Gender. For many years we have had World Gliding Championships organised for glider pilots, regardless of gender. Male or female, hetero-, homo-, or transsexual,it didn’t matter; Every human was welcome to compete for the title. This is still the case but at the very end of the 20th century World Gliding Championships especially for women were organised. Why?
Women are clearly as capable (glider) pilots as men or other sub-genders are. There is no great physical strength required to operate a sailplane, so where is justification for having special women-only world championships. The one thing we can say about female glider pilots is that, sadly enough, there are few of them around, and we want more of them to compete against. Because female contest pilots are rare, they need encourangement and protection to grow their numbers.
One of the very good mechanisms to achieve this is to give them a shot at winning a world title (or a ladies cup or title at a national level) in their own right. So yes, we do need world gliding championships for females, but the number of classes may be limited to two or three (exclude open class and world class) to achieve reasonable numbers of competitors per class. A (female) junior title could be embedded in the rules to try to entice the younger females to get more contest experience.
Classes. It’s funny how things develop over time, and this is certainly true for the class structure developement over time. Originally (75 years or so ago) there were not so many competition gliders around so to get thirty of them competing in one contest was already no mean feat. During the next twenty years various class formula’s appeared and sometimes disappeared again (the 2-place class).
Open class was always there, being the top of the line gliders with the greatest potential for long, and often daring, flights (remember cloud flying was still allowed in those days). Open class must always remain because it represents the pinnacle of technology, i.e. the best performance that can be squeezed out of current materials and aerodynamic state of the art, albeit at sometimes astonishing costs.
There will always have to be an Open Class World Gliding Championship contest, just like there is Formula 1 for racing car drivers, and America’s Cup for sailors. In all cases the “top” class vehicles are superbly capable but shockingly expensive to build. It is just a pity that we still have weight restrictions in Open Class. Wouldn’t it be great to see a future Open Class without this, perhaps leading to 35 meter wingspan gliders with an all-up weight of 1500 kg or so (of which 800 kg could be water!). Unlimited category gliders as the americans so aptly describe this class.
Almost fifty years ago, in Lesno 1958, the Standard Class appeared. The first Standard Class World Champion was Adam Witek from Poland, flying a Mucha Std. After Helmut Reichman won the Standard Class title in 1974 (Waikerie, Australia) flying an LS2 and Ingo Renner won his Standard Class title in Finland flying (and winning) a PIK-20 things needed to change again, as both the LS2 as the PIK20 had wing flaps to improve performance. So Standard Class stayed, but without flaps, and 15m Class came into being because the 15m gliders were already there. It was a hasty decision and one that would be regretted, because even then some enlightened minds already foresaw the need for an 18m Class as that would give a much better performance base than the hastely decided 15m class. Thirty years later we are still stuck with the 15m class for no good reason other than that there a lot of 15m gliders around. In the meantime we did get the 18m class as well, so one could wonder how long 15m will still remain as a World Championships class. Then there are two other classes left, one which is a really good way to compete in older (cheaper) gliders, the Club class; and one which I regard as a complete flop, te World Class. The latter was the result of a desire (by whom?) to design a class where pilots all fly in exactly in the same (low-cost) glider of a single type (PW-5). There is no problem with the World class PW-5 as such, nor with the concept of competing on exactly equal terms, but why would one want to buy one of these gliders? I really wouldn’t know. Any old Libelle, ASW15, LS1 or Cirrus has better performance at half the purchase costs. LS4’s and Discus second hand prices are moving towards PW-5 costs, and these gliders have vastly superior performance and much wider appeal.
A competent pilot can fly a 1000km triangle in an LS4 or a Discus, and although probably some hero will fly one in an PW-5 one day, it is not even fun trying. Looking at the numbers of PW-5’s in World Championships it seems that the only reason people bother with them is that there are only a few competitors between them and a World title, so the chances of becoming a World Champion are better then in any other class. Great pity of all the efforts put into the World Class but maybe we should call it a day with this class.
A few more issues to cover but I will have to write these from the other side of the world probably next week.