WildCat Winch

The story behind the construction of NGC’s new launch winch
by Winch Master John Roche-Kelly.

In the high and far off times, the gliding club was the proud owner and user of a Supacat winch. It had performed well for many years but was getting tired. Uncared for it grew sadder and sadder until, try as it might, it could barely lift the heaviest gliders to mediocre heights on a still day. Admittedly if it was blowing a hurricane up the main runway (or down it for that matter) these gliders could be launched to incredible altitudes, but not so on a normal day! No amount of servicing could hide the fact that the engine was not what it was and needed replacing.

A new summer dawned and there was a new, older winch, the Wilde winch. Purchased from another club (why did they not want it?) at a snip. It worked well, the engine was a hot shot but when the cable broke it had to come off-line for two hours while the t

angle was sorted out! It had another trait, the driver had to raise the floor and spool the drum by foot whilst engaging it in gear. Not the safest way to run a winch. However, the club was so pleased with the Wilde boy that it was converted to run on LPG. This just made the winch run inconsistently, first a great launch then, for no reason a low-level power failure. The club had invented a new version of Russian roulette and so it was back to AVGAS then the Supacat and then only on a day with a good headwind and no cross component.

During the summer, I became Winchmaster and talked of conversions and hybrids and safety and consistency and a new era in winching. And so the story really begins:

Clearly the club’s finances could not extend to a new Skylaunch but a chat with Mike Groves, the MD of

The ‘new’ WildCat before it’s new paint job.

said company suggested that I was right in thinking that we could convert the Supacat to run on the Chevy engine powering the Wilde. We could incorporate the control panel fitted to Skylaunches and cure the running problems, and include comfort items such as a heater etc. Now convince the committee!

Actually this was easier than I thought. The instructors had already decided that both winches were not reliable or safe enough to use and supported me in my endeavour. With Mike Groves (it was Mike mostly) a detailed plan was drawn up and costed, along with a strong case for making the changes on environmental as well as health and safety grounds. We also made the case that a new winch that was easy both to fly and drive would increase useage and therefore club profit. I managed to sell the vision. Charm, tact, diplomacy? Not me, enthusiasm, energy and dogged determination won over the waverers and I nailed Mike down to some dates.

Glider Winch

Arrival of the WildCat. It was in action within an hour of arrival and was a hit right away.

In January the engine was stripped out of the Wilde winch and I carted it over to Wem on my annual canoeing pilgrimage to Wales (don’t ask but I have been doing it for 25 years). It was stripped down serviced and cleaned. It turned out to be much above your average V8 having been “breathed on” by someone who knew what he or she was doing. All looked well, so I began to worry.

In early February the Supacat came off-line for the last time. Drums off, engine out and onto a low-loader for transport to Wem. You would think that would be easy wouldn’t you? She was so keen to stay that it was very difficult to get her on the lorry, but get her on we did.

Frequent ‘phone calls were then made and progress reports were encouraging, but time was slipping and I got to feel guilty that the deadline for its return came and went! As Douglas Adams said “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go past.” I made a cross-country trip to see things for myself and to harry a little. It worked. The journey back with the original axle was completed at dead of night with a trailer with three tyres and four wheels. Well three wheels by the time we got back.

Mike wanted to do some marketing and I agreed that he could trial it at another club and iron out any problems before delivery. Off to Devon it went. Mike ‘phoned me as Andy Holmes, the BGA winch advisor, launched a K21. It sounded great! Delivery was promised the next Saturday, but a coat of paint was advised and he sent some pictures to prove it. He was right but I had to convince some sceptics, including the club chairman, that it was worth it.

Saturday dawned, the mist was swirling round the horizon, the dew glistened and the sun threatened to shine…you get the picture. The winch was due at 10:00 am and arrived at 11:00 (curse the East-West road infrastructure) and was greeted with awe. The paint job was worth it.

We set up and began launching almost straight away. Smooth acceleration, controllable speed and every pilot was impressed by the improvements. ” Is it controlled by computer?” commented one. Twenty-nine launches on its first day and lots of driver training. In the end we ran out of pilots and so called it a day, all very happy.

Sunday dawned the same as Saturday, it often does I find. Club rules dictate half-price launches before 11:00 am. We managed 16, a club best and as many again during the afternoon, equally successful.

My thoughts so far. A great job, Mike has done us proud and we have exactly what I wanted, a safe,

NGC’s new launch winch, the result of combining two winches into one.

reliable winch that will last the club many years. Parts for the engine are readily available and much more economically than for the original diesel engine. Simple, regular servicing can be done by the club. The road wheels will allow it to be towed to a local garage if anything more major is required. The cost was much lower than a diesel replacement and the result better. I hope that we will increase winch use by pilots and that the ease of driving will encourage all solo pilots to learn to drive it.

What to call our new winch? Various combinations of Supacat, Skylaunch and Wilde were tried but my favourite is WildCat and so it will be.

My thanks to Mike Groves for helping shape the vision and for doing the work, to Andy for his training and support, but more importantly to the small gang who helped out, stripping engines out and doing all the preparatory work; you know who you are. Thanks also to the committee for their faith. If I get too precious about it I am sure you will find ways of letting me know!

A comprehensive list of work done is available if you are interested. I am in the process of writing a manual, specific to The WildCat which will include daily, weekly and monthly servicing and a drivers manual. For now, I hope everyone enjoys the freedom and price of a winch launch, not to mention the roar of a V8 engine delivering in excess of 300HP as it goes from “take up slack” to “all out”. Personally I prefer the smell of LPG to diesel exhaust but I look forward to being at the back of a long queue of hopeful drivers wanting to drive the winch in winter, warmed by the heater.