Glider Towing


Well-Known Member
I'm wondering if I can get free flight time by towing gliders. Can a private pilot do this? I'm a PPL with 180 TT. I know I can't get paid, but will a glider outfit 'hire' me (not pay me but not charge me) at this level? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!
Yes, you can get free flight time towing gliders, all you want in fact!
Here's the good news and bad news(?).
Yes, you can do this as a private pilot with ASEL Certificate, current Medical Certificate AND current in tail-wheel type aircraft with a minimum of 200 hours as PIC (100 hours in ASEL), pass a check-out procedure and obtain a logbook endorsement.
This will get you into a PA-18 Super Cub. After 50 tows, you can check-out and fly a PA-25 Pawnee.
How? Join the Harris Hill Flying Club (Corp) in Elmira, NY. Check out our web site at for further info.
We always welcome new members, especially tow pilots, but the insurance requirements (and safety considerations) make it tough for low timers

Good luck.
The rest of the story is that the FAA considers free time comphensation, which requires a commercial certficiate. If you were to tow planes it needs to be in accordance with the privliages and limitations of your private pilot license, which includes not flying for hire. It might not be for hire, but you're getting too good of a deal according to the FAA.

That's what I've been told at least.


John Herreshoff
I guess John and I are doing a pretty good job of "bursting your bubble".
However, in a "Club" setting (at least HHSC) you are not "flying for hire"as the tow pilot, but are required by membership to serve 4 hours of "duty" each month - more if you want.
We do fly rides for $ and those pilots are required to be Commercial glider pilots as they are "PIC carrying another person for compensation" (see FAR 61.31).
As far as the requirements mentioned in my previous post, they are from the HHSC Operations Manual, the FAA has other requirements (see FAR 61.69).
I am getting in way over my head here, but suggest you join the AOPA and select the legal services option for professional advice.
I agree with John that the FAA might consider that you're "getting to good a deal" flying for free, I wonder how the IRS looks at that compensation?
It was much simpler 100 years ago when the Wright brothers just launched off a sand dune at Kitty Hawk!
Keep the faith.
On second thought, John, you bring up a good point here. Are you an attorney, maybe someone who's been busted by the FAA or just the "devils advocate" ?
Specifically, does our tow pilot need to be Commercial Pilot as a result of being connected by a rope to a glider with a Commercial Pilot "carrying a passenger for compensation"? Does the tow plane & pilot constitute part of the cost of the paying passengers flight - is this "for hire"?.
The attorneys and bureaucrats will have a ball with this one!
I intend to bring it up with the Board of Directors at HHSC for consideration. I'm just a peon student.
But, as stated previously, I may be all wrong on the subject, and if so, a public apology will be forthcoming.
Thanks for your input.

Naw, not quite a lawyer. I'm studying political science at college, but I have as good of a chance of going to law school as I do as doing graduate work in philosophy (read that as I have no idea what I'm gonna do with school).

What I am though, is a private pilot with an instrument rating who is working on a commercial certificate, so I pay attention when people speak up about stuff like this. All I posted is what I've been told by people, and it makes sense; to me at least.

I think in the situation of being in a flying club is different. It's all about intent, I think. If I were a 180 hour pilot (which I am) who is in the process of building hours and I showed up to an airport and said "I'll fly your towplane for free so I can build hours" then I would be breaking the regs. On the other hand, I think if you were in a club and it was something you had to because you are in the club then it's a whole different story. You are paying dues to be in the club, and you are probably more interested in flying gliders than building hours towards a job at an airline.

Again, intent is the key here I believe.

I would say call AOPA and ask them their take on it. You could call your FSDO, but you might end up incriminating yourself if you do so.


John Herreshoff
The FAA has applied this same logic to the waiver Civil Air Patrol has regarding private pilots and flight expense reimbursements; private pilots can either accept reimbursement for approved mission flight expenses or log the flight time, but not both. In other words, they now consider "loggable flight time" to be a form of compensation and thus in violation of the FARs for a pilot not holding a commercial certificate.

I think the only way around this in the towplane scenario is the pilot paying a pro-rata share of the flight's cost.
read up on your FAR's for the exact answer to your question. Once all that good stuff looks, try to find a place that will take you on. If you can't do that it doesn't matter anyway.
And you don't necessarily need a tailwheel endorsment. Ive been pulled by plenty of conventional gear. I think it was a Socota? Or however the hell that's spelled. Oh and get your glider ticket. Nobody wants to get a tow from a 200 hour private pilot that doesn't even have a clue about what soaring a glider is about.

Although the FSDO should have the right answers, you may find that interpretation of the FAR's may vary from one location to another and even among individuals within the same FSDO. The FAR's are a legal document, and therefore I think one should seek legal counsel in interpreting them. AOPA is an inexpensive way to do so.

Remember the "other side of the coin", too - Part 61 tells you how to get a Certificate or rating, but Part 91 tells you how to lose it!

Good luck with your continued academic and flight training. Have you ever considered becoming an aviation attorney - they make the big bucks I've heard!

Sorry, I overlooked the possibility of towing with a conventional gear A/C, which of course doesn't require a tailwheel endorsement. I was referring to HHSC club regulations which relate only to our tailwheel Super Cub and Pawnees.

You're right about a tow pilot getting a Glider rating - you'd better know what it's like being on the other end of the tow rope! In fact, FAR 61.69(a)(6)(ii) requires that a tow pilot "within the proceeding 12 months has made at least 3 flights as PIC of a glider towed by an aircraft".

Yeh, I've read and re-read the FAR"S and still don't understand them. Maybe John can help us out when he becomes an aviation attorney - for a mere $300 per hour.


Although the FSDO should have the right answers, you may find that interpretation of the FAR's may vary from one location to another and even among individuals within the same FSDO.

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Isn't that the truth!


Good luck with your continued academic and flight training. Have you ever considered becoming an aviation attorney - they make the big bucks I've heard!

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That would be a pretty interesting field of law. Do you have to live in a big market in order to do that?