On Tow Shelby
On tow near Shelby, MT

What's a hydraulic payout winch?

A hydraulic payout winch is a winch which adds tension to the towline by gently increasing the pressure of the oil in the motor attached to the spool of line.

Bozeman Paragliding: Towing


Mechanical advantage

Bozeman Paragliding owns two hydraulic payout winches. A hydraulic payout winch is a winch which adds tension to the towline by gently increasing oil pressure in a motor attached to a spool of line. Hydraulic winches are known for being smooth and accurate for both pilot and winch operator. Not every paragliding school has access to a winch, let alone two. We should all use every chance we get to go towing, as it's an important part of the sport of paragliding!

As a pilot at the end of the towline, launching is very similar to launching from a hillside - we either do a forward or reverse launch, depending on wind strength. When our wing is above our head and ready to fly, we lean forward and accelerate. When the winch operator sees that both wing and pilot are ready to launch, he smoothly adds tension to the towline. This gently lifts the pilot into the air. Once in the air, all the pilot has to do is keep his wing pointed at the truck/boat in front of him. The pilot is in control of when he releases from the towline, which is usually done several thousand feet over the ground. After release, the pilot is free to either find a thermal (over the ground) or practice maneuvers (over the water).


Every year Bozeman Paragliding goes flatland flying. One of our favorite places is Shelby, MT. Shelby is almost perfectly flat, there is a gridded road system for retrieves, and Highway 2 runs east/west through Shelby and across the entire state of Montana. The distance flying is fun and relaxed, as wind direction and speed are less of an issue, and there are no obstacles (mountains) that produce rotor or other tricky micrometeorology. A pilot can search for lift all the way to the ground and once the lift is found, he can simply drift with it wherever the wind is taking him. It seems like every time we go to Shelby with a pilot who hasn't been there before, that pilot gets a personal best distance flight.

We tow around Bozeman as well, with the north Bridger range being one of our favorite places to tow for XC distance flights. The state record was broken in 2015 from a tow launch at the north end of the Bridger range (309km), ending just east of Garryowen on the Crow Indian Reservation. Most non-XC towing (students, gear checks, tandems, etc.) happens near Amsterdam. We've had good luck in Molt, MT (near Billings) in the past, and in 2014 a 162 km (100 mile) flight was flown from there.

Our flatland tow vehicle (XCMaker) is a red Ford Ranger with a hydraulic payout winch mounted permanently in the back. The controls are routed into the cab including the electronic ignition for the rewind motor. This is one of the most user friendly winch setups we've ever seen. The tow tech/driver doesn't have to get out of the vehicle until the drogue is rewound and laying beside the truck.

Check the Calendar page to find out when the next major flatland flying will take place, or follow "bzpg" on Twitter to catch us on one of our more frequent excursions to a local tow road.

Over the Water

The winch in the boat is a permanent fixture in Bozeman Paragliding's tow boat. In addition to being one of the smoothest launching winches, it is also one of the easiest to operate and rewind. It uses a large pressure gauge, a swivelled pressure relief valve knob, and a clutch-pump rewind system. By using the boat engine to rewind the line after the pilot releases, more time is spent watching the pilot instead of trying to start a noisy gas motor or fishing the drogue chute out of the lake at the end of the rewind. Another product of the clutch-pump system is the tightness of the rewound line on the spool. A tight rewind means no line-digs on the next tow (which can end a tow early, break weak links, and send the line splashing down into the water). We have used this winch since 2005, and so far we've had no issues with the line jumping off of the pulleys, very few line digs, and no clutch pump problems. Having a winch like this keeps the boat driver/winch operator happy. If the driver and tow tech are happy, we're all happy.

Over the water towing is something every pilot should experience. It's usually warm and sunny, we're at the beach all weekend, we camp there, eat there, and entertain ourselves there. The flying is amazing, and the pilots can practice whatever they want with the safety of the lake and rescue boat below them. It's a great chance to let your inner-redneck out and dazzle us with campfire stories and campfire songs. Check out the Calendar page to find out when the next Maneuvers course is scheduled, or go to the Maneuvers page to find out more about the courses.