We had a favorable weather forecast today, featuring a good airmass that needed only moderate solar heating to produce good thermal lift. We awoke to clouds that were confidently expected to dissipate, allowing the sun to do its work. But the clouds never got the message, and hung around all day. After a considerable delay, the 18-Meter class (always first on the grid, being lighter than the long-wing gliders and thus better suited to tows using only part of the runway) was launched around 1:30. Pilots were able to find weak lift to a bit over 3000’. But packing 42 gliders into a limited area of limited height was far from comfortable. It was soon announced that tasks for 20-Meter and Open classes (still on the ground) were cancelled. The hoped-for improvement never happened, and the 18-Meter task was finally scrubbed.
Crowded thermals are a feature of – and an issue for – essentially every high-level gliding contest. Especially when conditions are weak, all pilots want to join the best one, which may not be able to comfortably – or even safely – accommodate them. Skill at this sort of flying is important to success at almost all contests. The goal is to strike a fine balance: not so aggressive that you generate complaints from other pilots, but not so passive and deferential that others take advantage of you. You must fly “with your elbows out” – but not too far out. When (as at a world championship) you collect dozens of pilots who are good at this, weak conditions produce friction. At this morning’s pilot meeting, the safety briefing took up this subject, and included a screen image that said “Be courteous, polite and patient.” Sound advice, I thought – but there’s not a pilot here who would have reached this level of competition if these suggestions accurately described his or her primary approach to flying.

I checked with the contest Scoring Office today and learned that of the 82 gliders in WGC2022, just five are unmotorized (all in 18-Meter class). I understand the reasons for this: modern gliders carry weight well; modern pilots like the assurance of getting home, and have the money to pay for it. But I can’t help feeling that this seems a bit “off”. I imagine a future World Championships at which an interested but naïve spectator is a visitor. Friendly competitors are proudly showing him their aircraft, explaining that this is the world championship of motorless flight, and how in the right weather they race around 500 km tasks at 130 kph using just the sun’s energy. He’s suitably impressed, and examines one glider carefully. He’s curious about a sort of hatch on top of the fuselage, and it’s opened for him.
“So, what’s this thing inside, that looks like it has a propeller attached to it?”
“That’s the engine – all the gliders here have engines.”
“But I thought you said it was a competition of motorless flight.”
“It is – but you must have an engine to be competitive.”
“You need a motor to do motorless flight?”
“Well, we hope we don’t have to use it – but you can’t realistically expect to win without one.”
I’m sure it marks me as hopelessly old-fashioned, but I have to wonder where this leads, and whether it represents progress.

Some additional info on the city of Szeged: This area has been settled for more than 2000 years, and there has been a recognizable town at this location for well more than 1000. But you will find little to indicate that extreme age in explorations around Szeged: In 1879, the Tisza River flooded and devastated the city, destroying more than 95% of the houses. Emperor Franz Joseph took an interest, directing that it be rebuilt – and not on the cheap. Thus do wide streets and interesting, relatively modern, architecture abound.
Szeged is regarded as the home of paprika, which finds its way into many dishes here, including szekelygulyas, a local goulash that features sauerkraut and sour cream.

You can find the latest contest scores at: