need some airbrakes to keep the tow rope tight.