At a World Gliding Contest, the final day before the start of competition is traditionally not a flying day. All pilots are expected to have done enough practice flying to have sorted out all issues with their gliders and made themselves and their equipment fully ready for 14 days of contest flying.
But here at the 34th WGC, weather has been bad enough that the decision was made to allow further practice flying today. The catch was a 3:00 pm deadline by which all gliders were required to be on the ground – for the big event of this day is the Opening Ceremony at 5:00, and flying must not distract from that.
The morning forecast didn’t promise much, but patches of sun were on the ground by 10:30, and the launch got underway promptly at noon. Conditions were never great (best altitudes were not much better than 2500’ above the ground) and most pilots stayed fairly close to home, but it was certainly one of the better days of the past week. Around 50 pilots elected to fly, and were no doubt glad for the chance to do so. (Today’s highly computerized cockpit contains a surprising number of instruments and devices that need to be set up, configured and tested to function correctly. It’s tempting to ponder just how far we’ve really progressed from the days when contests were won in gliders carrying little more than an altimeter, radio, airspeed indicator, variometer, compass and paper map.)
By 4:30, all teams were in their uniforms and assembling in the town of Prienai for the Opening Ceremony. This event is really a holdover from the 1920s or -30s, with flag bearers for each country and a somewhat grandiose FAI Anthem (FAI = International Aeronautic Federation – the world body that controls all aspects of sport aviation). We assembled in the town square and listened to speeches by local dignitaries (briskly translated into English), followed by a group of singers (very talented) and traditional Lithuanian dances (ditto). The catch was the weather, which looked threatening at the start of the ceremony, and proceeded to deliver the threatened rain. The first dose was fairly light; it was followed by a lull, and then heavier rain. Most members of most teams hung in there well, and didn’t depart until the event was formally declared complete. But we were quite wet by the time we got back to our cars.
Overall, it was a reminder not to take ourselves too seriously.