Cellpic Sunday – The Tow Pilot

Casselton, North Dakota.

Before I go any further, here is my wish for a safe and happy 2022.

October 18 found me finally in charge of one of my favorite aviation activities, towing a glider. In addition to powered aircraft, Civil Air Patrol CAP uses gliders for both pilot training and to give aviation orientation rides to cadets. It’s far less expensive to use gliders than powered aircraft for these orientation flights, but CAP cadets get some of each before they “age out” of cadet status.

You see, it was one year to the day that I last was in our tow plane for the purpose of towing a glider. Once gliding shuts down in North Dakota for the winter, the glider goes into maintenance for its annual FAA-required inspection. During that inspection, a part was discovered that was out of tolerance and would need to be replaced.

The glider is a Blanik L-23 manufactured by a Czechoslovakian company. As you might imagine, with this year’s difficulties in getting virtually anything from anyone outside the United States in a timely fashion, our glider was out of service for almost the entire North Dakota gliding season. Sometime in September, the part finally arrived and was installed and while Lynn and I were on our fall #RoadTrip2021, the first glider activities of the season were accomplished.

Once back in Casselton, the “home airport” for our glider, there was one major goal, to get our glider instructor pilots recertified for another year. I was asked to tow for these flights, but to accomplish this goal, even though I am a tow pilot trainer myself, I needed to be recertified with three tow flights accompanied by a current tow pilot trainer. Once completed, I’d be back on my own with the empty co-pilot seat beside me acting as my desk for noting the count and duration of glider tows for the day.

After the first three tows with the tow pilot trainer onboard, being also a glider pilot, he needed three solo flights in the glider before he’d be current to carry passengers in the glider. He must have considered me competent to tow again as he was willing to get into the glider that I would be towing for the rest of the day.

About the photo: After leaving the tow plane, I was alone, engine off, waiting for the glider pilot to strap into his four-point harness and for the ground crew to ready the 250-foot (76 m) tow rope for connection between the two aircraft. While I waited for the “start engine” signal indicating the glider pilot was ready to go, I saw that if I adjusted the mirror I use to view the glider while positioning on the ground, that I could do a “selfie” of sorts. Just for fun, I decided to hide part of my face behind the camera.

Putting the camera in landscape mode, I was also able to include most of the panel instruments that in a few minutes would come to life again, and we would be underway on my first solo tow of the year. Once downloaded from my Samsung S20U cell phone, I cropped and tweaked the image in Lightroom. I finished a total of twelve tows, exactly 2.2 hours of engine run time in the process. Adding another 0.7 hours to position the tow plane from its base in Fargo to Casselton, I added 2.9 total hours to my logbook. To take a closer look at the image in 2K HD, select the image for viewing on my Flickr site.

I encourage fellow bloggers to create their own Cellpic Sunday posts. I never have a specific topic for this feature, and the only rules are that the photo must be captured with a cell phone, iPad, or another mobile device… If you have an image from a drone or even a dashcam, that’s acceptable as well. The second rule is to link your challenge-response to this post or leave a comment here with a link to your post in the comment.

If you like the Sunday Challenge, check out Terri’s Sunday Stills challenge here.

John Steiner


    • Thank you! I am really looking forward to creating my challenge response for your challenge. I have already found a challenge or two that I haven’t ever joined. No time like the present.
      Thanks for the great idea in your challenge.

  1. Hi John. Here’s my link to your Cellpic Sunday challenge. It was a great “excuse” to experiment with the camera in the Google Pixel 6. I’m astounded at how powerful it is and the number of different lens options. You can even shoot RAW. I’m glad you’re highlighting the capability of the mobile phone cameras. They’ve improved so much. Here’s the link to my post:

    Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #181: Double Dipping

    • I’ve already visited your site and checked out your challenge response. I used to be sad that when the opportunity rose, that the only camera I had with me was in my cell phone.
      Unless I have the need for a really long lens for the photo op, I have learned that my cellphone camera is likely up to the task.

  2. I also want to mention that I enjoyed your photo in the glider. That’s a wonderful idea of using the glider to orientate new CAP cadets. I’ve never flown in one. It must be an amazing experience floating on the wind.

    • It is indeed. Glider flying is as close to flying like a bird that a human can achieve. Cadets love the idea of being able to fly some simple maneuvers in the glider at altitude and the pilot shares some basic aviation theory in the typical 20-minute flight.

      • Fascinating. That must be so exciting for the cadets. I assume you’ve flown in them many times? I guess the closest I came to that was when our instructor turned off the engine over Long Island Sound and we coasted on the updrafts.

      • If you “flew” with the engine off, you were indeed gliding on the air currents. I once did that as a passenger with an experienced ultra-light pilot at the controls of a small flexible wing aircraft. We glided to a landing and rolled to a stop right where he wanted the aircraft to park. He was very skilled.

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