In most cases, the Standard American Soaring Signals are used to communicate between the launch crew and tow plane. In some cases, however, specific local procedures may be in effect. The tow pilot should be thoroughly briefed on any specific local procedures. The tow pilot may be required to observe these signals through the mirror or through an additional signal relay person positioned safely on the side of the runway adjacent to the tow plane. The ground signals are listed below and are also presented as illustrations in Chapters 7 and 8 of this handbook.
- Take up slack—the take up slack signal is given by the ground crewmember moving his or her lowered arm from side to side. When you receive this signal, slowly taxi the tow plane forward to take up the slack in the tow line. When all the slack has been taken from the tow line, expect to receive the “hold” signal from the ground crew.
- Hold—this signal is given by holding the arms out straight.
- Pilot ready, wings level—when the glider pilot is ready for takeoff, a thumbs up signal is given and the wing runner will level the wing to the takeoff position.
- Begin takeoff—the glider pilot waggles the rudder with the wings level and the wing runner signals with a circular motion of the arm. When ready for takeoff, the tow pilot should broadcast on the CTAF that a glider launch is about to be initiated. For example, “Tallahasee traffic, N12345 taking off Runway 33, glider in tow, Tallahasee.” Remember, 14 CFR part 91, section 91.309, requires that before conducting towing operations within Class B, C, D, or E airspace designated for an airport, or before making each towing flight within such controlled airspace if required by ATC, the pilot in charge (PIC) must notify the control tower. If a control tower does not exist or is not in operation, the PIC must notify the FAA flight service station (FSS) serving that controlled airspace before conducting any towing operations.
- Stop engine/release tow line—this signal is given by moving a hand back and forth across the throat.
- Tow plane ready—prior to takeoff, carefully look at the glider to ensure the glider dive brakes are closed and no one is standing in front of the wings or so close to the launch path to create a hazard. It is important to note, however, that some high-performance gliders may make their initial takeoff roll with spoilers open. Know your gliders and if in doubt, do not be ashamed to question the glider pilot. Better to be a bit embarrassed than to end up in the trees at the end of the runway. Additionally, the tow pilot should ensure that the traffic pattern is clear of aircraft. Once assured that the glider is ready and the briefed departure path is clear, the ready for takeoff signal may be given with a waggle of the tow plane rudder.
- Stop operation or emergency—this signal is given by a waving motion of the arms above the head.