Running an Aerotow Event

Background

Aerotowing is now becoming a popular part of the modelling scene. When it was first tried some 25+ years ago the tugs and gliders were relatively small and importantly, there was no 7kg/400ft height restriction.
If you go to an aerotow event these days you’ll likely find tugs with 150cc engines and half scale gliders approaching 30kgs. With the huge increase in size it was inevitable that the authorities would take a keener interest in matters.

Older modellers will recall the furore that erupted following the alleged near miss between a DC10 landing at Gatwick and a model aircraft some years ago. As you might imagine the national press had a field day describing the event as “toy aeroplane almost crashes in to huge jet with 200+passengers”. With headlines like these the authorities had to act. Initially, the proposals were draconian, but fortunately with the good offices of the BMFA and some sensible folk in the CAA the proposals were amended to something more acceptable, but the legacy of that event is that powered aircraft weighing more than 7kgs can’t fly more than 400ft above the ground without special permission. I recall this incident deliberately, because it shows just how careful we have to be when we are flying models. Any repetition of this sort of event and we as modellers could be grounded!.

So that’s the serious bit, back to the title; how do we organise an aerotow event?

If you check the relevant legislation- Air Navigation Order(ANO) , CAP 658, and the BMFA handbook, you’ll find that the rules state that outside Controlled Airspace (CAS) powered models above 7kgs are limited to 400ft above the ground. Note the regulations only refer to powered aircraft, not pure gliders, so even our half scale monsters are theoretically excluded and can fly above 400ft without special permission, but they are of course still subject to the other parts of the ANO, namely Articles 73 and 74.


Step 1)

If you want to fly in CAS:

  • You’ll need to get the permission of the local air traffic control unit, and depending on how close you want to fly to the airfield you may be declined or given an unrealistic height limit. But remember most senior air traffic controllers (SATCO) will accommodate you if it’s safe, if it isn’t then respect their decision.


If you want to fly in uncontrolled airspace:

  • Check the location/proximity of any local airfields, they may or may not have an air traffic unit. If in any doubt go along and have a word with someone on the airfield, advise them of your intentions. Most people are very helpful provided that you make them aware of your concerns and you show that safety is paramount in your mind.
  • Check that the airspace above is uncontrolled. The London TMA, for instance, extends from ground level around the airport, but where the zone adjoins the airway the base starts at 1500ft agl and then gradually rises in steps to the base of the connecting airways.
  • So you can probably guess by now that the chances of getting an aerotow site authorised increase the further you are from any full size activity. Although even here you may find a friendly farmer/pilot with a full size strip who is happy to accommodate your aerotow.

Getting authorisation:

  • Having got yourself a suitable site the next step is to request the authorisation. In legal terms because the ANO forbids you to fly powered models (over 7kgs) above 400ft you have to seek an “Exemption” from the Order for a specified period.
  • So the CAA, who does this for you, will want the following information :-
  1. Location in the form of a grid reference from an ordnance survey map and the nearest town to help roughly establish where the site is.
  2. Date(s) on which you want to hold your event.
  3. Starting and finishing times of the event (if unsure of the times stating “daylight hours” is usually sufficient although bear in mind that the CAA also has to consider other airspace users so please be as specific as possible). Daylight hours are 30min before sunrise to 30 min after sunset.
  4. Height you want to fly to, generally a maximum of1500ft above the ground.
  5. Approximate number of tugs and gliders. This obviously can only be a guess depending on weather, etc. So err on the high side. For our aerotows if I guess that 5 tugs are likely to come. I state 8 or 10 on the application.
    Remember that you only have to seek an Exemption for the tugs (powered models), but in the interests of openness state the likely number of gliders.
  6. Name of the organiser and a contact number for the event organiser.
    Please also include a contact number for the organiser ON THE DAY of the event

That’s it!

You then ideally fax that off to the CAA, however they do accept emails using ga@caa.co.uk. Your application will go to the Safety Regulation Group (SRG) in the CAA and remember they are very busy folk with a whole host of other things to do connected with aviation, so the more notice you can give the better, ideally at least 28days.

If your application is successful the Exemption will fall from your letterbox some days later. It’s an official document stating such details as the max. height, max range, min. distances from houses, industrial units, etc. Also quotes from the ANO and BMFA/LMA handbooks. It also gives the name of the organiser - you! In addition, it bestows on the organiser responsibility for ensuring that the event is run in accordance with the conditions of the Exemption.

So it’s up to you that the event is run as safely as possible.

To Contact the CAA :-

Tel 01293 573525/Fax 01293 573973 OR emails- ga@caa.co.uk.


Step 2)

Once the exemption is granted you must inform the Airspace Utilisation Section (AUS). This is the part of the CAA which transmits the details of your event to the full size community, flying clubs,etc. It goes out in the form of a Notam (short for notices to airmen) and provides full size pilots with details of your aerotow, giving location, time, height etc.

The AUS requires the same information as that which you sent to the CAA, i.e., location, times, height, number of models approximately, organiser and contact numbers. This part of the application should be emailed to AUSOps@caa.co.uk

A point worth mentioning here is that even though a notam has been raised for your event, it doesn’t mean that the airspace you have defined for your aerotow is prohibited to full size aircraft. It simply is a navigation warning for full size pilots and in their own interests is best avoided, but if you see a full size aircraft encroaching in to the aerotow airspace and you suspect it’s below the maximum height you’ve been notified of, you must do everything possible to maximise separation.

To Contact the AUS :-

Tel 0207 453 6599 OR email- AUSOps@caa.co.uk


Step 3)

The final step is to inform the Civil Aviation Notification Procedures (CANP). This branch is responsible for providing the military notice of your intended event and requires the same information as the AUS.

To Contact the CNAP :-

Free phone 0800 515544 OR Fax 0500 300 120.


That’s all there is to it. On the day it’s your responsibility to make sure everything goes smoothly and safely, but the current aerotow following are all very experienced modellers, they know what it’s all about and I find it’s a pleasure and a privilege to fly in their company. It’s a wonderful way to spend a weekend.

Have fun and fly safely.


Disclaimer: The guide above has been written for the benefit of those individuals who wish to organise and run an aerotow event and is based on my own experiences over the last few years. It is not a definitive document on legal aspects and procedures. Legislation and procedures change from time to time, so where individuals have any doubts or queries they should be referred to the appropriate authority. I cannot accept any responsibility for errors or omissions.

David Hoare, 23rd November, 2008.