This is the 3rd and last article reflecting on World Gliding Championships and some ideas how this institute could possibly develop in the future. Let’s start with developing a policy on locations of WGC’s.
The location of World Championships has, up to today, been decided by allocating the contest to one of the available bidder airfields. The allocation takes place by a simple voting process and certain amount of lobbying takes place in IGC circles. Now this is a good system in one way, as it gives the organization of the venue (WGC) to a country and site that actually wants to organize the Championships. As a consequence of this selection system the suitability of the volunteered site for competitive soaring is of much lower importance. So the selection of a WGC site is something like “the best of the available”, or “the most practical for the bulk of the competitors”, but not “one of the best sites available on earth”.
Maybe we should create a list of eligible sites for World Gliding Championships and maybe we should set weather standards for sites to get admitted to this list. The objective of course being that very important gliding competitions should be held at sites (airfields) where the chance of the contest becoming a lottery due to unreliable (weather) conditions is minimal. Let me just name a few places or area’s in various continents that could fit the requirements.
In North America: Odessa, Uvalde, Hobbs, Marana, El Mirage, Minden, Ely and the many other sites that fall roughly within the area covered by these mentioned sites.
In Australia: Waikerie, Mildura, Leeton, Narromine and Forbes. This is basically the southeastern part of Australia, well away from the Great Dividing Range.
In Africa: The area roughly from Bloemfontein (South Africa) to Bitterwasser (Namibia) with Gariep Dam as a very desirable site in the middle. There may also be good (but unrealized) soaring possibilities in Morocco (south of the Atlas mountains) for the future.
In Europe: Fuentemilanos, Ocana, (central Spain), Mengen, Klippeneck (southern Germany), Lesno (Poland) and Rayskala (Finland). Some of these places have some issues with available airspace, which is something that is becoming increasingly difficult in Europe.
In Asia: There must be some great locations in Russia and Kazakhstan, but I have no knowledge of them (yet). Further to the east I can imagine good soaring possibilities in India roughly between Bangalore and Nagpur and of course in China, on the edge of the Gobi, the weather conditions could be expected to meet the requirements. All of these areas need to be opened up in future to allow big gliding contest to take place.
In South America: The area comprising northern Argentina and southern Brazil. There are a number of sites there (like Junin and Bauru) that would be good for big contest from the weather point of view.
All the mentioned sites and areas have in common that they are NOT mountain soaring sites. Over the years it appears three different sorts of flying have emerged; normal flat country soaring, mountain soaring and wave running. Although the absolute performances achievable in wave running are quite exciting it is not for contests, and I think almost everyone agrees about this. Who wants to sit for hours at 8 or 9 thousand meters height, redlining most of the time, sucking oxygen all the time and trying to avoid your feet from freezing off. Great for record flying, lousy for contest purposes.
Then we have the mountain competitions. I have flown a few and there is no denying that the Alps or the Apennines are lovely to fly through, but I have my doubts about staging World Competitions there. The risks in mountain flying are quite a bit higher than in flat country soaring and many a top pilot has lost his life enjoying the mountains. Some sites, like Minden, have a mixture of terrain. You can’t really call it mountain flying because there is almost always an escape possible to the very wide valleys, where people live a normal life and out landings are quite feasible most of the time. The conditions in this mixed terrain can be stunning. I remember a well known French pilot (Gabriel Chenevoy) flying his “camion” (ASH25) from Minden over something like 908 km in just 5 hours one day. What a buzz…!!
We need to be thoughtful to select World Championships sites. Eliminate the unnecessary risks and try to get sites that give every pilot an even chance. Soaring is a sport and not exercise in heroism. So …, long live flat country World Gliding Championships!!
Tasking has improved a lot over the last ten years or so, although a tendency to revert back to normal speed tasks seems to be appearing lately. The reasons for this are easy to understand. There is very little thinking by the pilot required to fly a set speed task, and these tasks lend themselves extremely well for following top pilots by the also-rans. The practice of following other pilots is often called leeching or backpacking. There are (quite a few) pilots that have flown entire contests without ever taking a decision, other than who to follow. Obviously the “backpacks” rather feature relatively high on the score list, because they followed the right pilot, than go at it themselves and get into trouble and learn about the atmosphere and racing. They are quite content to follow someone around the entire course and bask in glory, after finishing, for a placing that was created by someone else.
So to find the best pilot in a contest it is better to fly variable distance tasks, ie speed tasks with very large turn areas (beercans), so the competitors can distinguish themselves by flying larger distances and flying faster as well. It is the Qutback Shootout formula where the longer the distance flown by the winner is, the fewer speed points there are available to everyone. The fatigue factor can be limited by setting maximum en route times.
One of the drawbacks of current competition flying is the severity of penalty for outlanding (no speed points). In the Outback Shootout formula outlanding pilots still get speed points, but their speed is adjusted down by 10% because they landed out. This has two effects. Firstly there is a lower tendency to try to scratch away from ridiculously low altitudes, so the flying can become more safe because all is not lost as a result of an outlanding, and secondly, the pilot is still in the running for the prizes, even after an outlanding. The mechanism of actually almost eliminating someone from the scores just because he one day lands out has always been an excessive penalty, but only now, with data loggers, can we revert back to a fairer system. We should do so.
Next article will be on “Thermal Tax” !!!!! Don’t go away….