Welcome to central France and the 36th World Gliding Championship.  That was the essence of several (mercifully brief) speeches given in both French and English (and broadcast over a sound system of, at best, modest power) at today’s Opening Ceremony.  We had a forecast of low clouds and rain, which – based on experience of the contest practice period over the past several days – we fully trusted.  But at the event, weather was near perfect: temperature around 70, with clouds giving way to bright sun.  The FAI anthem was played, flag hoisted (actually, unrolled from the balcony of the Montluçon city hall), and our competition was declared officially open.

This is no small achievement: as a consequence of Covid-19, WGC2021 here is the first world-level gliding competition for well over a year; the last was the Women’s WGC at Lake Keepit in Australia, which began during the last few days of 2019 (which, we now find, were the early days of the pandemic).  And this contest was no certainty until rather recently – kudos to the organizers for the talents and persistence necessary to pull this off.

The airfield bears the name Montluçon-Guéret, and is located about 40% of the way from the first to the second of those two small cities (populations approximately 35,000 and 12,000 respectively). To find it on a map, bring up an image of France and mentally stick a pin in the very center – you’ve designated a point a short ways north of our contest site. The airfield is roomy and seemingly quiet (also rather soft, from recent rain).

We are very much in the countryside here, in one of the quietest, most rural – and apparently least fashionable – areas of France.  We drive around on narrow (read, wide enough for 1.5 cars) roads, passing mostly small fields with crops of hay, grain & corn, or containing small herds of a dozen to 20 contented-looking cattle (commonly Limousin and Charolais).  This area is claimed to have about the lowest levels of air, water and soil pollution in all of Europe.  It apparently offers little that would attract hordes of tourists, large-scale agriculture, or much of anything else to alter a way of life little changed for hundreds of years.

The US Team here includes 6 pilots:  J. P. Stewart & Daniel Sazhin in Club class, Sarah Arnold (world champion at the above-mentioned Australian contest) & Tom Holloran in Standard class, and Tim Taylor & Sean Murphy in 15-meter class. Colin Mead is our team captain.

The weather has not blessed the contest practice period. This area is capable of hot and dry summer weather, but has seen little of that recently. Temperatures have rarely reached 80; cloudbases are not impressive.  Thought we sit almost 300 km ENE of France’s Atlantic coast, a persistent WSW flow has delivered plenty of cloud and moisture. We lean upon the notion that contest weather rarely matches that of the practice period.

Despite limited practice flying, we’ve had some excitement in the air.  Most notable was a midair “touch” between a Spanish pilot and Tom Holloran. Tom was established in a thermal with a number of other gliders when he was hit from underneath & behind.  Fortunately, the damage to his (hired & absolutely pristine) LS-8 was minor.  The other glider suffered meaningful damage to its horizontal tail; it landed safely but will not be airworthy without significant repair. Tom and Colin have had to spend considerable time in interviews with investigating authorities (the French defer to few countries in their love of bureaucracy).