[Headline: Winch-launching equipment and safe operation]
When I returned to Soaring in 2009, after a 23-year absence, one of the most innovative and amazing things I found at my local club, the Orlando Buzzards, was a hands-free winch line retriever.
We used monoline on M50 Lucas-driven F3B winches in Australia during the 1980s, and I had never launched with twine or seen a method of retrieving the line for a quick turnaround after launch. This innovation considerably reduced the amount of physical effort and manpower required to launch multiple aircraft during contests.
The retriever has become common in the US. Through my travels to various contests I met Rick Bothell, who manufactures and displays a range of launch equipment. I met up with Rick in Phoenix at the Southwest Classic this year and asked him how the retriever came to be.
In 2007, Rick and Dan Vester challenged each other to 6-minute man-on-man (MOM) flights. Because their retriever was hand operated, they couldn’t get two sailplanes into the air at the same time, so they decided to create an automatic retriever.
After several months and five prototypes that used an automatic arm to pick up the retrieving line, they developed a design that worked well. Using a hand or foot switch, the winch line could be retrieved and the aircraft could be launched again within 30 seconds. This led to many mini challenges between the pair.
Rick and Dan manufactured 10 retrievers that sold out quickly. Dan sold the company to Rick, who took over the retriever’s design, manufacturing, and sales. Since then, the mechanisms have been frequently improved with innovations such as dual solenoids and upgraded electronics, as well as heavy-duty Ramsey winch motors for competition models. Rick also designed a lightweight direct-drive unit, calling it the club or personal model.
The old style of retriever required the operator to use his or her hands to pick up the retrieve line. This looked unsafe for someone without much experience.
At the push of a button, the Hands Free Retriever (HFR) uses a pickup arm to catch the retriever line, which is wound onto the main reel, pulling back the winch line. Push another button and the pickup arm lowers into the launch position, ready for the next flier who can launch as soon as his or her model is hooked up. No one needs to touch the retriever line while retrieving.
Using a dual-pedal setup, a pilot can launch and retrieve by him or herself—allowing the setup to be used for landing practice and helping CDs keep contests running smoothly.
When running MOM Thermal Duration contests in the Florida Soaring Society series, we use two or three winches—each with HFRs. A group of six or more pilots can get their aircraft in the air in less than 2 minutes.
The older-style retrievers required an operator to hook up the retrieve line. A fumble caused problems with the line during crosswind or downwind launches. The HFR eliminates fumbling, is safer, and anyone can learn how to retrieve in a few minutes. It also allows the retriever operator to stay away from all moving parts during sailplane launch and retrieval operations.
Rick manufactures winches that use heavy-duty motors with a Ford long-shaft motor faceplate, and a base, brake, and reel around the motor. This motor is more robust, smoother, and more powerful than many motors currently available.
The winches have two solenoids in case one sticks, a dual solenoid LED tester, and a master disconnect switch. Rick also offers a dual LED solenoid tester with a buzzer, designed by Mike Naylor of the Pompano Hill Flyers, to alert the pilot if it is unsafe to launch. During an emergency, the operator can quickly turn the master switch off and all power from the 12-volt battery is disconnected.
Rick also designed and built a winch based on a 4.4 hp Ramsey motor with more torque and horsepower, requiring careful tapping with light sailplanes, but more than enough power to launch 4-meter and 5-meter models to the moon. For more information, contact Hands Free Retriever and Winches at the link listed in “Sources.”
Keep It Safe
The safe operation of our models and launch equipment needs more attention and consideration from Soaring pilots and CDs. I have seen potentially hazardous situations. With a little care and planning, the chances of accidents or injuries can be minimized or eliminated.
Preventing accidents is important for the future of our hobby and will enable us to obtain and retain flying fields, and maintain economical and adequate insurance coverage for hobbyists and spectators.
When setting up a winch, lines, and turnaround, it is essential that the area upwind of the launch area, including off to the sides, is out of bounds for pilots and spectators. A model under tow is traveling at great speed and could harm property or people if tents or parking areas are set up in front of the flightline. The landing zone should be behind the winch line area so pilots and others can safely move from the launching area to the landing zone.
I will never forget seeing a pilot’s transmitter sailing 60 feet through the air after being snatched from his hand. Its antenna was snagged by the winch retrieving line because he had walked in front of the winch area while another model was being launched. Everyone had a good laugh and no one was harmed, but it easily could have been a serious situation.
Securing the turnaround, particularly in soft soil, is essential. A turnaround can easily be pulled out of the ground and launched at high speed toward the winch area if it is not adequately staked. The best solution is to attach at least two safety cables to the turnaround—each separately staked with a dog chain stake in case it pulls loose.
The winch has plenty of power and can easily injure or burn hands and fingers. Make sure that yours can be isolated from the battery, and that the power pedal cannot be stepped on while a pilot is connecting the line to a model. If the line breaks during launch or a tangle occurs, never try to stop or slow the spinning drum with your hand. Keep your hands away until the drum stops moving.
When working on the winch, tangled lines, or repairing line breaks, always ensure that the winch has been electrically isolated and disconnect the “go” pedal. When packing the winch, always wear leather gloves (such as welding gloves) and don’t feed the line back onto the drum using bare hands while the drum is under power.
Setting up and operating your winch-launching equipment carefully ensures safety. Make sure that everyone who operates the equipment has been instructed on its safe operation. In the event of an accident, it is vital to know how to respond. There should always be a first-aid kit at the flying field that is kept near the winch.
Make sure that your club members know where the nearest hospital or emergency room is. RC Soaring is one of the safest forms of aeromodeling. Let’s keep it that way.
Go downwind and soar.[dingbat]
Hands Free Retriever and Winches
Florida Soaring Society
League of Silent Flight (LSF)