An interesting story by Simon Holding from OZ




I was fortunate to be offered a position on the Australian Team to fly in the Pre Worlds in Rieti. Others have covered the blow by blow flying of the contest. I thought I would attempt to write about some of the ‘feel’ of an international contest (now that I have been to one).

Why would anyone want to spend considerable money and effort to go to the other side of the world and fly in a gliding contest?


Because you get to live in another culture, and be accepted by the people – and they were wonderful. We met people whom we never have encountered otherwise. We flew over countryside, and saw the back blocks of Italy from a perspective that few will ever see. We flew in the company of the Gryphon Vulture – priceless. We flew over castles, ruins, mountains, ancient towns. We flew low through picturesque valleys, hoping to never see the terrain from that perspective again, ever. We encountered weather that left us in awe, and in touch with our own insignificance.

The pilots flying at the standard of the Pre Worlds generally have a positive can do attitude. They were a fun group – highly motivated and proper talented. It was a great experience to mix with people where there was little class distinction. Just to be at the event meant that there was an assumed ability, and we were treated as equals.

As I had an Italian license I was able to hire one of the local club’s DG505 and take some of our crew for a quick tour of the Rieti site. This was a privilege for me, as it was an opportunity to give some of our team a taste of what we were experiencing as pilots in the contest. What I quickly discovered was that non pilots make far better passengers – the pilots know enough to recognize the potential danger – and squealed. I was astounded at what a few days of desensitization had done for my willingness to work the lift in the hills.


Early in the week the girls in our crew had voted the airport fireman as the most arrogant, personality devoid individual on the planet. Big call, given that he didn’t speak a word of English. Clearly his body language was not up to scratch. Lisa Trotter during our coaching had told us it was important to try to get on with everyone – it has measurable contest benefits. So, setting the bar high, I set myself a goal to win the fireman over within a week. It was with great pride as I walked down the taxiway smoking a big cigar, and although I conceded the habit was disgusting, this cigar was special. Smugly I told the crew that my mate the fireman had given it to me. Mission accomplished….

Not every day was perfect. The end of my contest came when I got caught with no lift in a steep valley with limited landing options.

I landed the glider on a steep hill, and came to rest undamaged. My face developed that surprised (really surprised) look when the glider rolled backwards about 50 metres (31 kph on the trace), coming to rest in a dry creek bed. The result of this backwards inglorious trip was a broken rudder, ailerons and wing root.

I climbed out, shook myself off, and assessed the damage. The mobile phone was working so I reported in, and set about exploring my new found environment. About 100 metres up a very steep hill stood a huge man with his arms crossed, looking mean. I smiled, told him my name was Simon, that I was from Australia, I didn’t speak Italian, I was sorry to land in his paddock, and shook his hand. Thank Christ he smiled. Trouble was, he spoke no English, and I spoke no Italian.

Mario was greatly confused as to how the glider had got to where it was, backed into a creek. We walked together back down the hill and I did a bit of pointing and miming to demonstrate my flight path, and showed him the wheel marks – up, and down, the hill. At this point he was mightily impressed and pointed at me declaring ‘numero uno’.

Alessandro (the CFI) back at the club that owned the glider would more likely consider me from the aspect of a number two rather than a number one, after what I had done to his aircraft.

Mario was most concerned that I was not hurt, and I managed to get that idea across that I was fine. Then he was upset that I would not be found by the crew. Despite showing him our coordinates and trying to indicate that the crew had GPS, it still required another call to Franca (our Contest Director) to explain in Italian to Mario that all would be OK.  A couple of hours later, Tim Shirley (my crew) was not so sure. When ‘Bitchin Betty’ inside the GPS announced to him in the car ‘you have arrived’ he admitted after, that he thought I was either dead, or he was in the wrong valley – there was no where here to land. He was a bit disturbed to drive around the next corner and find Mario and I.

During the wait for Tim and my wife Margot to rescue me, Mario and I sat on his verandah drinking wine and enjoying the sunshine. Looking across the valley at Mt Terminillo in the distance framed by a saddle in the hills, I laughed out loud and saluted Mario with his glass of wine ‘to life’.

Despite us sharing no language, Mrs Mario explained that she had two grandkids one 600mm and the other (a boy) an 800mm version. Their cat was called Katerina. She was very proud of her son, who I gather works in IT. I admired their magnificent vegetable patch, and we compared the difficulties faced with growing tomatoes back in Alice Springs.

Damaging the glider put me out of the contest at that point. Tim and I did have an opportunity on the last contest day to help retrieve Bruce Taylor. At 4 pm we set off to collect his glider 90 km away. We got to the presentation at midnight…..


Our work was not quite finished. Margot and I had to deliver the glider that I had injured to hospital up near Bologna.

We delivered the glider to a repair shop in the North of Italy, and then spent a week traveling around and enjoying ourselves. Paul Mander assured me that touring the Amalfi Coast was the best way to recover from damaging a glider, but Italy was in the grip of a heatwave, and so we stayed in the cool North. Food, wine, white water rafting and just plain relaxing was kind of neat, but reality called, and we had to head off home.

On the way back to Rome we dropped in to Rieti to say a few goodbyes. Early in our stay in Rieti, I tried a few times to engage the publican in some mimed conversation. It took the gruff Carlos a few days to ask me in perfect English what I was doing in Rieti? He was pleased to find out that we were flying in the contest. When I asked why he had not spoken to me before in English, Carlos said he couldn’t be bothered talking to tourists. Apparently I had been promoted up the ladder from tourist in his eyes, and we became friendly. We got inside running on the gossip about the piazza, and a great insight into how the locals interpreted events around them.

The local festival of St Antonio was deemed a far more important topic than the crippling garbage workers strike over in Florence. Local police were held in poor regard. The Mayor was popular. Planning laws are not. We agreed that my problems back home were about similar – with small variations. Carlos told us not to say good bye – he and his wife are coming to see us in Alice Springs.

Anyway, the point of all the above, is to illustrate how wonderful the experience of contest flying is. Getting an Italian perspective that few would, from the air (sometimes close up!)  Meeting the people not as a tourist, but accepted as a guest in their country. Finding out about your own limitations, and how we react under pressure in different arenas.

Six years ago when I started gliding, it never occurred to me that it would be possible to compete offshore. But within the Gliding Federation we have such a generosity of spirit, a knowledge base and a willingness to give people an opportunity that a remarkable experience can be had in contest flying. If presented with the opportunity, I would urge everyone to give contest flying a go. Who knows what tomorrow brings?

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