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Contest Flying

Soaring is a sport which provides excellent competition flying as well as relaxed recreational soaring. For pilots with competitive spirits, numerous SSA sanctioned soaring contests are held each year throughout the United States. Local contests are usually geared toward the intermediate or beginning pilot and often put emphasis on fun and friendly rivalry more than on serious competition.

The Soaring Society of America sanctions regional and national competitions for eight major design classes. The Open Class sailplanes typically have very long wingspans, ranging from 60 to as much as 100 feet. Wingspan is to a sailplane what horsepower is to a racing car - the more the better. These big Open Class sailplanes have no restrictions as to performance-enhancing modifications, and some have glide ratios of 70:1.

A newer class is the 20-Meter Two-seater Class.  These are high performance two-seaters that are now being raced at world class and national venues.

Another class similar to the Open Class is the 18-Meter Class. These 18-meter (59 feet) gliders are beautiful with their long, graceful wings and make perhaps the best use of modern materials, design, and efficiency to extract remarkable performance from single seat sailplanes with glide ratios above 50:1.

The 15-Meter Class gliders are restricted to wingspans of not more than 15-meters (49.2 feet). They generally have interconnecting flaps and ailerons, water ballast, retractable landing gear and other modifications to increase performance levels over the Standard Class sailplanes.

The Standard Class sailplanes are similar to 15-Meter Class sailplanes, but are without flaps.

1-26 Class is a one-design sailplanes with medium performance levels.

The Sports Class is another competition category. Its purpose is to give older, lower-performance gliders a chance at fair competition. These include homebuilts, transitional gliders and higher performance gliders which, for various reasons, do not qualify for the other classes. Entrants are handicapped according to the performance of the glider. The Sports Class serves as an excellent introduction to competition flying for new contestants.

The Club Class allows designs within a specificed handicap range to compete at reasonable costs in a range of task formats. 

The SSA divides the country into 12 regions, based on soaring population distribution, and every year a regional competition is held in each. Participation is not restricted geographically. Eight national competitions are held each year, one each for Open, 15-Meter, Standard, Sports, 20-Meter, 18-Meter, Club Class and 1-26 Class. Sites are determined by bid. These contests attract the finest competition pilots in the country, and admission is based on seeding, derived from the pilot's record in previous competition.

Each day during a contest, a task usually for speed is set around a course with 2 or more turn-points, generally 100-300 miles in length, depending on weather conditions and the general caliber of the competitors and their gliders. The performance of each pilot is recorded by a GPS logger and scored in proportion to the top scorer. The winner of the day gets 1,000 points, and other competitors get a lesser, pro-rated number of points. At the end of the competition period, usually 10 days for national contests and 1 week for regionals and Sports Class, the daily scores of each pilot are added together to give the final results. (A pilot may do 30 total hours of flying, or more, in a typical competition week, and the combined mileage flown by all pilots may exceed 100,000 miles). First-place winners receive permanent trophies, while other top finishers receive handsome medallions.

Every two years, a World Soaring Championship brings together top soaring pilots from all over the world to compete. Recent sites have included England, Germany, Australia, Poland, Lithuania, and the United States.

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