Today was the final scheduled practice day at the 11thJunior World Gliding Championships, in Szeged Hungary. The practice week has gone well here: All four US pilots have good gliders that (apart from one flat tire, quickly fixed) seem to be functioning well. Weather has been above average for southeastern Hungary, with good lift to over 6000’ under plentiful cumulus clouds. It hasn’t been conspicuously comfortable on the ground (high temperatures in the mid 90s, and humidity) but we’re adapting.
Today’s weather unfortunately broke this good trend, with mid- and high-level cloud overhead and thunderstorms to the north that led to cancellation of the practice task. A few pilots took tows to check equipment, and most found enough lift to stay airborne. Tomorrow is a no-fly day, reserved for the opening ceremonies due to start at 6pm.
Pilots qualify as Juniors if their 25thbirthday falls in this or a future year. The current contest list (not yet final and definite) shows 45 pilots in Club Class and 36 in Standard Class. The US team has four:
Michael Marshall is flying a Discus 2a in Standard Class; Noah Reitter, Daniel Sazhin and J.P. Stewart are all flying LS-4a gliders in Club Class.
Szeged seems an unusually good host city for this contest. With a population around 160,000 (third largest in Hungary), it’s much larger than most contest sites can boast. But it presents itself as friendly and manageable. Within a few minutes of the airfield are more shops and restaurants than most glider sites offer within an hour’s drive. The exchange rate makes nearly everything attractively priced.
The Szeged airfield (just west of the city) also looks to be first rate. It has a single paved N-S runway, but glider operations mostly use extensive grass areas east of the runway, which offer plenty of room to stage, launch and land 80 gliders. An equally large area west of the paved runway can handle overflow (as when many gliders wish to land at once) but I expect it will not often be needed.
From a glider pilot’s point of view, Szeged is not ideally located in relation to Hungary’s borders. It sits in the far southeast, just 7 km north of the border with Serbia; about 11 miles southeast is the closest point of Romania. Pilots here are strictly limited to Hungarian airspace – and indeed there’s “buffer” airspace, closed to glider pilots, along the Serbian border that reaches within a mile of the airfield. We’ve heard reports that at least one pilot was found to have violated border airspace already, and I wouldn’t care to bet he’ll be the last.
The task area looks very flat; even small hills are notably scarce. Elevations range from around 270’ MSL near Szeged to perhaps 500’ toward the west. Because of Serbia to the south and Romania to the east, tasks must take pilots in directions west through northeast. There’s lots of agriculture, and a stretch of dry weather has Hungarian farmers eagerly cutting hay, making for a good selection of landable fields (most small enough to put an outlanding pilot on his best behavior). Like farmers elsewhere, the ones near Szeged are not quite as prompt about gathering up the hay bales as glider pilots could wish – but there’s been commendable progress during the week.
Two significant rivers come into play: The Danube rises in southern Germany and makes its way east through Vienna toward Budapest (north-central Hungary); there it makes a jog to the south, dividing the country in two and passing about 60 miles west of Szeged. The Tisza flows south through eastern Hungary, passing through the city of Szeged on its way to join the Danube north of Belgrade. These rivers are said to have the normal effect of suppressing lift in their valleys.
The US Team got caught up in border tensions between Serbia and Hungary yesterday. Our house is located about 9 minutes southwest of Szeged, so not much more than a mile north of the border. Daniel Sazhin, out for an evening walk, was stopped by the division of police responsible for border patrol. Soon a black van and four officers (two of them armed) arrived; they wanted to see his passport, which he provided. After about 15 minutes of checking, they returned the passport with a friendly farewell, and drove off. We concluded that perhaps evening walks should be done further from the border.