Looking Back at Rieti 2008

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Hindsight - An exact science!

I am going to give a report back on how things went and what in my opinion can be done and should have been etc. I know hindsight is an exact science, but it is from stuff like this that we learn and improve ourselves.

Flying in Rieti was truly amazing and very different to anything else I have done in the past in terms of gliding. I was not expecting it to be anything else, but I had no idea how different it was until first launch. 

On the first day of practise I managed what almost no-one else has managed before, to climb away in the valley from 1000ft agl. I released in what I thought was a thermal, only to discover it was a bubble and then very nearly fell down in the process.

It was soon very clear that there were no “Mickey Mouse Pilots” in this competition. Every single pilot without exception was there to do his best and nothing less. Each pilot was selected from the best that their country had on offer and from Germany it was the best of 50000 pilots. There were no pilots without serious mountain flying experience and almost all had flown in Rieti before.

This gives a bit of a perspective of the field. I knew this before I went, but you don’t know HOW BIG the waves are until you have paddled out.

I did manage to stand my ground in the thermals, where there was some very aggressive tactics going on and sometimes it actually got quite scary. I noticed that 99% of the time I managed to outclimb the other pilots and this was boosting my dwindling confidence. I also managed a few low saves where I saw some top guys go down. I had no outlandings and no relights, this was in my opinion an achievement. Coming home after a battle to stay up and out of the fields really does wonders for the spirit.

One aspect that was giving me grief was my parachute. It was making life in the cockpit a tad difficult as it was hurting me big time and after a few days flying the spot was becoming very tender, causing me to fidget and move around in my seat while flying. This had no positive impact, but being tough is part of the game and if need be you must not let stuff like this get in your way. I was also suffering from cramps in my feet and this was happening when I became very tense and then I tend to push with both feet onto the rudder bar, putting excess pressure on my feet. This was a mental problem and was almost gone towards the end of the comp.

The crew aspect was another problem. There were some internal issues. These were sorted out, but they did upset me. The following day I was very tired as I had no sleep and struggled to remain focussed. It was so bad I forgot to change onto our team frequency and many other critical things in terms of route decisions etc. were done poorly. This is not something out of the ordinary, but one has to learn from it and deal with it in a more effective manner should something like this happen again.

Team flying would also have made a huge difference. All the top guys used this and it was very clear that it is the way to go. The term used is loose team flying as apposed to formation flying. More on this later, it is a huge subject all on its own.

The things we did right:

  • Equipment was working well and except for a few very minor problems it could not have been better.
  • After our initial trouble, team “67” worked well and rigging to grid was in less than 30 min. and all ran like clockwork.
  • Accommodation was great and comfortable, this is very important, you must be able to relax and switch off after the day. Getting good rest is more important than anything else. Having one or two frosties does wonders and is a must rather than an option. All the top guys have a pint after flying and get a good nights rest afterwards.

Being relaxed and not stressing about shit is very important, because there is a lot of shit doing the rounds, which does nothing to make you faster around the task. Some guys, very highly ranked okes, were on about some stuff about airspace which had no effect on anybody and was not going to make any difference to anyone in any way. This little issue got the pilot severely put in his place at briefing and the result was a wheels-up landing that afternoon and a 7th place overall in the comp. This guy is ranked no1 in the world and has not come 7th or lower in the last 4 years or so in any comp. and he flies no less than 5 big comps a year.

Moral of the story, don’t waste time fighting a losing battle, save your energy.

I got a bit screwed on the handicap, but a big fight would maybe got me .05 on the handicap and that is 35 points on overall score. Would it have been worth it?

If I assemble the scores taking into account lost points due to unfair factors. It puts me on 19th position overall, which is a true reflection of my flying, if I look at the list.

Club class is also a lot more competitive than the other classes, if one looks at the spread in the points.

One of the guys at Rieti said to me” How do you recognise a club class glider?”

“It has bugs behind the mainspar!!”

This is a real reflection on how these guys fly. They push and they push hard, to the point where it is insane. They will not give a single point away no matter how far down the log.

This was my first world comp and I have 1400hrs gliding. The average for the WGC at Rieti is over 4000hrs. My times were often faster than Standard class and they had better planes and water. I often overtook strings of guys flying in Standard class on the same route just to come 20th in club class.

If I can eliminate some of the wrong stuff and work on some of the right stuff, I can do a lot better next time and have a placing that is more realistic of what my abilities are. I have no doubt that some of the other guys also had troubles, but the objective is to avoid problems in doing better preparation.

Flying Condor was probably the single most important thing I did in preparing. I knew the layout of the mountains and when I rounded a corner I knew what was coming. Visibility was seldom more than 10km’s and without condor I would have been lost.

Support from all over was overwhelming. When I logged on, everywhere there were guys cheering and words of encouragement. This plays a critical role in motivation. It is easy to be positive if everything is going no 1. It is not so easy picking yourself up from the floor and this is where the support plays a major role. Positive criticism can also help depending on the personality of the pilot and where it comes from. It is important to have contact with the guys at home and also giving feedback from the comp, this makes it real and they share the experience.

Looking at how some of the other pilots fared, some of them with Sabine glide practice the previous year, I think I did ok. The weather was very different in 2008 than 2007. Another factor which plays a huge psychological role is flying someone else’s plane. This rattled many other pilots and caused them to fly more cautiously. After the three practice days and the first competition day, the number of crashed gliders totalled 6, fortunately with no serious injury to the pilots. These kinds of statistics do not help when gearing yourself up for a world gliding championships.

I made a very concerted effort not to be affected by this, although it is a bit unsettling when the sirens go off while you are derigging and you see the ambulances racing down the runway to attend to a pilot who crashed into a tree on final glide just short of the runway.

The idea of it won’t happen to me, is blown out the water when 10 % of the gliders are broken before the comp starts.

I am very grateful for my dad teaching me an approach towards flying that has saved my bacon in cases like this. On the one day I turned back to a field that I marked as land able when I went over it. This cost me many points and probably a placing or two on the overall standings, but I flew again the next day. I was lucky and found some lift before going in and made it home, but if I had to land, there was no risk in damaging the plane. In hindsight, if I pushed on I would also have made it, two kms further was a hot spot. Sorry, it is not worth it!!! With my own plane, I would also have turned back. The owner of the plane was very surprised that I even considered turning back. Many a pilot there will never turn back even if it means crashing. Most were lucky and found lift.

Slovakia is on in 2010, and I am going. The following is my list of essentials:


  • I am taking my complete crew from here. It will be people I know and understand and they will also understand me and be able to put up with my ways if need be.
  • I will take a plane from here and also a team mate.
  • Proper infrastructure at the airfield in terms of weather forecasting and comms.
  • Comfortable living and a familiar diet.
  • Lots of beer!
  • In my opinion the team captain should be someone who leads and guides the team. He/she needs to be a glider pilot or have a good understanding of the area, gliding, etc. He/she needs to slot in with the remaining crew members in terms of personalities and understand of responsibilities.
  • IT and gizmos must all be very familiar and no new stuff.
  • Don’t learn new stuff there if you can help it, learn it before hand.
  • Good maps for outlanding retrieves etc.
  • Establish a set routine for daily events and don’t deviate.
  • Set a procedure for outlandings, it gives peace of mind and then you worry less while flying.
  • Have lots of fun and relax, after all we do this for fun!!! This is probably the most important of all. If you did not enjoy it, why bother?

In Summary, what did I get from going to Rieti? Was it worth it? Did I achieve my goals?

I set myself a goal in terms of placing and middle of the field was my aim. I feel that I achieved it. My score is 19.5% below the winning score and this is not bad at all. After considering a few ‘what ifs’ I would have been within 10% of the winner’s score. Now that would have been awesome!! It can be done.

In terms of experience gain, I exceeded my expectations. I never knew that I still have so much to learn. It feels like the day I went solo. It has added a whole new aspect to my flying. It is not for everyone, but it is for me and I love it. The challenges just never end and once you reach a goal the next is there to chase.

I feel it was worth every penny, every minute and every effort I put into it. It was a lifetime dream to compete and now the podium is calling and I know it can be done. I have seen how it is done and what it takes, I will get there!!!

A dedicated team can do it. Watch this space!

To all of you at EPGC, remember that with dedication, a bit of talent and lots of hard work, competition flying is within your grasp too. I hope that in time more of you will consider taking up the challenge of flying competitions.

Andrew Bester 

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