After a long absence from flight simulation, I decided to practice some circuit patterns in Flight Simulator X (FSX) with one of my favourite glider models, the Aerosoft Discus X. I chose winch launching for these exercises because it positions the glider after launch release in a good location to begin the cross-wind leg of the circuit pattern. To winch launch my gliders in FSX, I use the WinchX! add-on by Peter Lürkens ( WinchX! website).
I took this opportunity to use one of these practice circuits to make a YouTube video to show how I configure and use WinchX! and then how I fly a left-hand circuit pattern in FSX.
Winch launches involve a power plant driving a cable drum that winds in a cable attached to the glider. The cable is typically around a 1000 to 2500 meters long,
Example of a V8 petrol engine powered winch
The cable is attached to the glider nose or underneath the fuselage. The attachment point features a back-release mechanism to automatically release in case the manual release fails or the pilot inadvertently fails to release soon enough. Also a weak-link limiter is inserted in the cable at the glider end, which is designed to break if the force on the glider should exceed a specific maximum value. The weak links are typically colour coded based on the force required to break them to help the ground crew and pilot in charge to make certain that the correct one is inserted for the type of glider being launched.
Attaching the winch cable
The winch winds the cable in at suffient speed to safely launch the glider into the air, typically up to a height that is about half the cable length, although greater height can be achieved with a head wind.
Releasing the cable at top of launch
In the real-world, winch launches are popular with some clubs because they are much cheaper than aero towing, the frequency of launches are generally better than aero towing because running out the cable for the next launch is faster than waiting for the tow plane to return to the airfield and also clubs do not need to have qualified aero tow pilots on hand to operate a winch.
Winch launches are also popular in FSX because some users find that they are easier to master than aero tows and also it takes less time to get to launch height. Personally, I prefer aero-tows in most circumstances in FSX because WinchX! has random failures built in to test your cable break recovery skills, which can be a tad annoying sometimes, particularly when it holds up proceedings at a multiplayer event.
In the real-world, standard circuit patterns are typically used to train pilots. I use circuits in the simulator to practice my flying skills, to test new aircraft or to familiarise myself with airfields. For those that are not familiar with it, the left-hand circuit pattern consists of the following key elements: