Under a hot sun, this morning’s Closing Ceremony put WGC2017 to bed. The introduction was a short aerobatic routine by a single Australian Air Force Pilatus PC-9, done more in artistic than violent style, that was well received by all. The FAI flag (which in accordance with long tradition was stolen several days ago) had been returned and flew proudly over the (appropriately brief) ceremony.
Pilots and crews then returned to the work of packing trailers and containers for what in most cases will be a long trip home. I think almost everyone managed to ignore the cumulus clouds seen over hills to the east, and the few scraps close to home. (These were in disappointingly short supply during the contest, and without great strain a willing mind could easily dismiss today’s sparse examples as insignificant.)
There’s no question that the generally weak and mostly blue conditions were a big part of the story of this contest. With classes of around 40 gliders, and under the rules by which WGCs are flown, this is a near absolute guarantee of seriously crowded skies. The two midair collisions are perhaps less significant than the tales told by pretty much every pilot of worrisome flying, frequent close encounters, and regular maneuvers necessary to avoid contact. Not only do good scores require flying close to others for hours on end, they to some extent call for flying “with elbows out”: the ability to cut inside other gliders, lay claim to the best air, and encourage other pilots to accept much of the burden of staying clear.
It’s easy to believe this trend is not sustainable – that glider racing can’t endure in this form. Many voices here have been saying that the IGC (the international body that has responsibility for the Sporting Code, by which we fly) must take hold of this issue and produce rules and a racing format that doesn’t offer quite so stark a choice between good scores and safety.
There was strong agreement among the US Pilots here that this type of racing differs in fundamental ways from what we do at home. We rarely fly in large classes whose pilots are motivated to stick closely together. Pilots who avoid flying with groups of others and put little emphasis on tactical gaggle management can do well under US rules, but not in WGC events.
There’s nothing profound in noting that US pilots will be competing at a disadvantage if (as is nearly always the case) they come to a competition with much less experience flying in the way that’s essential for success. This sounds like an argument that US contests should be conducted under WGC rules – but the experience of WGC2017 makes a good case against that.
I’ll end this editorial by noting that the IGC will soon be considering proposals aimed at reducing the number of gliders in a class and the incentives for gaggling. Perhaps there’s hope for progress in these initiatives.