It’s the first official practice day at the 34th World Gliding Championships, in Pociūnai, Lithiuania. Some 120 pilots from approximately 30 countries are here to contend for championships in three classes: Club, Standard and 20-Meter multi-place.
Many posts by others should have made you familiar with the six US pilots competing here, and their crews. We’ve all been on site for several days now, working hard to get five gliders fully ready for the start of official competition, scheduled for July 31 – just 4 days away.
Just transporting the gliders, pilots and crews here has been an adventure (it always is). Two of our gliders were shipped from the US; the other three were rented (two from the Czech Republic, one from Germany). In all cases lots of driving was necessary. It’s not like crossing the US, but driving across Europe is not the work of an afternoon.
We’ve formed a good impression of Lithuania. The countryside is pleasantly rural, people are competent, friendly (with some reserve) and helpful, food is good (though certainly stronger on meat and potatoes than veggies), and prices are really attractive – pretty much everything except gasoline is notably cheaper than at home. As an example, team captain Fernando Silva and I this evening had dinner (chicken cutlet and goulash) at the very pleasant airport café here, for a total cost around $6 per person. In the nearby town of Prienai (about 6km west, and the place for local shops and restaurants), a large pizza with several toppings runs around $7. Beer in a supermarket runs around a dollar per half-liter can (which appears to be the smallest size).
The Pociūnai airfield looks to be an excellent place for a soaring contest. It subscribes to the old-fashioned European scheme for a glider site, with a vast expanse of grass (roughly a kilometer square) that allows launches and landings in any wind-favored direction. Buildings at the northwest corner – including a formidable hangar made entirely of cast concrete – support gliding operations. At the southeast corner (and thus a good long ways from us) is a busy sport parachuting club.
The huge airfield makes parking, gridding, launching and landing a large fleet of gliders no real problem – 100+ gliders occupy a rather small footprint in a 250-acre field. Essential to the launching is a fleet of Wilga (“oriole”) towplanes – a tolerably strange-looking beast with spindly legs and a radial engine, which does a good job towing gliders. I haven’t checked the exact number in service here, but it seems to be around 15. In part because of a “do-it-yourself” gridding scheme, today’s launch was not really brisk, but that will surely improve.
It’s fair to add that the weather thus far has not been the best. Hot (by the standards of northern Europe) and humid with some threat of afternoon overdevelopment has been the general pattern since we arrived. But the soaring conditions have typically been a bit better than the forecasts, so some decent practice flying has been possible. Today’s tasks took all pilots to the south (much the most-used part of our task area), in some cases into Poland. Conditions were never great and it seems that most pilots decided to turn for home without completing their tasks.
One French pilot probably should have turned a bit sooner. A feature of Pociūnai-area soaring is that forests tend to offer good lift, which can tempt pilots to fly out of reach of friendly landing areas. This led to a landing yesterday afternoon not “aux vaches” but rather “aux poissons” (i.e. in a small lake). The report is that the glider suffered no permanent damage and will be flyable as soon as it has been dried out.
Glider L, the US Arcus flown by Mike Robison and Larry Timpson, turned in one of the better flights of the day. They did an excellent job working lift along the Belarus border (which must not be crossed) and got home as the day was dying. But it appears they may have to change their contest ID before the competition starts: another glider has claimed the single letter L, so they will probably become 1L, or perhaps L1. This is easily done with a piece of colored tape, though it does seem a shame thus to disfigure a beautiful glider.