It’s Opening Ceremony day of the 10th Women’s World Gliding Championship, at Lake Keepit in New South Wales, Australia. Practice flying is done and – other than a short ceremony of marching and flag-raising this morning – today is a rest day before the serious flying begins.
Our contest includes 47 pilots from 10 countries, flying in three classes: Club, Standard and 18-Meter. Supporting them are around 100 others, including crews, team captains, tow pilots (“tuggies” in Australian), contest officials, etc.
The big story to this point has been the weather: very hot and very dry. Eastern Australia is experiencing a major drought, now about 2 years old. Googling “Australia drought” produces a rather alarming story stretching back as long as records have been kept (early 19th century). But there’s no question the current drought, though not nearly as long as some, is severe.
The Lake Keepit Soaring Club runway is nominally grass – clubhouse photos from several years back show it verdant and healthy. Just now, only faint traces of grass remain and the surface is really a mix of dirt and dust. The resident kangaroos, normally full of energy, look thin, depressed and pensive. The eponymous lake is a mere shadow of its former self: When full, its surface area is around 16 square miles; it currently holds about 0.4 % of its capacity (that’s one part in 250) in the form of a “puddle” of perhaps 100 acres. A handful of hardy boaters still use it; they must drive about a mile across the former lake bed to reach the water’s edge.
High temperatures (often approaching 40 C / 104 F) are normal here in summer; so far they are definitely at the high end of normal. We’ve seen 100 F most days, and I believe the highest has been around 107. No break in this pattern is expected for at least the coming week.
One result of all this has been major bush fires. These have caused serious damage, driven people from their homes, and put huge amounts of smoke into the atmosphere. When wind carries this into our task area, the effect is to weaken thermal lift and to reduce visibility – perhaps to the point that safe flying isn’t possible. Thus far, winds have been generally westerly and the smoke has not been a big issue. But some large & dangerous fires are burning well south of Lake Keepit, and southerly winds are certainly possible.
It’s fair to add that the heat and pitiless sun has produced some excellent soaring conditions. Best thermal heights have exceeded 10,000’ almost every day of the past few weeks, and over some of the high ground lift of better than 10 knots to 15,000’ has been reported. With local terrain elevations typically around 1000’, that’s a height above ground that’s hard to match in thermal lift anywhere in the world. It means that pilots, provided they stay high, can enjoy cool temperatures while flying fast and far.
Three US team pilots have been doing just that during the practice period: In Club class, Kathy Fosha is flying an LS-1 (contest ID is MF) and Sylvia Grandstaff has an LS-7 (XJY). Sarah Arnold is flying a Discus 2b (XBY) in Standard Class. For Kathy and Sylvia, this is the first World Gliding Championship; for Sarah, it’s the third (she took the Silver medal in Club Class, 2.5 years ago in the Czech Republic).
All our gliders are Australian, based here and hired from the Lake Keepit club or from private owners. Many gliders in this contest are Australian – the cost and complication of shipping gliders from overseas is considerable.
A few teams have brought their own, in shipping containers. This process was complicated by “BMSB” controls. The brown marmolated stink bug is an agricultural pest well established throughout the world, but not (yet) in Australia. Australian authorities are working had to avoid this problem, so all inbound shipments must undergo careful inspections that add time and expense. It’s said that some months ago a Japanese RO-RO (roll-on, roll-off) ship full of various vehicles was sent away when stink bugs were found – none of its cargo was permitted to enter the country.
The Opening Ceremony is now complete. With temperatures not far from 100 F and under a cloudless sky we mustered and marched by countries, holding flags. After a short didgeridoo performance a few mercifully brief speeches were given (it would have taken uncommon nerve to give a long one), the FAI flag was raised, and our event was officially declared open.