For about the first time during JWGC2017, we awoke to perfectly clear skies, with no areas of cloud or troubled weather within hundreds of km of Pociunai. Indeed, the whole of Lithuania is underneath a high pressure area that gave prospects of a nearly blue day with good lift to good altitudes.
In view of the favorable forecast, the Club class task looked a bit short at just over 300 km. Most pilots figured 2pm would be a good start time – which with a noon launch meant lots of time milling around the sky with dozens of other gliders prior to starting. Then the inevitable “start gate roulette” meant that the actual start time for most pilots was around 2:30: there’s a strong incentive to start just a few minutes after your rivals (in the belief you can probably catch up to them), so everyone is trying to do that.
The first task leg headed southwest into Poland; conditions were good; the best climbs took pilots over 6000’ – and achieved speeds made the task indeed seem a bit short. Rules specify that daily scores are devalued if the day winner completes the task in less than 3 hours, which looked possible. The second leg solved that problem: almost everyone found weaker, lower climbs and achieved speeds dropped sharply; several pilots outlanded. As they rounded the final turnpoint some 60 km from home, some were probably thinking wistfully of that late start time. But the final leg, though a struggle, offered just enough weak lift to get most pilots home.
It was another good day for the US Team: Daniel, Noah and J.P. finished 7th, 9th and 12th, all with good scores. They were tired after nearly 7 hours of flying, but all are eager for more.
The evening event was International Night, at which all countries offer food and drink characteristic of their homeland. For the US, this was grilled hot dogs and Coke with (optional) Jack Daniels. The hot dogs were notably popular – 140 of them were gone in about 40 minutes. The total food on offer was plenty for the assembled multitude. My favorites included some first-rate paté from the French team, and from the Italian team a giant wedge of some of the best parmesan cheese ever served at a WGC event. The Czech team offered Slivovitz, an excellent – and potent – form of plum brandy. (You do well to limit yourself to about a teaspoonful of this.) I’m pleased to report that our pilots did a good job of resisting temptation and opted for early bedtimes.
The huge concrete hangar is an important asset for contests at Pociunai. About a third of it has been cleared of aircraft and easily suffices as a space for pilot briefings and International Night. Camouflage netting drapes the edges of the cleared area, forming a visual boundary. Behind the stage where contest officials sit during briefings, the nose and huge 4-bladed prop of an ancient An-2 biplane protrude from the netting – this seemed a curious sight 2 weeks ago, but our eyes now accept it as entirely normal.
The rest of the hangar houses a large collection of club gliders and Wilga towplanes. The history of these is interesting. In 1990, when the Soviets at last decided to end their occupation of the Baltic States, the order went out that prior to leaving, aircraft should be destroyed. The word of this leaked out, and Lithuania glider pilots went into action. They made arrangements with many farmers whereby both gliders and towplanes would be removed from the airfield and stored on farms – mostly under piles of hay. The plan was sophisticated: individual pilots took responsibility for just one or two aircraft – no one knew the hiding places of more than their own. The plan worked, and Lithuanian gliding clubs survived with most of their aircraft intact. By contrast, gliding in Latvia (next country north) was mostly wiped out and has not yet recovered.
One consequence of this is a potential problem today: The ownership of these club aircraft has never formally been transferred to the club. Glider pilots have flown these aircraft – and borne the expense of maintaining them in flying condition – for more than 25 years. But legal ownership effectively lies with the Lithuanian government. There is said to now be a plan to transfer all such assets to local towns. What will be the consequences when a small town realizes it now owns elderly but still desirable aircraft is hard to predict.
John Good has been a member of the US Team at many World Gliding Championship events, serving as crew, Team Captain and report author. He was the Deputy Championship Director/ Task-setter at the 2012 WGC in Uvalde, Texas and brings a wealth of international rules knowledge as Captain.