Benalla: Three days from today, the 34th FAI World Gliding Championships 2017 kicks-off in Australia (January 9, 2017), and following two weeks will see high profile, high calibre competition.
The competition will see 116 pilots from 27 countries to converge on the small city of Benalla, Victoria to compete for the prestigious title of FAI Gliding World Champion in three separate classes viz. two current FAI Gliding World Champions, as well as a “raring-to-go” home nation team of highly experienced Australians.
Speaking about the event, Competition Spokesperson Sean Young said, “This is the Olympics of gliding. Two reigning FAI Gliding World Champions are competing, alongside the best pilots from each country.”
Further, he informed that Australia is fielding six pilots and are “confident” their home-turf advantage will see them on the podium at the end of the two-week competition.
The Gliding Championships is a test of stamina and mental fortitude as much as skill. For a win, Pilots must fly at their best every day for four or five hours. With at least a dozen tasks ahead of them, pilots need to stay on top of their game for the whole competition to be in with a chance of winning. Tasks are flown and scored every day. In a task pilots must make their way around a pre-determined course – different each day depending on the weather – and tag turnpoints using a GPS. Like orienteering in the sky they must race against each other and the clock to get back to base in the quickest time possible.
Pilots can expect to be in the air for several hours and will cover several hundred kilometres during a task. Each task is scored separately and counts towards the final score and ranking at the end of the two weeks.
Speaking further, Young said, “After years of preparation, the 27 national teams are now raring to go. No further preparation is possible. Now they must race against each other and the elements to determine who the next FAI World Gliding Champions will be.”
This is a biennial Gliding Championships with three categories: 15m, 18m and Open Class. The current FAI World Champions are Poland’s Sebastian Kawa in 15m class, and Germany’s Michael Sommer in Open Class.
To get acquainted with the place and climate conditions, many pilots have been in the area since Christmas on a pre-competition training week. The wet season means weaker thermals and harder conditions – which may in fact favour the European and visiting pilots rather than the hosts.
During the competition, Gliders do not use engines to stay aloft, instead they use thermals to stay in the air, circling in warm air currents to reach cloudbase before heading off on track. When they get low, they must find another thermal to climb up again. European conditions typically tend to be milder than those found in hotter, dryer Australia. As well as the two FAI World Champions and a host of other experienced international pilots, two relatively new faces on the international gliding circuit have travelled to the competition from China.
Andrew Peng Du and Shang Guangwei are in Australia representing China which is new to air sports and, in many air sports, does not regularly compete on the international stage. However, Andrew Peng Du and Shang Guangwei are both in Australia competing in Open Class and 18m class respectively.
Speaking about their participation, Peng Du said, “We want people to know that China has glider pilots, and that Chinese people are becoming more and more involved in aviation.” His compatriot Guangwei said, “Until recently, gliding has been difficult to organise in China due to the lack of knowledge about gliding, airspace management and other policy issues. However, in recent years, domestic airspace, airworthiness and other management policies have been gradually reformed.”
Guangwei wants to promote the country to the international gliding scene, he says, “The main purpose of my journey to Benalla is to spark a desire in international pilots, and help fulfil their dream of flying in China.”
January 8th will see the Opening Ceremony with the first task on 9 January 2017. Day reports and video will be available through the competition website at www.wgc2017.com.