The Vortex SmartWinch
A Vortex is Coming!!! The Ultimate in Stationary/Static Winches - and all electric!
Designed and made in-house here at Instinct Windsports. The technology, motor power, battery power and cost have finally come together to allow us integrate these technologies together to bring you a VERY powerful, VERY small and VERY cost effective single winch that can meet all your hang gliding (...and paragliding...and skydiving) needs.Many people feel inspired, recharged or uplifted after visiting a Vortex. "
Vortex - once you read the above, I am sure you will agree it is a fitting name for this product!!
As of April 2022, we are just putting the finishing touches on our Phase 1 of the project and are beginning small batch, serial production. We spent over a year (starting Dec2020) researching components and it took us six months to get in the special ordered custom motors, controllers and a battery to get the sustained power we need for towing hang gliders.
Prices are estimated (and rounded up hopefully). Final configurations are not set. Prices will only go UP as we look at adding features. We are only offering one version at this time until we can do further testing to see if we can offer a smaller system (scaled back power) in the future. The version we have now (July 2022) is the "Standard" version with the idea of maxing out all components we could integrate to get the max power possible - we are getting 800fpm climbs on a light-tandem in no-wind. It weighs in at 120lbs (the motor, frame and rope). The production version is down to 93lbs (aluminum frame with motor but no rope)
We may try to make a light-weight one capable of only towing single-surface HGs and PGs in a smaller form-factor unit. It will be easier to get in and out of a trunk, the battery will be smaller and less expensive. Much lighter - aluminium housing and possible fibre drum.
What IS included in the price listed here:
- motor (tandem/full)
- aluminium , powder-coated flanges
- appropriate motor controller in metal box
- custom analog handheld controller
- drum line guards with basket (helps prevent the line from jumping over flange)
- quad-roller rope fairlead
- powder-coated aluminum motor frame with bolt to mount to your vehicle's hitch receiver (see note below)
- NEW addition (Sept '22) motorized level-wind for a more reliable "tight stack" of rope.
- simple wooden motor frame for transporting and storage
What IS NOT included in the price listed here:
- battery - you choose your desired capacity
- rope - you choose your line strength and amount
- automated digital handheld controller - future offering (spring 2023?)
- rope guillotine - future offering (spring 2024?)
- remote control kit - future offering (summer 2024?)
- shipping fees and shipping crate
- step-towing heavy rope leader - "the Snake"
- drogue chute for line retrieval
- hitch mount for your vehicle - we recommend something like this with a "rise" that is installed upside down to lift up the winch. It needs to match the receiver size on your vehicle - most are 2"
Please read through the FAQs below as they will answer most of your questions. Ask a question below if you have one as others likely have the same question!
Current Inventory Levels
**if stock of zero is shown and you can still add the item to you cart, you can place the order and we will advise on a delivery time
QUESTIONS & ANSWERSAsk a Question
Do I have to pay the entire amount NOW (pre-order)?
No. We understand it is a big purchase and it will take some time for us to finish it up. So we have a Vortex deposit you can pay for pre-orders and the remaining will be due prior to your Vortex order shipping out. It will also give us some time to figure out freight costs to your address.
What tow rope should I put on it?
We import great line and it can be purchased here. 2mm is what we use for solo towing and can fit just over 2km of rope on the winch. We use the 2.8mm for tandem towing.
Do I have to buy your battery to go with it?
No, but we recommend the one we offer since we have tested it. We custom ordered our batteries straight from the factory. It is important to get sufficient "continuous output" to ensure you can feed the motor with enough power to get the torque (tow tension) you need. For tandem towing and towing in stronger winds, this requirement can be quite demanding.
If you want to shop around for batteries, we can let you know what specs you need for the model you purchase. However, as of summer 2023, we have sourced and tested a new style of battery that is powerful enough to pull HG tandems, smaller and less expensive than our original batteries. And they are small enough we can UPS them directly from our manufactuerer to you in less than a month's time! Way better than the 7 months it took for us to get our original batteries.
What tow releases can you use with it?
A tough question. We don't recommend using anything execpt for a Koch-style release. The release is pinned to your chest in a single, reliable position at all times....so WHEN an emergency release needs to be done, the pilot knows EXACTLY where it is and quick reliable slap of the release gets you off the line.
If you are doing step-towing, you are a fool if you try it without a Koch-style release. They are hard to find as no one currently makes them - we will hopefully be making some in the near future.
For straight-pulls, I'd still recommend using a Koch-style release for the above mentioned reasons but I have seen people use releases commonly used for payout winch towing and even aero-tow releases. I can't recommend them for stationary winch towing as we don't allow them to be used at our stationary winch towing facility (we use them all the time at our aerotowing park)
Can you foot launch with it? cart launch?
You can do either.
We only do and allow foot launching. It takes up less runway space and allows the pilot to manage any crosswind prior to launching and can manage their angle-of-attack easier before launching.
For those pilots that have never done foot-launch winch-towing....start slow on a single-surface glider as you will appreciate how foregiving they can be on adjusting for any mis-management of your AoA upon launch. We would recommend doing 20+ tows on a single surface glider before trying it on any double-surface and especially topless gliders. It's a whole new experience! ...and it is critical that you get it right since you are close to the ground and are dealing with more tow tensions than any other form of towing.
Why is it better than hydraulic winches? scooter winches? payout winches?
THIS is key. The Vortex is a TENSION-CONTROLLED winch. This is opposed to a SPEED-CONTROLLED (or throttle-controlled) winch.
A speed controlled winch puts a great amount of responsability on the winch-operator. If they only have speed control, they have some work to do to manage the tension on the tow line throughout the tow.
Some hydraulic winch are smoother but hydro-static winches still require the winch operator to visibly monitor a pressure gage and adjust their hydraulic flow to attain and maintain a desired tow tension. And the tension can and will change throughout the tow due to glider speed changes, lift/sink, wind gusts and thermals. With a TENSION-CONTROLLED winch, the intelligence of the winch takes care of all that....resulting in a much smoother tow and WAY more efficient with increased safety.
Scooter winches are notorious for rough tows. All you have is a gas throttle to adjust and most scooter-winches don't have a pressure gage to monitor. This requires and even more skilled winch operator and often a very rough ride. For this reason, scooter winches are usually only used in low, smooth winds for rather low-tension training tows.
There are also winches based on the LSD (Limited Slip Differential) transmission of a car. These are stricktly gas throttle controlled as well and have the same problems as a scooter. They do have the added feature of setting a max tension that the transmission will slip if that max tension is attained to limit the tow from going over the max tension. This adjustment is very hard to set and calibrate as you have to test manually with a gage and is often set way too high.
What are the different Phases of the Vortex development?
As of Sept 2023, we are in Phase 2 of development (see below). We are shipping units at this time - usually about 6-8 week lead times from when a deposit is collected.
"Phase One" for us is to release our higher-powered offering with a custom winch controller to help automate some of the winch operating process.
Currently (fall 2021) we have a simple controller that can do everything we need but it takes a fair amount of knowledge and experience for the winch operator to successfully perform a tow (and especially a step-tow). We may allow this simple controller to ship out to early buyers but they will need to be able to demonstrate a great deal of stationary winch towing experience and it would help if they are USHPA Tow Tech certified. Without EITHER of those, we won't sell you a winch. Even with only one, we may be asking for more references.
Our first, high-power offering will be capable of towing a tandem hang glider....this is A LOT of power. Too much than what is necessary for solo hang gliders (especially in a training envirnomment) and WAAAY too much for a solo paraglider. There is some firmware settings that we can set to reduce the upper power but they aren't too hard to change and if you do this unknowingly, you can put your pilots in great danger if you don't manually moderate your tension.
As of winter 2022/23 we are at "Phase Two" - we have our custom analog controller complete that makes it easier to set the max tension the winch has access to during the tow and then a simple dial to adjust tow tension throught our recommended phases of the tow.
"Phase Three" for us is to implement a digital controller that you pre-program all phases of the tow prior to launching. This will still be a wired controller that a winch operator will have to operate. This includes tow tenesions as well as ramp-up/down rates for tension between those phases. It will also automate what happens to the winch after a release (intentional or otherwise) - mainly how it reels in the rope and when it automatically stops winding in the rope. This will also set us up for the ultimate goal of remote-control self-towing! We hope to have this ready for testing for spring 2024.
"Phase Four" Is where we take the digital controller from Phase 3 and make it wireless with a single push-button wireless controller for the pilot to operate. This will take considerable testing on our end and we hope to have this controller finished (testing and production) for the summer of 2024 and will be offered as a paid-for upgrade to all existing Vortex winches.
"Solo Model" - in parallel, we may work on a Solo Version of the winch. We wanted to keep it small and light and portable but our first goal was to max out all current technologies to see what max power we could get with the goal of being able to perform self-tandem-tows...as that is the only way to financially justify a project like this. However, the components are getting quite heavy and almost too heavy for a single person to lug in and out of a trunk. Once we get time, we will see if our manufacturer has a smaller motor that is still sufficent for solo-glider tows that is also lighter and maybe a little less expensive. This solo HG winch will be worked on in the fall/winter of 2023 - it should have plenty of power for all solo-HGs (and thus PGs) and be about 20lbs lighter (down to ~90lbs) then the Standard (current) configuration
This dream of a small winch may be a long shot (so don't hold your breath!!) - we know there are some PG winches that are quite small and light but the line tensions and speeds that are needed to tow HGers make the power requirements exponentially more. As we are able to meter the outputs our current winches, we can calculate what would be the minimum power needed for a reasonable solo winch. We are also working on a SMALL PG winch...and then will test that to see how well we can tow HGs with....it may only be good for low-and-slowing HGs or a slow climb requiring a rather long runway to get a HG to altitude. This will be worked on in the winter of 2023/24
Can schools use it as a scooter-winch with brand new pilots?
Absolutely! This was a high-priority plan for us since we are an active school. I find scooter-towing first-day students the most stressful due to the Honda Elite 250 scooter that we used use really had TOO MUCH power for first-day students. Plus the fact that it is throttle-controlled-tension makes it an art to operate.
With the Vortex, the tension control is done automatically by the winch brains. We normally only tow early-students in very calm winds anyways but the torque-regulation of the Vortex will help keep constant tension in these very sensitive, low-to-the-ground tows. It even does a bit of compensating for when the students adjust their flying speeds (which we ask them not to do) as if they speed up, line tension would drop and if they push out, line tension would go up....if the winch (or operator) doesn't adjust for it.
For low-and-slow towing (ground skimming) with first-day students, the winch operator has to simply bring enough tension up to take the slack out of the rope and a touch more so the pilot has to resist slightly. When the pilot is ready, all they have to do is start to walk and then jog as if they were ground handling the glider on flat ground. Just by them reducing resistance, it is enough for the Vortex to slowly pick them off the ground (if the pilot is managing the glider properly) and they climb at about 20'/minute! All with the operator doing NOTHING to the tension dial during tow.
In our custom controller we are working on (winter 2023/24) we will have some presets - one will be for a low-and-slow tow, what the scooter towing was invented for.
Some schools have multiple winches (50cc, 80cc, 150cc and 250cc) to have different to have different max-power options so they can't over tension a student. With the tension/torque-regulated Vortex, the one winch will do it all!
Can it tow Rigid Wings?
As of Sept 2023, it has NOT been tested on rigid wings. As per our research, the speed of our motor should be ample to tow rigid wings....the line tension may be a little light but still enough to get a reasonable tow, just not "optimal".
Can it tow tandem hang gliders?
As of July 2023, we have done a number of tandems and were getting 8-900fpm climbs! We were getting 900' tows off of a 700m/2200' runway.
We ordered the custom motor to handle the line speeds and tensions needed to do tandems. If it does work as expected, owning a Vortex for all tandem pilots should be a no-brainer as it will pay for itself in no time....especially when we get the remote-control configured. Imagine self-towing tandems...no crew NEEDED (we still plan on using a crew member to help with line retreivals, paperwork and safety checks).
Can it tow Paragliders?
Absolutely. No problem. The winch has more than enough power.
A key feature of our Vortex electric winch is that it is "tension controlled" - the tension set is automatically moderated in-flight by our controller. If thermals or wind gusts are experienced during tow, the winch quickly adjusts its speed to maintain the desired line tension.
This is a HUGE detterant to most stationary-winch-towing of paragliders as most winches are "throttle-controlled" and if the winch operator over-tensions a paraglider, it could stall on tow and fall backwards with no time to recover. ALL stationary-winch towing carries the risk of the glider (HG or PG) being towed at a very high angle-of-attack and if the tow tension is lost at a low altitude, it can put the pilot at risk while it recovers. This "tension-control" of the Vortex helps minimize this risk (but can never eliminate it).
The only issue with the Vortex towing paragliders now is that it has WAYY TOO MUCH power for paragliders. Our control system right now allows you to set the max tension available to tow PRIOR to launching....and then you can control up to 100% of that setting during the tow on our current manual controller. So it really is no problem if you set it properly for towing just paragliders - set it and forget it. We can pre-configre the winch for you prior to shipping. But if you are switching back and forth between HGs and PGs, you need to be careful as to what the max-tension is set to.
Our Phase 2 controller allows you to change this max-tension setting a lot easier and be visually available on the manual controller. This custom analog controller now ships standard with the Standard Vortex.
Other electric winches boast that their max-tension is limited by which model you purchase from them - the motor is just not powerful enough to over-tension the pilot. This is OK for the pure solo, self-towing solo PG pilot but for any group or club or business that wants to also tow tandem PGs or even HGs and PGs, this one low-powered winch is not suitable. We are more of the mindset to have ONE winch that can do it all for all pilots and work together with PGs and HGs, schools and certified pilots and solo or tandem pilots. It is much more of an easier investment for a group/club like this.
How high can you tow with it?
We find that if you use the proper tensions (not to high, not to low), you should be able to get between one-third to one half of the launch distance up...so if you have 1000m of line out at launch, you can get at least 1000' high.
There are a lot of factors such as pilot weight, skill level, stationary winch tow experience and of course the flying factors like wind speed, lift or sink (none of either is more reliable) and even humidity plays a factor.
The real art for us is finding the ideal tow pressure - we have seen many operators tow too hard....they think the harder you pull, the higher you get. The big problem is pulling too hard puts the pilot in danger if they lose the tow line (breakage, premature release or weaklink break), especially close to the ground. Years ago, since we use a tension-controlled hydraulic winch, we were able to monitor the pressures and we ended up reducing our tow pressures by about 40% and ended up getting higher altitude tows as we spent more TIME climbing compared to pulling in the rope faster with the higher pressures. Sure the climb rates were higher, but the pull was over MUCH faster.
In fall of 2022, we step-towed to just under 4000' off of a 2200' airstrip with the Vortex. Step-towing is an art that shouldn't be tried unless you are super-experienced.
If I order one, when will it ship?
As of Sept 2023, we are shipping units.
You can place an order now to expedite the process. A $4,000cdn deposit will be required and this will allow us to pre-order the components that take time to get here (from the manufacturer in China), mainly the motor and the battery.
The battery is a custom build for our specific needs and now can be shipped direct to the customer in less than 4 weeks!
Lead time is approximately 6-8 weeks from when your deposit is received.
Can it Step Tow?
Yes, it "CAN".
We have already tested it for step-towing and it was a perfect success. I personally two-step step-towed to 500m in light winds with launching with only 500m of line out. I have also towed up to well over 3000' (on solo HGs as well as a tandem) step-towing with it as well.
However, step-towing has A LOT of risks and shouldn't be attepted without proper training and starting very conservatively. Our students often step-tow before even earning their H2 rating so pilots of all levels CAN step-tow successfully but if you have never towed behind a stationary winch, you owe it to yourself to learn to do that first on a single-surface glider before attempting step-towing. We would recommend doing 20 full-tension "straight tows" (non-step-towing) before considering step-towing.
Our Phase 2 custom analog controller (that is now standard with a Vortex) makes it a lot easier to step-tow. NEVER step-tow without a weighted line on the end of your tow line (we call it the Snake). Our Phase 3 digital controller will further improve all functionality, including step-towing
The Vortex will never be certified to step-tow as it widely unaccepted as a suitable form of towing world/industry-wide. We have step-towed THOUSANDS of times here at Instinct. It is a very common practice around here in Ontario, Canada and the other schools have done it WAY more than we have. It is also VERY popular in the Nordic countries as well...but it also has a LOT of extra risk that the pilot needs to realize and assume full responsability for what happens up there.
I consider it the best kept secret in hang gliding....but also the most risky form of towing. Be cautious and NEVER attempt it without a Koch-style release.
What makes it Smart?
In a nutshell, it is TENSION controlled.
Our motor controller can "automatically" adjust the motor's rpm/speed to attain a constant line tension. I put "automatically" in quotes as there is a slight delay....FRACTIONS of a second! (more with the more rope you have out). WAY faster than any human winch operator could react to.
MOST other stationary winches out there are all SPEED (aka throttle) controlled...the winch operator has to visually monitor a tension guage and adjust their controlls to attempt to keep a constant line tension to give the pilot a smooth tow. This is the case for all scooter-winches, Limited-Slip-Differential winches, many other electric winches and even most hydra-static (hydraulic winches).
When we started Instinct in 2009, we invested in a hydraulic winch that has a pressure-relief valve the dumps the hydraulic fluid should the set desired tension gets exceeded during the tow (thermal or gust). It has rewarded us with incredibly smooth tows in VERY thermic inland conditions - we always THOUGHT they were smooth though - but nothing compared to the tows on the Vortex. Something our local competitors don't have.
It is great to see this technology finally exists now - we have found the proper combination of our custom electric motors that are powerful enough for tandems and coupled with custom programmed motor controller to offer tension control. You won't believe how smooth the tows are on this Vortex.
The Vortex's tension control reacts SO quick and smoothly...while being winch operator I have seen the motor visually studder four or five times while a pilot 1km away (3300') run out their launch. I asked the pilot later about their launch and they didn't notice anything and said their launch was the smoothest ever..this was just the Vortex auto-adjusting for contstant tension in sync with the pilots strides at launch!
AND THEN - since the entire system is electronic, it opens up the reality of being able to automate the winch operating process to make it easier to get more winch operators on-board....and the next step (by spring 2024) is to add remote-control to the system allowing the pilot to tow themself!
Can it be used as a payOUT winch?
It "can"....but I question why...
It is designed as a pull-IN winch and has the power to get high tows using a short field (min 500m). However we have experienced it in payout mode as we towed in strong winds (20kmh) and up higher it was at least 35km. The winch started to payout and the pilot never knew the difference. The Vortex did it all on it's own as it's focus is to provide automatic constant line tension.
We feel it is a very expensive payout winch. There are a lot less expensive, reputable hydraulic-based payout winches that are much simplier than electronic winches that rely on electronics and possibly more programming to automate.
We also are aware there are a few paragliding electric winches that are being used as payout winches successfully as well. I ask why of them as well and they said because the electric winches provide the smoothest tows on the market, whether that is pull-in or pay-out. And the automation makes winch operating much easier than a classic mechanical winch.
How electric winches usually do paying OUT is they use the regenerative braking that is standard in the motor and use the digital brake to set a certain payout line tension...the computer does the rest! The result - little for operator to do, super smooth tow but the by-product is energy...and that has to go somewhere...either store that energy or A LOT of heat!
What we hear is happening with the PGers that are paying out is that they are starting their day with a battery that is at it's minimal storage and then the regenerative braking while towing is filling up their battery. However, this is happening TOO fast. So they are running a lot of halogen lights off of their tow vehicle to burn off that energy all day while they are towing as if they fill up their battery, they can't continue to tow as it will over heat the entire system and you risk frying your electronics.
To me, it doesn't make sense to waste this power by running lights....and in the meanwhile, you are burning gas on your tow vehicle all day long. Ideally it'd be nice if you had an electric vehicle that could output enough power to run your winch AND take in that energy from the winch's regenerative braking. I could see that happening in the future but no EV manufacturer is going to alllow you under warranty to charge their battery that way...
Our potential solution..."HYBRID" towing. The other advantage of pay OUT towing is that you start off with no or only a couple hundred feet of tow line out when you launch. You can then payout for as long as your tow road is, flip it into pull IN mode to top off the tow. This would possibly produce some energy while payout out and then use up that power during the pull-in portion.
This is something we feel the Vortex will be able to do once we get our fully digital controller working (fall 2023?) which will allow us to do some fancy programming like this. And all existing Vortexes will be able to take advantage fof these future upgrades. There will be upgrade fees for the digital controller and possibly programming updates for added features.
I cannot lift 92 lbs (old HG injury). Can the winch be partially disassembled so not single part is more than 50 lbs?
No, sorry. The electric motor itself is about 45lbs...plus the flanges and metal frame. It does come with a wooden carrier that has handles on both sides. We normally lift it on and off the vehicle with two people as it is heavy for anyone (and is an awkward size to lift solo).