This is IGC Journalist Angela Sheard's August 3, 2014 report from the World Gliding Championships in Leszno, Poland.
Thursday’s (25.07.14) task for Open Class (only) was cancelled shortly after the start gate was due to open due to the black clouds rushing towards Leszno and over the airfield. Some Open Class pilots would have liked to have a try but the organization erred on the side of caution and called them down.
The following day was cancelled even before Briefing time so everyone had a definite free day rather than hanging about awaiting the news.
The countryside that pilots see taking off from Leszno is changing before our eyes. Hay is cut and the big bales wait on the fields to be gathered in. So, there is no longer tall hay, known for breaking tailbooms, to worry about on the approach, but anyone looking for an outlanding field must avoid these big bales which are as soft as a brick wall. The fields now turned to golden stubble contrast with the strong, dark green uprights of surrounding woods. These are a mixed forestry harbouring many types of mushroom as well as the silver birch plantations typical of the region and of Polish folklore.
So, outside the cockpit are strong blue skies, dazzling white clouds, rich greens, and toasted yellow on the ground:
Leszno is a sizeable town with a railway shunting yard and many steeples, but in the scattered villages, more modest local churches are often made of black or painted wood, as are the antique windmills. Gardens of single-storey cottages overflow with flowers. Though it is still not unusual to see an open carriage drawn by fine horses, much of this attractive land is offered for sale or already disappearing under building projects as the country develops in its new role. An interesting countryside that also features lakes, large and small, dotted with wooden holiday cabins.
On Saturday (02.08.14), flying was again possible and yet another short Area Task was set to outwit the stubborn storm systems. These world championship pilots would really love a long Racing Task to get their teeth into but wet gliders don’t fly well.
So they were all back to enjoy the Polish Night party with great food and traditional music, generously offered by Poznan’s Dr. Jerzy Kolasinski. Jerzy, national team pilot, is very active in bringing on the next generation of young champions. His Klinika Gliding Team is already snapping at the heels of the multi-medalled pilots gracing the team this year.
And so to Sunday, 3rd August, which will be remembered for a long time by those who were here.
At last a Racing Task! Yes, the task setter replies, we do expect storms around 5pm, so get out there and hurry back.
300km for all classes.
But the 5pm storms couldn’t wait and by 3.30pm, the skies over the airfield darkened. Over-developing, brewing up like a witch’s cauldron, rumbling with thunder. We were enveloped in a whirl of gritty dust.
Across the airfield, wary crew members started to hook up trailers, check the fuel in tow vehicles, and locate rubber boots and heavy waterproof jackets.
One by one, the trailers rolled out of the airfield gates. Then two by two and on and on, a white wave clogging up the drowsy Sunday afternoon roads.
Almost a hundred off-field landings!
Pilots with engines (either self-launching or self-sustaining but none designed for storm conditions) threw in the towel and revved up to come home under power against a 15kt headwind. One almost ran out of fuel and planned a field landing, but just made it to Leszno. Others did indeed have to opt for a field landing to be safe.
Permission was sought to reopen the enormous Michalkow airfield near Ostrow Wielkopolski, temporarily out of bounds due to a presidential outing. Permission granted but too late for some to reach beyond the howling storm.
Others on an outing were the OSTIV delegates who got a soaking down to their Ipads. And the Tour of Poland cycle race, on its opening day, was met by a wall of hail and fallen trees.
And where on earth were all those long trailers going, stacked up with provisions for a long haul? Well, not that far in many cases but most of the area being covered with farms and hamlets between towns, driving anywhere is a slow business with constant speed reductions.
Your correspondent hopped in a car heading out to pick up US Team Pilot, Gary Ittner. As we left, Team New Zealand were anxiously wondering why John Coutts, who had won the previous day, hadn’t called in. Well, he was just busy winning this day too!
Gary was only 120km away, in a near-perfect stubble field near the city of Kalisz but it took almost 3 hours to reach him by the last light of evening.
The Polish villager and his son, who came across to watch, were astonished at how fast an experienced crew could take a glider to pieces and stow it in the trailer.
With thanks to the owner and goodbyes to the visitors who had asked to pose with the glider (Americans floating out of the sky onto their land was quite a Sunday adventure), we set off home to exchange stories with other crews.
Jean-Denis Barrois of France landed on ploughed mud,
and a tractor was brought up to carry the wings to the distant road:
Thomas Gostner of Italy dined on a full meal from soup to dessert brought by a Polish farmer to gliderside, and the British team drove home intoxicated by the delicious smell of the gift of home-baked bread they received.
Somewhere around 11pm, a text message from US Team Captain, Dennis Linnekin, told us Monday would be the day of rest that Sundays are supposed to be, before we finally remembered to ask if the day had been a valid contest day. A percentage of the field must pass 100km to validate the day.
They had and it was.
Indeed, a heroic, full 1000 points to Anne Ducarouge (FRA), in 15 Meter Class, Daniel Rossier (FRA) Open Class and in 18 Meters, John Coutts (NZ).
No reported landing damage despite the state of the various fields and the stressful moments before touchdown. But then these ARE the best pilots in the world!
So it’s “Bravo” to them all, and many, many thanks to the stalwart crews (first up and last to bed throughout their “holiday”!)
Paul Mason, crew for Open Class pilot Peter Harvey