Tow-Op Communications, Summary


It is extremely important to have a solid communication system for coordinating and executing a safe tow. When using radios, the commands should be distinctive and not easily confused with other commands. “GO” and “NO” can sound alike and should not be used. “LAUNCH” and “ABORT” would be more appropriate. All members of the tow team should agree on these commands before towing. There are some recommended radio commands:

Take up slack – “More..More..More..”
Stop the tow – “ABORT! ABORT! ABORT!”
Ready to launch – “LAUNCHING!”
Increase tow tension – “More..More..More”
Decrease tow tension – “Less Tension..Less Tension..Less Tension..”

Tow Director likes flight path – “Yes..Yes..Yes”
Pilot ready to release – “RELEASING!”
Tow-Op ready to end tow – “RELEASE..RELEASE..RELEASE”

The Launch Director or Tow-Op may issue additional commands like “LEFT” or “RIGHT” to direct the pilot to follow the tow line and avoid lockout. It may also be helpful to use a number scale during the tow. Before towing let the Tow-Op or Launch Director know what climb rate you would like. As you are climbing call out “1” for 100 ft/min, “2” for 200 ft/min, etc. Be careful when you get to “4”! It sounds like “more”. Use “4 hundred” instead. The number scale will help the Tow-Op provide a more comfortable and smoother tow.

Visual signals may be used if radios are unreliable or unavailable. There are some recommended visual signals:

Take up slack – Extend one leg out to the side and back to center.

Ready to launch – Bend forward at waist once.
Increase tension – Flap elbows or make a running motion with feet.

Decrease tension – Spread legs to the sides, back to center, repeat.

Pilot ready to release – Spread legs and hold them there.

Tow-Op ready to end tow – Significantly reduce towline tension.


Obviously there is a lot of information to process when preparing to do some tow flying. As with any flying you will do, be prepared and do your homework. Completing this section is extremely helpful and will help in many ways to make your first tows more successful, but nothing substitutes solid on-site training. Listen to your instructors carefully and make every effort to execute their commands. Just as when you are flying you are the pilot in command, the you are towing the launch director and tow tech are in control of your on-site tow training.

Some gear can be purchased ahead of time, especially if you plan to do more towing in your flying future – a good bridle and hook knife are great first purchases that will save time and any confusion with gear at the tow site.